Procrastinator: a person who delays or puts things off — like work, chores, or other actions — that should be done in a timely manner.
All of us procrastinate on some tasks and goals.
Some procrastinate on learning for exams or writing a thesis. Others delay writing a book or starting their own business. Or exercising regularly and fixing their diet.
So if you’ve ever beaten yourself up about not doing the work, know that you’re not alone—we all do it in some form.
That being said, we all have different reasons for why procrastination shows up. It stems from a few different “root” problems. If we look at the core reasons why people procrastinate we can roughly define 5 different types of procrastinators.
The purpose of this article is to identify what your type of procrastination is and what you can do to overcome it.
If you can see yourself in one of these types, you can start fixing it much more easily by focusing on the specific problems that arise from it.
Let’s start with the first one.
1. The Wishful Thinker
One of the most common reasons for procrastinating is poor planning skills.
This type of procrastinator sets big and audacious goals without any thought if they’re realistic or measurable.
They just scribble down their new year’s resolutions on a piece of paper and hope that the universe will make it true.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works out in most cases.
Let’s look at the most common mistakes that this type of procrastinator makes.
Are You Setting Crappy Goals?
Setting a goal that is not clear and not measurable is a clever trick for this type of procrastinator. It’s a way to not hold yourself accountable and keep postponing your work without negative consequences. After all, if you can’t measure the goal, there is no way to say if you failed, right?
Here are some vague goals:
- Lose weight
- Start a business
- Learn to play the guitar
See that there is no way to know if you’ve actually achieved these goals? We don’t know how much weight. By what time? What type of business? Which song should you be able to play?
Are you hoping the goal will achieve itself?
Another mistake is not creating a clear action plan to achieve the goal.
Regardless of what the goal is you always have to do the work step by step.
This is another cheat that this type of procrastinator uses. If we don’t know the steps, there is no way to see if you’re doing the work every day. There is no way to know if you’re procrastinating or not.
Never got enough time to work on the goals?
Even if you define your next steps, you won’t make any progress if you don’t set aside the time for it.
You can’t expect your schedule to magically open up and create extra time for your new goal. So it’s easy to use excuses like: I was too busy today or my cat got sick.
A Solution for The Wishful Thinkers
If you often make any of the mistakes above, you have to get better at planning.
Here’s a simple formula that you can use for setting a goal that you’re serious about achieving:
- Focus on the specific result that you want—Imagine yourself having achieved the goal already and ask yourself what it looks like. Make it visual, as if you were seeing it on a movie screen. What would you look like after the goal is achieved? How would you feel? How would the others around you perceive you?
- Create your strategy—If the goal is about knowing your vision, the strategy is about the action steps that will take you there. What would you need to do every day that will make the goal a reality? Create a list of all the action steps that you have to do next.
- Schedule time to work on it—To make sure you execute your plan, reserve a specific time for it. Book it in your calendar. Commit to showing up every day and doing the work. Also, think about what excuses might come up for not doing the work every day and get rid of them before you even start.
- Set a clear deadline—Based on your strategy, by what time do you expect to reach the goal? Is it a month, a year, 5 years? Make sure you track your progress and set milestones along the way. See if you’re on track to achieving your goal every week. If not, what changes could you make to the strategy that will get you on the right path?
If you’re a wishful thinker it’s time to stop thinking of your goals like dreams. Use the formula above to create a clear plan. It will help you to stop using the procrastination excuses and turn those dreams into reality.
2. The Last-Minute Junkie
This type of procrastinator leaves everything for the last possible second.
The problem being a last-minute junkie is that you end up having too little time to finish the work or you have to pull an all-nighter. As a result, your important work is not nearly as good as it could be.
Here are some of the characteristics of the last minute junkie.
I Like Working Under Pressure!
One excuse that they use for delaying the work is that they’ll be more efficient at the last minute.
They like the rush of knowing that the deadline is approaching and having to do everything fast. But doing everything fast often means poor results.
Surely, It Will Be Easier Tomorrow
“I just don’t have motivation today. It’s too hot or too cold. Tomorrow, I’ll be in a better mood.”—Whatever the specific excuse is, they rationalize delaying the work for a hope of a better future.
However, the future is full of the same problems. You will have just as many reasons to procrastinate tomorrow as you have today.
Fun First, Work Later
Last minute junkies love the quick and easy tasks. They start with something fun and put off the harder work for later in the day.
As a result, there never seems to be enough time left for the hard work at the end of the day.
A Solution for The Last Minute Junkies
If you’re a last minute junky and want to beat procrastination, you have to stop thinking of your future self as a different person. Stop deluding yourself that tomorrow you will be more motivated, have more time, or be more focused.
If you judge by your past performance, it’s clear that’s not gonna happen.
For you, it’s critical to start with the most important task first—no matter how difficult it is. Free up your calendar in the morning, don’t open email/social media, don’t look at your easy tasks. Just start with the most important one.
Of course, “just start” is easier said than done. It’s even more difficult if the task is a big and hairy one or you don’t know the first step.
What helps, in this case, is to break it down into smaller pieces. Figure out what the very first step is and write it down. Also, do it on the night before. That way when you wake up, you already know what the first step is and you can get cracking without distractions.
If you start with something difficult, even if it’s a small piece—and complete it—then you’ve started the momentum. You’ll feel more productive and all the other tasks for the day (because they’re easier) will feel like a reward.
3. The Resourceless
If you’re using a lack of anything for doing the work, you are the resourceless procrastinator.
- Time—You’re just too busy right now. You have to wait until we get more time on your hands to start working on the goal.
- Money—You can’t afford to start now, it’s just too expensive. Let’s just wait until the financial situation is better.
- Knowledge—How am I supposed to achieve that goal when I know nothing about it? Where am I even supposed to start?
- Contacts—I just don’t have the right contacts to do this. I need to wait more before the right people show up.
A Solution for The Resourceless
In this day and age, there is an abundance of opportunities around us. It’s just not cool to use any of the above for not starting.
You can find a cheap way to eat better, to exercise, to start a business, or practice a hobby. All you need is to do more research, and stop using money as an excuse.
You can learn pretty much anything for free on the internet.
Time is also never the issue. We all have the same amount of time. The question is, are you willing to make your goal a priority and not procrastinate in the time that you already have?
As for contacts, nowadays we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. You can find experts to help you out on any topic, as long as you’re willing to look.
4. The Perfectionist
Another type of procrastination is perfectionism. Most perfectionists wear it as a badge of honor. It’s perceived as a good quality.
However, there is a difference between doing quality work and wasting time on meaningless details. Most perfectionists get lost in the details and procrastinate on the really important work.
Here’s how perfectionism will get you in trouble.
All or Nothing
Perfectionists think that there is no point to start unless your work can be perfect. But if you wait for all the stars to align before you start—you never will.
Waiting for the right circumstances is just another excuse.
Most difficult tasks are messy. They require a lot of trial and error to get done—it’s never perfect.
Losing Track of the Big Picture
Perfectionists usually start with a grand plan and a great goal.
However, pretty soon they lose track of where they’re going because they get bogged down by the meaningless details.
Ultimately, all these small details are just slowing you down and not helping you make real progress.
A Solution for the Perfectionist
The antidote to procrastination due to perfectionism is to repeat the mantra “Progress, not perfection.”
If you’re focused only on the perfect result, you lose track of the progress you’re making every day. And if you’re not making progress every day, pretty soon you’ll run out of motivation and start procrastinating.
Even if you finish just 50% of what you intended to do today, it’s much better than nothing.
For the long-term projects, start by figuring out what is truly important. What is the main purpose of the work you’re doing, and how do all the action steps contribute to it?
Use the 80/20 rule.
Ignore all the details that bring just 20% of the results. Focus on the tasks that will get you the 80% outcome you want.
5. The Intimidated
Another reason for procrastination is being afraid of your goals and tasks. This type of procrastinator prefers to postpone the work than to face the fear directly.
Let’s look at the types of fears that cause procrastination.
Afraid to Make a Mistake or Fail?
What if you start something and screw it up? You’d probably feel worse than not having started at all. What would everybody think?
So instead of taking a risk, you postpone the work, hoping that somewhere down the road it’s going to get easier and you’ll feel more confident.
I’m Not Good Enough
A lot of people are afraid to put themselves out there. They’re worried about what other people are going to think. They feel like a fraud for even thinking of starting an ambitious goal—impostor syndrome.
So instead of starting now, they procrastinate with learning. Maybe reading more about the topic will make it easier?
My Task Is Big and Hairy
Maybe you’re afraid because what you want to do is too hard. Too far out of your comfort zone?
Maybe you’ve tried it in the past and failed epically?
A Solution for The Intimidated
Here’s the thing—the fear never goes away if you just wait. You won’t get more confident with time or by reading more about it.
The only way to get rid of fear is by facing it directly—putting in the work, failing, and not giving up. The failure and perseverance are actually what build your self-esteem.
Nobody was a genius when they were first starting. We all suck in the beginning. Just take a look at the early careers of your favorite authors, athletes, or celebrities. They all had to start with the basics and learn with trial and error.
What Type of Procrastinator Are You?
The difficult thing about procrastination is that it’s caused by many different aspects. It doesn’t have one single solution for everybody.
And it’s tough to look at yourself and figure out where your problem is. Most of us are very good at noticing the issues of others but we have a blind spot for our own challenges. Even so, chances are that you recognized yourself as one or more of these types of procrastinators.
Now you have a better idea about why it’s so difficult to move forward for you specifically.
You don’t have to waste time reading books or trying a ton of apps to get rid of procrastination. Knowing your type, you can focus on overcoming exactly what is holding you back. You can stop putting things off and start working on it right away.
Putting things off is the common thing between all the procrastinator types. We’re waiting for something to get better. Something to change to make the goal/task easier.
Waiting though, never works—in fact, it makes it harder. The more you wait, the more severe the procrastination gets.
The only cure is to start acting.
The first step is to identify exactly which of these challenges is holding you back and face it directly. Stop using it as an excuse and use the solutions above.
Think about what would happen if you don’t?
Where would you be in 10 years if you kept putting off your goals? What opportunities would you miss? How would you feel about looking back at your life 10 years from now, knowing that you kept procrastinating day after day?
Also, think about what would happen in the opposite case.
How much more could you accomplish if you got rid of the excuses? How would your life improve if you actually worked on your goals? How would you feel about your life knowing that you’ve had 10 years of productivity instead of procrastination?