Newsletters for Mental Health
Dawn O’Shea-Farley
February 2012

Do you find that you are always putting off work until the last minute? Have you been calling yourself “lazy” for the last several years, but can’t seem to get out of a slump? Your procrastination could be more complicated than a simple issue of avoidance or laziness. Dr. Linda Sapadin, author of “Its About Time”, has observed client behavior over the course of thirty years to determine that patterns of procrastination seem to fit in six distinct categories. So, without delay, let’s start looking at what’s keeping you behind.

Six common procrastination styles identified by Sapadin:

  • Defier – Tends to challenge authority through procrastination. The defier avoids direct confrontation by appearing cooperative, but has an expectation that others will pick up the work they avoid.
  • Crisis Maker – The crisis-maker can be a little dramatic in using crisis as a main source of motivation. In terms of time management, they will often go from total avoidance to total immersion in completing a task.
  • Over-doer – Feels a sense of guilt during downtime. The over-doer has great difficulty in saying, “no” to new responsibilities.
  • Perfectionist – Success is often intrinsic to their sense of self-esteem. This individual will often complicate a task with the intention of improving quality, but become so deeply entrenched in the work that a sense of accomplishment is overshadowed by the burden of unattainable standards.
  • Dreamer – This person is often a very likeable individual, initially. The dreamer can be comfort driven, passive and feel above the mundane details of life.
  • Worrier – The worrier is paralyzed by anxiety and struggles with indecision. They might rely on a parent-type figure to make major decisions.

You may recognize some of these characteristics in yourself. You may also realize that your patterns fit into multiple categories. The most important step from here is to do a little self-examination.

Changing Behavior

Consider the following formula as you approach changing any annoying habits or behaviors.

  • Develop a keen awareness of when you experience a problem behavior. Take note of patterns surrounding the behavior (how often, what are the triggers that induce the behavior?).
    Determine the probable root of the behavior (e.g. anxiety, fear, depression, unrealistic expectations)
  • Actively choose new behavioral, thought or speech patterns to begin experiencing the benefits of changing the problem behavior, even in small ways.
  • Remember that all change takes time, patience and commitment. Take small steps and reward success. Backsliding can be normal, but resolve to get back on track and plan ahead to trouble-shoot through potential barriers. Once that behavior change has been successfully implemented, observe the benefits of the change. Step by step you will find it possible to change the way you live your life.

How to change the procrastinator inside of you

  • Defier – Accept responsibility and seek the benefit of a sense of accomplishment rather than waiting for others to pick up the slack.
  • Perfectionism – Consider your history. Is this a learned behavior? What are the negative consequences of having impossible standards? Find small, less threatening ways to allow for mistakes and determine whether the results of those mistakes are as devastating as you may have imagined. Can you begin to tolerate an ideal of “excellent” or “good” rather than “perfect?”
  • Worrier – You might experience life as threatening and anxiety laden. Begin with some simple breathing exercises and get adjusted to a new “normal.” Take notice of the times that you are mentally exaggerating the importance of a task and stop! Break the task down into smaller, attainable steps. Most importantly, accept what you produce without seeking approval of others.

Additional strategies for overcoming procrastination

  • Commit to 30-minute segments of work.
  • Find a work space that is free of distraction.
  • Map out what is required in a project based upon how long it will take to complete each aspect of the job.
  • Give yourself a break, recognize that your work or academic performance is not the best way to gauge your self-esteem, there is much more to you as an individual that validates your worth!
  • Change your internal language to active, confident language. (“I can get this done,” “I have done this before, I can do it now,” or “Just get it done”).

Seek advice
You may discover that you need some help in determining your style of procrastination. The counseling services at the Kern can provide you with a survey to test your tendencies. Any of the counselors would be happy to then help you construct a plan to reduce or eliminate those time wasting behaviors.

Try something new
Commit to one week of thinking and doing things a little differently and take note of the positive results: Have others noticed that you seem to be more engaged? Are you receiving compliments on your work that you haven’t received in a long time? Do you feel more accomplished than usual? Believe that you can get things done without feeling like every task is a burden.

Sapadin, Linda and Maguire, Jack. (1996). It’s About Time: The 6 Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them. New York: Penguin Books.