Exploring procrastination

Our friend Geralin Thomas e-mailed me an article last week about Tax Day. The first four or five paragraphs talk about taxes, but the majority of the article explores procrastination as an affliction that affects most everyone. From the Raleigh News and Observer:

Procrastination is an equal opportunity affliction, according to one of the field’s pioneering researchers, Joseph R. Ferrari of DePaul University. Women are just as likely to exhibit the behavior as men; 20-year-olds are as prone to it as 65-year-olds (much older people, seem to lose the habit). His studies have also found that white collar employees procrastinate more than blue collar workers, salespeople more than middle managers, business executives more than doctors or lawyers.

More broadly, Ferrari said, there are three basic types of procrastinators:

  • Arousal procrastinators are thrill-seekers who tackle projects at the last minute, pulling all-nighters at school and work.
  • Avoidance procrastinators habitually put off hard or boring tasks
  • Decisional procrastinators are paralyzed by indecisiveness.

Be sure to check out the sidebar to the article with advice from Geralin Thomas on ways to curb procrastination. Also, you might enjoy reading the link at the bottom of the page to a Psychology Today blog post on the same topic.

When I procrastinate, it is definitely in the “avoidance” category, especially when it comes to organizing my home and office. How about you?

50 Comments for “Exploring procrastination”

  1. posted by [email protected] on

    I’m also an avoidance procrastinator!

  2. posted by martha in mobile on

    I think I’m an avoidance procrastinator, but there is another reason (in my humble opinion) and here it is: if I don’t finish, I can’t be judged on the quality of my final work. Also, I avoid tackling some projects because I am afraid that I lack the skill necessary to achieve the desired outcome. I have found a work-around: if I take just one tiny step and give myself permission to stop after that, I often continue until real progress is made.

  3. posted by Jarrod on

    Throughout college, I utilized my photographic memory to cram for exams. 🙂
    Now, the only form of procrastination that I possess is an inability to confront others when I have to tell them about a problem. I absolutely hate telling someone that I can’t deliver something as promised, and I usually put it off until it makes the problem worse.
    That would fit into avoidance, correct?

  4. posted by QL Girl on

    I think I’m both an avoidance and decisional procrastinator, depending on what the situation is. Most often than not it is out of avoidance.

  5. posted by Princess Momma on

    I think varying circumstances have found me in all 3 categories, but I’m usually an avoidance procrastinator. Most of the things I put off are things that I just don’t want to do.

  6. posted by kirsty on

    Oh great, I’m an arousal procrastinator; having a tag like that makes me feel better about it now!

  7. posted by Kelly on

    I’m definitely both an avoidance and decisional procrastinator on just about everything, organization included. My mental list of TO DOs chews on the back of my mind all the time yet I still put things off. I thought hanging up a task board would help keep these things in my face so I’d do something about them, but it hasn’t seemed to help. The really annoying thing is that I know I’ll feel so much better if I just sit down and tackle ONE of them, let alone all of them. Mental clutter like this is just as insidious as the physical type. And they play against and with each other, as well.

  8. posted by Craig on

    I used to be a wonderful procrastinator. Getting old enough to do my own taxes helped break me of that. Also, reading that late filers are more likely to be audited.

    I’m sure the IRS would not care about my nickels and dimes — pennies, really — but I make sure our taxes are done and filed early. One month early. I like to MAIL them in no later than March 15.

    And yes, I use snail-mail. I have been hearing a few nightmare stories about e-filing gone bad, and I’m not having any of that nonsense.

    Once the IRS has e-filing DOWN, and I mean stone-cold, then I will think about it.

  9. posted by Emma on

    I used to be a serious procrastinator until I found “The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play” by Neil Fiore . His process is less about defining the types of procrastination but getting to the root of why you procrastinate and new, simple ways to get started. The un-schedule really helped me. He advocates just tackling something for 30 minutes at a time. It really helps with daunting tasks, because once I get started I find that it isn’t that bad.

    I recommend it to all my friends. I have read a lot of procrastination books and most are just about how horrible procrastination is and I just feel worse and less like doing anything but this really helped!!

  10. posted by diane on

    You all might need to get in contact with St. Expeditus!

  11. posted by Jeanne B. on

    All three. At once. Though the balance is 50% Decisional, 35% Avoidance, and 15% Arousal. (I just visited my library website and requested the program Emma suggested.)

  12. posted by Michele on

    I never had too bad of a problem with procrastination until my current life phase in which we are doing an extensive, multi-year remodel on an older, badly neglected house. In the remodel alone (not to mention the other roles in my life), I have several hundred projects on my list ranging from big (add a second bathroom) to small (hang clock). Each project has it’s own dependencies, urgency, quality of life effect, cost, time requirement, etc and I would get overwhelmed just trying to decide what to work on. DH and I finally sat down and nailed down, in order, the major projects for the next 2 years. All the little ones I now just do in whatever order they happen to appear on my list. I have found it’s better for me not to try to optimize my decision about what to work on and just get to work.

  13. posted by Melissa A. on

    I think I’m a combo of the second two.

  14. posted by Jon on

    I may actually procrastinate in ALL of those ways … hmm..

  15. posted by Dawn on

    I’m generally an avoidance procrastinator, but back in university I was more of an arousal procrastinator – I couldn’t write a paper until the night before because I needed the adrenaline rush of the deadline to get the creative juices flowing.

  16. posted by Barry Izsak on

    Great post! As a professional organizer and one who teaches time management and procrastination avoidance, Geralin’s advice is right on. The hidden secret is that even professional organizers struggle with procrastination and I am most definitely of the avoidance variety. If something is boring and not fun, I don’t want to do it! So, I put it off. I’m grateful that I have no problem making decisions and certainly do not find anything arousing or thrilling about all-nighter’s or pushing a deadline!

  17. posted by Mary on

    @Emma – thanks for the book recommendation – I just went to Amazon and it has rave reviews; I bought it.

  18. posted by lionel on

    To decide or not to decide.
    Therein lies my problem.

    …. And when I don’t I stress out even more at the end.

  19. posted by Geralin Thomas on

    @ Erin, many thanks for the link to the article written by Peder Zane in Raleigh’s N & O.

    @ Barry, in addition to your confession, Janine Adams, Professional Organizer and owner of Peace of Mind Organizing has blogged about her challenges staying organized. She is a fan of Mark Forster’s book, Do It Tomorrow. http://www.peaceofmindorganizing.com

    @ Lionel, here is a clever quote about indecision…
    “I used to be indecisive, now I’m not sure.”

  20. posted by Paige on

    I think I’m first and foremost an avoidance procrastinator, but I definitely do all three at different times, depending on the task.

  21. posted by John Trosko on

    I work extremely well under deadlines, and under extreme pressure. I call it organizing triage. But for me, procrastination is formed from a litttle bit of depression and the bad feelings you get (or feel like getting) when you have a decision to make or project to undertake that you are unsure of. Call it dread? That’s why it’s important for me to put myself into the best mindset possible when having to undertake something. Coffee/wine, cookies, sitting by the pool- anything that will put me and keep me in optimal mindset to complete a task– maybe it’s about clarity? I am not a huge planner. I do however work well by putting my all behind something I really believe in. When you have this kind of work ethic, you have to be careful you don’t push others around in spurts of energy.

    – John

  22. posted by Ann at One Bag Nation on

    I’m a combo of avoidance and decisional. They both come back to bite you, but I find that decisional procrastination is more painful; I start on something (like a decluttering project) and indecision paralyzes me. I’ve learned to work for short periods of time and to stop when I start to feel overwhelmed.

    I’d second Emma’s endorsement of The Now Habit, it’s been really helpful to me.

    I’ve also started to blog about my quest for peace of mind, which necessarily includes conquering procrastination.

  23. posted by lionel on

    @ Geralin:
    Love that quote. Fits perfectly.
    (And nice website you have there.)

  24. posted by Geralin Thomas on

    @ John Trosko,

    You could be my new BFF; coffee, wine and cookies are a few of my favorite things. The poolside setting? Nothing could be finer!

    @ Lionel,
    Many thanks!

  25. posted by Janine Adams on

    Count me among the professional organizers who procrastinate. I fall squarely into the avoidance category. I’m working on it, and making some progress, but it’s a lifelong challenge. I think Geralin’s advice is spot on.

  26. posted by Sue on

    “…arousal procrastinator…”

    Sounds like something my spam blocker would filter! LOL!

    I HATE doing our taxes, even though we rarely owe, and often get a refund. It helped to write out an affirmation reminding me how great it felt to have them done, and not having the job hanging over me tainting all my leisure.

  27. posted by Scott Roewer on

    @ Janine – I too am a PO who procrastinates. Heck – I fall into all three categories, just depending which way the wind is blowing. 🙂

    @ Geralin – great suggestions!

  28. posted by Paul on

    I am so going to read this article next week.

  29. posted by Ruth on

    Well….I have enough arousal in my life (and not necessarily always the fun kind), so I will have to say I am a combo of avoidance and decisional. I ABSOLUTELY avoid the boring stuff! When I have asked for Geralin’s advice and assistance, sometimes it is just to have someone for moral support to get through all of those piles of not-so-scintillating stuff! Getting some help does help (mentally)- and it also helps get it done. The harder part is decisional. When we were kids, we didn’t have that many choices, so putting things off was not as complicated an option. While too many options is not really a bad thing, I sometimes experience something close to paralysis. I have experienced some success by writing a list of five things per day that have to get done…from my master list of hundreds. If I cross one off, this has been a good day. If any more get crossed off – it is a true sky blue, good american patriot, win the race, get the ice cream day….you get the picture. Small victories….sometimes the best!

  30. posted by Sheila Delson on

    What a great topic…and e-versation! As a PO, I too struggle with procrastination issues…I think I have a little of all three mentioned. For me it mostly depends on the subject in question. What I’ve learned about myself is that I spend most of my time worrying about why I’m not doing what I “should be” doing. Yet when I do ‘get around to it’ I’ve discovered that it does get done on time, and that the time I’ve chosen to do “it” actually was the right time – for ME! Unfortunately, those watching the process don’t seem to appreciate my ‘uniqueness.’

  31. posted by Patty Wolf, CPO-CD® on

    Procrastination affects us all. Dr. Randy Frost, Professor of Psychology at Smith College, created the “No Matter What” rule. He says, “It’s easy to find reasons not to do something that will be unpleasant.” He suggests that we set aside a certain amount of time each day to work on something we need to do, and then do it “No Matter What”. His theory is based on spending a certain amount of TIME on the project each day, regardless of how you FEEL.

  32. posted by Mary Beth on

    It’s so comforting to know that organized people struggle with procrastination (I thought I was alone)! I too, have avoidance (boring…yawn!) and decisional (perfectionist, that’s me) tendencies, but Geralin’s tips not only nudge away the procrastination, but also make procrastination easier to avoid the next time (pun intended). An interesting issue here is, why are we so paralyzed by having to decide? Who among us makes the right decisions all the time? Some of my “wrong” decisions have helped me grow the most. My Gram always said, ‘Thinking about doing something always takes more time than just doing it.’ I think she had something there.

  33. posted by Sarah on

    I’m interested to see how long it will be before the next unclutterer.com post.

  34. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Sarah — Tomorrow morning 🙂

    Actually Unclutterer posts are published on a schedule. Every week day there is a post at 7:30 a.m. and a second one at 10:30 a.m. eastern. Sometimes we’ll throw one in at 9:15 (the A Year Ago posts), noon, and 3:00 p.m. … but those are more rare. On Saturday, posts usually go up at 8:30 a.m. Just an fyi …

  35. posted by Lori Bruhns on

    Thanks for the great post & tips Geralin. As a mother of twin 2 year old boys & a woman running her own business I find myself procrastinating on basic daily chores. The mentality “it will be there tomorrow” always pops into my head when I see sippy-cups in the sink & a basket of clothes which need putting away. I am definitely an avoidance procrastinator. I will avoid starting my boring & repetitive tasks until I motivated to tackle them. Luckily it only takes a few hours not days to motivate myself.

  36. posted by Sarah on

    Erin – I was just teasing because it’s a post about procrastination! (Sometimes my sarcasm doesn’t translate in typed form.)

    Lori – I have 16-month-old twins, and I work from home. It’s not procrastination when it’s self-preservation!

  37. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Sarah — Oh, I got that you were joking!! I just thought that it would be fun to let people know that we do actually post on a schedule. 🙂 I write six or seven posts a week here (two extra on RealSimple.com), Matt writes four, Teri writes one … I wonder if people notice this or not?? We notice it because we live it … so sometimes it’s fun to just drop things into comments.

  38. posted by Elaine Shannon on

    Hello my name is Elaine….
    I am a professional organizer….
    And yes I am a procrastinator…..
    We are real people who also get caught up. Thanks Geralin for the awesome tips. So many people beat themselves up over this topic.
    What I have learned is that I procrastinate about what I hate to do. These are the things that I am a 3 out of 10 at. I will never be a 7 or even a 5. So I have learned that there are people who love to do what I dislike to do. Delegate and do the things that you can be a 10 at.

  39. posted by Vickie Dellaquila on

    As a professional organizer, I sometimes struggle with procrastination. I would see myself as a avoidance procrastinator. I do not like to do hard or boring tasks and will procarstinate.

    Thanks for the great tips Geralin!

  40. posted by Sarah on


    Great! Perhaps I should give up my day job, after all.
    If I didn’t have an unnatural obsession with unclutterer.com, I’m sure I’d have no idea when to look for new posts. Lucky for me, I’m a junkie.

    🙂 Sarah

  41. posted by Katie on

    As a professional organizer I’d like to think I don’t procrastinate, but I believe that I am the victim of avoidance procrastination. I don’t mind helping other people with their hard or boring tasks, but when it comes to my own it seems those things linger on my to do list. Geralin’s insight has brought this back into the light for me and thus will (hopefully) cause me to be more aware and use her tips to conquer my procrastinating ways!

  42. posted by [email protected] on

    @ all,

    I’m thrilled to see such interest in procrastination as a topic of discussion; your comments are greatly appreciated.

    I’m enjoying this e-versation because I’m starting to see a few patterns evolve.

    Anyone interested in the topic may want to Google the term, “Delay Discounting.” The term is generally used when discussing additive behaviors/rewards & pleasure/impulse controls, etc.

    Researchers are using delay discounting data for treating procrastination…rewarding oneself, more often, studies show, tend to motivate procrastinators.

    @ Lori–if it comforts you at all, most people DREAD the laundry and the final step, putting the clothes away seems to be the most procrastinated chore of all (not sure if I just made up the word, “procrastinated”)

    @ Patty–you are right; Dr. Frost has a ton of great information about this topic. His lectures are wonderful!

    @ Ruth–what you mention is called, “paralysis by analysis” meaning you tend to overanalyze things and do nothing for fear of doing it incorrectly.

    Thanks again for the feedback everyone!

  43. posted by Lorie Marrero on

    I am an Avoidance procrastinator, but what typically happens is that I am actually PERCEIVING the activity to be hard but it really isn’t. Sometimes I even enjoy the activity! And it usually doesn’t take as long as I thought. We recommend to our Clutter Diet members to time yourself doing tasks you dread… so that knowing the true amount of time it takes can make it easier to get started. For example, folding a load of laundry really takes only about 3 minutes. Knowing this makes it easier to tackle.

    Thanks, Geralin, your tips were right on!

    – Lorie Marrero

  44. posted by Colin on

    Guilty of all three, much to my wife’s dismay. However, the longer I work in consulting and get hammered because of client procrastination, the less appealing it becomes – at the risk of triggering content sniffers, being the agent of someone else’s arousal procrastination is not arousing at all… even if it does get repeat business, so to speak.

  45. posted by kadavy on

    I might be an arousal procrastinator, because sometimes I’m up all hours of the night, thinking about my projects; but then I avoid doing those projects, so I might be an avoidance procrastinator. I can’t decide 🙂

  46. posted by Mark on

    Geralin’s tips are, as usual, spot on! My wife and I are avoidance procrastinators. Personally I have to be psychologically in the mood and mentally prepared to take on certain, undesireable tasks. There are certain days when I have the faculties to take on certain challenges. As a Software Engineer I have to agree whole-heartedly with Geralin, that breaking large complex tasks into smaller more achievable ones is the only rationale way to accomplish complex problems. This Software design technique translates perfectly to the real-world as well.

  47. posted by Christian on

    Hey! I’m an arousal procrastinator. I always thought I was just crazy..

  48. posted by Diana on

    I think it’s much easier to tackle tasks when I have at least a semi-clear image of what it will take. I’m a white-collar worker (researcher/designer) 2 years out of professional grad school, working in a field that’s complex and that I’m still learning the skills to do effectively. Thus, sometimes I’ll have to do an analysis of how to improve a piece of software and I’m hazy about where/how to begin. I have incomplete knowledge that it isn’t always clear how to break through, I’m concerned that the project team expects me to bring clarity, etc. I’m slowly learning that part of my job is to set up meetings and brainstorms where I can unearth all the knowledge that the team has, so that I can then begin my work. Since I’m new to leading such meetings, I sometimes put them off or don’t identify when they would be most needed. But the solution is often facilitation rather than organization.

    I did find a book called “Time Management for Architects and Designers” that seems to hit on some of the difficult aspects of certain kinds of work. I haven’t done all the exercises, so I don’t know how helpful it is, but I definitely see a difference between work stuff I procrastinate and, say, fixing my bike at home — the latter is something I know has an endpoint and is accomplishable, and that I can find answers in a straightforward way.

    In my work situation, I think mentorship — the ability to air what I’m thinking with a knowledgeable person I can trust — could really help in getting me through feeling “stuck” and moving to the facilitation phase.

  49. posted by Mary on

    I fall into all three areas at times, but I think I have the most trouble with decisions. Of course, the idea of having to make decisions makes me want to avoid doing it.

  50. posted by tia sedgwick on

    I am most definitely a decisional procrastinator. I have serious perfectionism issues. I have to make sure everything is done to the best of my abilities. For instance, this is embarrassing but I make to do lists and probably throw out 10 copies until my writing is perfect. I also glue pieces of paper over journal entries that I feel I messed up on, ever just a letter. It’s messed, I know. I’m still in grade 10 and my grades are suffering. I hate thinking about my teachers judging my work. Especially when it’s personal. I’ve started and finished projects many times and neglected to hand them in because I don’t think they’re good enough. I know that the truth is I get better grades than most of my peers when I actually hand in my work, but it is really hard to have my work graded. I guess I take it personally sometimes. I hope i don’t come off like a freak haha..

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