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I don’t know if it’ll come as a huge surprise, but I am a procrastinator. It’s also known as being a perfectionist. When I took Ruth Soukup’s Fear Assessment, my top three archetypes were 1) People Pleaser, 2) Procrastinator, and 3) Rule Follower. Out of those three the last two I knew about, but the first one makes sense when I think about it. Nevertheless, procrastination has been a part of my life for what seems like forever.
I have a story I want to share with you about procrastination.
Before College… Was College.
I went to Running Start. This is a program in Washington State that lets high schoolers in 11th and 12th grade attend a community college instead of (or in addition to) high school and gain an Associate’s degree in conjunction with the high school diploma. I was a full RS student—no high school classes at all.
Like all degree programs, there are required classes, and one of them was a literature class that covered a really boring time in American history (in my opinion). It was all the Puritan stuff, poems, and essays from the time of Emerson and Thoreau… All great authors, but honestly really boring for me.
I still have all my assignments from that class. Trust me. Super boring.
I considered it so boring that I put off writing an entire paper until the morning it was due. I think I started it an hour before class did.
That’s the clearest time I can remember procrastinating with such a strong feeling of not wanting to do something. It was, quite literally, the last thing I wanted to do—and it was the last thing I did before I started class.
Now, I don’t remember what grade I got on that particular assignment (or even what assignment it was). I didn’t fail the class, I’m pretty sure I didn’t get a failing grade on that paper, but now that I think about it, that incident encompasses all three of my top fear archetypes.
I didn’t want the professor to think any less of me for handing in a half-done essay—or nothing at all. So I wrote the damn paper in less than an hour.
Procrastinator & Perfectionist
I didn’t want to do the assignment. At all. It held zero interest for me despite its impact on my grade. The only interest I had in finishing it was that it would impact my grade and the professor would probably lose respect for me.
What kind of person just doesn’t do her homework? I’d never been the kind of person to just not hand something in. Rule followers have a fear of authority—and that was certainly the case here.
If I’d have been able to completely get away with not doing the assignment and not getting punished for it, I still probably would’ve felt guilty for breaking the rules—especially my internal rules.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
I don’t know about you, but I procrastinate for two reasons.
- I really don’t want to do the thing. It just holds no objective value for me, but oftentimes these things “must” be done. Maybe I should just delegate them. Read more about delegating in this post on the Eisenhower Matrix.
- I want the thing to be perfect. Sometimes the procrastination is on getting started, and sometimes it’s on finishing.
Ruth Soukup makes a terrific point that the underlying cause of procrastination and perfectionism is the fear that it’s not going to be good enough, or it’s going to be too hard, or some other fear.
She also points out that action is the antidote to fear. Almost always, as soon as I start the timer for something it becomes so much easier. When I finally started writing that American Literature paper a decade ago I got it done in less than an hour.
I recently have been putting off something that, when I finally set myself up for success to actually just start the thing, it took just an hour or so to complete.
Will I Continue to Procrastinate?
In some cases, probably. It’s something I’m getting better at recognizing, and it’s also the most damaging fear of all my fear archetypes. It inflicts emotional distress upon myself, and I have nobody to blame for it but me.
The thing I’d recently been putting off was at the point that I felt anxious about not having done it, so I realized the time was way past due to just do it.
I like this phrase:
“The time is going to pass anyway.”
It’s a great way to remember that putting things off won’t change that we have to do them at some point, and if the time’s going to pass anyway, why not just do it now? It’ll be over and done, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t just do it sooner.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Rarely in the moment do we recognize that we should just do it—like Shia Labeouf says we should in the Nike commercials.
When Procrastination Hints at Something Else
Procrastinating, like I did on that homework assignment, was about as extreme as it got for me. Despite my tendency to put things off, eventually, I will do them—later than originally intended or just in time.
But what about when procrastination turns into apathy? What about when you just stop caring about the consequences of putting things off, regardless of your fear archetypes or expectations tendency?
You might need help.
Apathy like that can hint at depression. When you’ve just lost all motivation and desire to do something, you might be experiencing an episode of depression. Please keep in mind that apathy is not the only symptom of depression, but it’s a pretty major one following the widely known symptoms of feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
I hope that procrastination doesn’t mean depression for you—so far it hasn’t for me, but not everyone is as lucky.
Do You Have a Procrastination Story?
I know my story isn’t really all that extreme compared to others. Have you put something off for so long that it caused problems in your life? Looking back, would you do things differently? Share your story in the comments below!