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The first step to overcoming procrastination: Know thyself

Procrastination is one of the most damaging characteristics that students display because it robs them of good grades and prevents them from maintaining productive and healthy relationships with their teachers, families and friends. Procrastination can have both external (e.g., situations involving work overloads) and internal causes (e.g., personality characteristics).

The following six procrastinator personalities identified by Sapadin (2012) in her book "How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age: 6 Unique Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles" are examples of the internal causes that can fuel procrastination. I highly recommend Sapadin’s book because it provides thinking, speaking and action strategies tailor-made for each of the six personality styles designed to help students lessen their tendency to procrastinate. If you are a procrastinator, these six descriptions will help you to know thyself better, the action strategies from Sapadin’s book will teach you how to be true to thyself, but it will be your responsibility to just do it.

Here are the six styles. Do you recognize yourself in one or more than one?

The perfectionist believes that her value as a human being is at stake every time she undertakes a task. The world is an all-or-nothing place for the perfectionist, which means that if the project she is working on fails, or is not the best, then she is a failure too. Her greatest fear is that she will not measure up to her own expectations or the expectations of others, a belief which may have its origin in a parent who looked at the 98 percent on her term paper and asked what happened to the other 2 percent. Procrastination allows the perfectionist to postpone completing an assignment because if it’s not complete, it can’t be judged.

The dreamer yearns for an easy, painless and nonthreatening life. When the world disrupts this dream by presenting difficult challenges, the dreamer retreats into his mind, creating an ideal world in which he is a "special" person who does not have to play by the same rules as everyone else. This dream is very comforting, but it also creates damaging academic, occupational and social/romantic consequences by producing late assignments, unfinished tasks and broken promises.

The worrier has an overpowering need to feel safe, but pays a high price for this feeling. Her most fearsome foes are risk and change, which paralyze her because she fears they will push her outside of her narrow comfort zone. Expecting the worst, she creates a stream of negative “what ifs” that predispose her to assume that taking an action will produce a disastrous outcome. The worrier has "better safe than sorry" tattooed on her soul. Hence, worriers experience less joy and fun in their lives than most other people; but they believe it is an acceptable price to pay for feeling safe.

The crisis-maker creates lots of drama in his life by waiting until the last minute to get things done. He under-reacts to situations that provide plenty of time to work by saying, "I don’t work well until I really start to feel the pressure," and then over-reacts with great frenzied bursts of activity just before the deadline. This burn-the-candle-at-both-ends strategy may work for the young, but over time it will fail because it will become harder and harder to transform yourself into superman/woman with jolts of adrenaline and caffeine.

The defier harbors a deep resentment toward authority, and has learned that the safest way to rebel is to use passive aggressive techniques. When asked to perform a task, a defier will almost always say “sure, I can do that,” but then “forgets” to do what he promised. This strategy provides the defier with a sense of power over others, but unfortunately it often leaves the important people in his life feeling betrayed, manipulated and/or used. When this strategy produces its inevitable negative consequences (e.g., failing a course), the defier consoles himself by thinking that this is the inevitable price he must pay if he wants to do things his own way.

The pleaser is always busy, so it doesn’t seem like she is procrastinating. Her focus, however, is not so much on getting her work done, but on pleasing others so they will like her. There is really no problem with that strategy unless she gets distracted from focusing on her own obligations. Pleasers may think they can do it all, yet, over time, they lose the balance between school and fun, work and leisure, and the professional and the personal. Soon she is disappointing not only those she wants so desperately to please, but also herself by producing mediocre work and making up excuses to explain why her work is late.

Do you recognize yourself in one or more of these descriptions? If your answer is yes, then you have taken the first step in a journey that can transform you into a happier and more productive person. But don’t forget that this journey has the following three parts:

  • Know thyself.

  • Be true to thyself, and then.

  • Just do it today, not tomorrow.

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