Putting It Off No More: Procrastination and Personality

Darrell’s avatar

It’s Tuesday night, and the report that you’re supposed to present at the regular Wednesday morning meeting is still unfinished. Unfinished might be a little generous. You were assigned the presentation three weeks ago, but you haven’t even started it yet. Your report should be about how well the new inventory system is working. You think you understand the new system, but not confidently, and the idea of assessing it makes you very uncomfortable. The conversation inside your head is filled with talk of making a fool of yourself.

Sure, you felt uncomfortable when you originally received the assignment. But that discomfort doesn’t even come close to the panic that you’re feeling now as you rush to get something on paper in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

“Procrastination is the misregulation of emotion. We think that by putting things off, we’re going to feel better.”


That’s procrastination. Procrastinators often rationalize that somehow the circumstances around doing something will be better in the future: they don’t feel like doing it now. They tell themselves that now is not the time, but they believe that they will probably rally later. Maybe they will be less tired and more up to the job if they just take a snooze. The task seems difficult, so maybe if they steel themselves, they’ll be readier to attack the chore tomorrow. Perhaps a couple of hours of video games will relax them, so that they might think more creatively or clearly afterward? Maybe the moon and the stars aren’t lined up quite right to do the task now, but the constellations are always shifting in the night sky, so…

Most procrastinators feel guilt or even shame and likely see this as a bad habit that needs to be fixed. They may think of themselves as lazy or chronically disorganized time managers. Try as they might, they may find breaking the procrastination habit exceedingly difficult, and their self-esteem may take some serious hits.

But there is room for compassion (or self-compassion). Procrastination can feel like a lack of self-discipline or laziness, but that may be oversimplifying things. Dr. Timothy Pychyl, the author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, and Dr. Fuschia Sirois see it as an attempt to regulate emotions. Dr. Sirois is quoted in the New York Times as saying, “It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences.” Thus, procrastination.

Similarly, other studies have found a high association between negative automatic thoughts (self-talk) and procrastination. So, in a sense, your procrastination may be a misguided or dated means of self-protection that keeps you from hurting yourself by avoiding the “pain.”

Personality Traits and Putting Things Off

But our main topic is how people with different personality traits might procrastinate based on their sensitivities and focus. Considering the topic, we probably shouldn’t put off addressing it any longer.

The format will be a brief generalization of what might create procrastination problems for people with each personality trait and a suggestion of what might help those individuals to avoid them. There are probably many things that qualify as procrastination traps for each of these personality traits, but here’s our take on it. Feel free to share yours in the comments below.

Also, keep in mind that regardless of the reason for procrastinating, putting things off is a voluntary decision based on a misguided self-protective strategy. Please think of the following as reasons – and not excuses.


Possible Procrastination Trap: Alone and Thinking

For Introverted personalities, procrastination is often connected to tasks that involve reaching out to other people: making a phone call, writing an email, or composing a perfect speech while anticipating the audience and their reactions. Maybe, they might believe, if they put it off just a little, they can steel themselves and feel ready tomorrow or the next day.

Introverted personalities also spend more time on their own thinking and are more deliberate in their actions than their Extraverted counterparts. They are slower to act even when they aren’t procrastinating, and their natural tendency to hesitate may, under the right conditions, support the impulse to put things off.

Possible Solution

Stop thinking so much.


That doesn’t work.

Instead, think differently. You know that people aren’t going to be any less exhausting tomorrow. And you likely also know that no matter how often you review the circumstances of a situation, they may never change. What you see is probably what you get. So, rather than just knowing these realities, speak them either silently or out loud, if you’re comfortable. Form a sentence that affirms the truth and encourages a more positive direction. Then use it as a mantra.

“I don’t want to make the phone call. Just the thought of it exhausts me. [Here enters the affirmed truth and action mantra.] But I have to do it, and it won’t be any more pleasant tomorrow. In fact, it probably won’t be terrible if I do it right now. So I’m going to unlock my phone, and…”


Possible Procrastination Trap: Thrill-Seeking and Loneliness

While an Extravert’s procrastination might spring from being distracted from mundane work by a social opportunity, Extraversion is more than the popular view of it as a social style. Extraverted personalities also crave experiences and generally display more energy than their Introverted counterparts. If the task isn’t that interesting or is fairly low-key and solitary, Extraverts might see it as a grind and put it off rather than deal with a lonely endeavor that doesn’t resonate with their outgoing energy.

And there may be a bit of thrill-seeking in getting an assignment in just the nick of time for some Extraverted personalities. (Procrastination as a way of achieving stimulation is called “arousal procrastination.”) In our research, about seven out of ten Extraverts say they work better under pressure, suggesting that there might be an inclination for this kind of procrastination. But research shows that waiting until the last minute to do something is full of dangers. Dr. Pychyl and others have pointed out that there is little evidence that people work better under pressure and that those who wait until the last possible moment are prone to making more errors.

Possible Solution

The obvious answer is to make as many tasks as possible into a party and to invite other participants. Unfortunately, that’s not always practical. But fear not. You can also use your social impulses in other ways.

Maybe you can announce your intention to complete a task to family members or a group of friends. A little positive peer pressure can go a long way. Maybe set a reward that includes other people for when the task is completed. There’s even a little risk of being embarrassed if you don’t meet your goals. Such a gamble might make it more interesting for the thrill-seekers among Extraverts.

“When I finish my taxes, let’s all celebrate by going out to dinner. I could use that as a write-off next year, right? No?”


Possible Procrastination Trap: Too Far Down the Road

Observant personalities are often very good at getting things done. The Observant trait is often associated with people who are less likely to procrastinate. But they may not be totally immune.

Observant people are naturally more present than their Intuitive counterparts. While they’re aware of the future, they are more in touch with the present and the past. However, if a goal or task reaches too far into the future, it becomes more of an idea than a reality. They can feel disconnected from it and maybe a little wary, especially if it represents a significant change. Observant personalities might keep themselves busy with the things that they can accomplish in the present to avoid working toward long-range goals dwelling in the uncomfortable unknown.

Possible Solution

Be curious. In all situations, try to find out as much as you can about a plan that feels a little foreboding to you, especially if you find yourself procrastinating rather than dealing with it. The more real the goal is, the less likely you are to disconnect. See if you can get to know it well enough that you can form a clear picture of the outcome in your mind.

“I need to put together some data to help with the development of the new inventory system. What’s wrong with the one we have? The new one is probably going to bring chaos and create all kinds of headaches for me. I can deal with the numbers later – right now, I can… Hold on. This feels like procrastination. Maybe I’ll feel more like working on the system if I get a good sense of what it’s all about. I could probably talk to…”


Possible Procrastination Trap: Imagination and More Imagination

Intuitive people who procrastinate are often the victims of their own robust imaginations, which can play a tremendous role in fostering an impulse to put things off. Consider daydreaming. While some creative gold can sometimes result from daydreaming, it’s not useful when action is called for. Intuitive personalities are nearly twice as likely as Observant personalities to say that they often drift off into daydreaming. So the act of daydreaming can itself be a form of procrastination if indulged in at the right (or wrong) time.

And within an Intuitive personality’s imagination is a wide array of possibilities. Their imaginings are a series of what-ifs, and some of those possibilities might involve things going wrong. Or Intuitive people might imagine being judged and humiliated for any failure. Or they might imagine that a complex task is easier than it is and can be completed at the last minute effortlessly. The list of things that a person can imagine that helps them put things off is likely endless. Intuitive people’s imaginations are priceless, but they aren’t always timely.

Possible Solution

Make a list of the steps involved in getting the task that you’re facing completed. Only use words and phrases that describe raw action. Avoid judging that task by using words that refer to its quality or ease. This will keep you from being too concerned about how well you might execute the task. You’ll have plenty of time to assess those things when the task is complete. Next, do the first step. And then the next step. And so on.

“There are so many ways I can mess up this stupid task. This could be really humiliating. Maybe I’ll feel more confident later. Wait a minute. I remember that article from 16Personalities. The first step would beeeee…sorting the names into alphabetical order. Then…”


Possible Procrastination Trap: Forest/Trees and Alternatives

Paralysis by analysis: it’s a hackneyed old phrase, but it tends to work when thinking about the Thinking personality trait and procrastination. Analysis is, no doubt, valuable when approaching a task. However, should it become elevated above the action, it becomes a procrastination device. In other words, thinking is good, but overthinking instead of acting can be problematic. Endlessly considering alternatives can be far more comfortable for personality types with the Thinking trait.

And don’t be fooled. The questions that Thinking personalities ask when searching for options may be perfectly reasonable, but if they’re preventing needed action, the timing is off. The task’s the thing, and at some stage, seeking alternatives can end up gumming up the works.

Possible Solution

Add another potential alternative: “What will happen if I don’t complete the task now? How will that affect everything?” Be careful of rationalizations. Be ruthlessly honest.

“Instead, I could remove that and replace it with the other thing. Or I could stop speculating and start doing the work. What would happen if I continued to speculate and didn’t repair the whatsit right now? Hmm. Not good. The better alternative is to get started.”


Possible Procrastination Trap: Uncertainty and Self-Worth

If procrastination is about emotional regulation, then we’ve come to the right trait. Feeling personality types filter many of their decisions and assessments of their experiences through emotions. This would make them more likely to see how their feelings might fare if they do an amazing job on a task. But we’re talking about procrastination, so having them predict deep sorrow and frustration if they botch the task is more in line with our topic. And who wouldn’t want to avoid that?

Feeling personality types may also be prone to taking the results of their efforts personally – in some cases, unreasonably so. They may judge themselves more harshly for failure. If they believe that their sense of self-worth is endangered, it may seem reasonable to avoid that pain by putting a task off.

Possible Solution

Make a list of the tangible consequences of procrastination, especially if you find that you do it often. Next, write the feelings that come up when you think about the consequences. Spend some time with this. Write out how you’d rather feel. Finish it with the phrase, “Either way, I am not my feelings.”

I don’t meet my deadlines.

  • I feel guilty.
  • I wish I felt more integrity instead.
  • Either way, I’m not my feelings.

I was chewed out for being late…again.

  • I feel angry at myself.
  • I would like to feel more organized.
  • Either way, I’m not my feelings.


Possible Procrastination Trap: Perfectionism and Anxiety

While it might seem like these more organized personality types would have little problem with procrastination, Judging types’ deep appreciation for order comes from a desire to ensure consistency, among other things. They’re generally not big fans of surprises.

Trying to excessively control a task’s direction can leave Judging personality types trying to anticipate every problem. Consequently, some feel uncomfortable acting until they have a sense of a somewhat guaranteed path forward. Waiting to find the perfect path leads to procrastination. A by-product of the Judging personality’s desire for control can be anxiety, because perfection is always daunting. Attempting to avoid anxiety can be a major cause of procrastination.

Possible Solution

This type of procrastination is the product of perfectionism. You can strive for perfection without it being a problem, as long as you remember that achieving perfection is rare. You can think in terms of helpful perfectionism and unhelpful perfectionism. In this case, since waiting for the perfect path forward leads to procrastination, we’ll label that as unhelpful. So here’s the trick: flip unhelpful perfectionism into helpful perfectionism. Determine that you are going to shoot for deadlines with the same conviction with which you search for various guaranteed paths to the perfect.

“I can’t control the future or guarantee what it holds, but I can aim for meeting deadlines perfectly. That, in itself, will keep some things predictable and orderly.”


Possible Procrastination Trap: Options and Commitment

Prospecting types view the world as a place of many choices where they can pick up and drop interests as their enthusiasm waxes and wanes. While this makes their approach highly flexible, it can also have implications for commitment. Our research shows that Prospecting personality types are significantly less comfortable with commitment than their Judging counterparts. To some degree, dedicating themselves to a choice or action eliminates the many alternate choices or actions whose existences cater to the Prospecting personality’s penchant for flexibility.

Committing means that one thing is chosen to the exclusion of all the alternatives, thus decreasing a Prospecting person’s options. Rather than experience the discomfort of decreased flexibility, Prospecting personalities may delay taking the first step into what can seem like irreversibly committing to a choice. Psychologist Barry Schwartz called something similar to this “choice paralysis.” Choice paralysis is the idea that too many choices make people less likely to act. And, of course, not acting is the hallmark of procrastination.

Possible Solution

Think of every choice as a short-term commitment, with a heavy emphasis on short term. If the choice proves to be successful by however its success is measured, it’s a keeper. While settling on a choice, even an effective choice, may not seem very interesting to some Prospecting personalities, it still puts something that you accomplished in the win column. It is a success along the road of a long journey with many new challenges just over the horizon.

How about a reframe? Look at it this way. If the results bomb, then it’s perfect for you, because it gives you a chance to explore more options. And Prospecting types love tons of options. You can once again pull out your mental list of alternative choices and settle into your comfort zone.


Possible Procrastination Trap: Looking Ahead and Too Little Trepidation

This personality trait is a different creature from all of the others. Assertive individuals tend to feel more positive about the direction that they’re headed in. It’s not just that they don’t dread the unknown future – they also tend to head enthusiastically toward their unknown fates. If we’re looking at this personality trait in isolation, those who possess such self-confidence don’t quite fit the emotional regulation model that we’ve used so far. What’s to regulate?

Their confident outlook doesn’t mean that they are free from the curse of procrastination, however. Assertive people’s Achilles’ heel is generally their overconfidence. Overconfidence tends to make them careless in many ways, including turning things in on time. They may underestimate the difficulty of a task and, consequently, underestimate the time that a surprisingly complex task takes to complete. They wait until the last minute only to discover that their estimate is completely wrong. Once again, procrastination does its damage, not as a way to avoid pain but as the product of audacity.

Possible Solution

Suppose you find yourself putting things off until the last minute because of overconfidence. Consider one or both of the following suggestions:

  1. Surround yourself with detail-oriented people and listen to them when they suggest timelines.
  2. Mark the time until a task is due. Some helpful tools might include a calendar, Post-it notes, a countdown app, or a small dry-erase board. Let these serve as visual reminders. Challenge yourself to complete the task by the midpoint of your timeline. You know you can.

“Oh, this paper can wait. It’s easy. There’s no rush. Hmm. But I could challenge myself to do it a few days before it’s due. That’s pretty easy too. Why not?”


Possible Procrastination Trap: Looking Ahead and Great Trepidation

Those with the Turbulent Identity are always scanning the horizon to speculate on what’s up ahead. It’s as though people with this trait peer through a filter that only lets in images that feature how things can go wrong. While other personality types may find that anxiety plays a part in their reasons for procrastinating, such feelings are likely not as pervasive. When it comes to the Turbulent Identity, on the other hand, anxious uncertainty is a specialty.

Because people with this personality trait are more likely to assume that things will go badly, they may be hesitant to begin what might turn into a minor disaster. In this hesitancy we find our culprit: procrastination. (On the flip side, the same anxiety, under the right circumstances, can motivate these individuals to work harder and more effectively in the hope of preventing the problems that they believe may be coming. Just making sure that all sides are heard from.)

Possible Solution

When you find anxiety sneaking up on you and causing you to procrastinate, ask yourself three simple questions: “What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best that can happen? And what’s the most realistic outcome?” This will help you consider the range of possibilities intentionally. You may find yourself breathing more easily as you realize that bad results may be one outcome, but a good outcome is just as likely. This process helps you home in on the most realistic outcome after balancing the negative and the positive.

“I really don’t want to start that project. It has doom and failure written all over it. Hold on. How did I learn to handle anxiety-created procrastination? Oh, yeah, the three questions…”

So, as Nike Says, “Just Do It”

Chronic procrastination can put a serious crimp in a procrastinator’s lifestyle and stall any successes that they may be reaching for in life. The nice thing is that procrastination is not terminal, and with a little effort, it can be controlled or overcome.

If you are trying to overcome procrastination, we hope that some of our suggestions are useful. There is plenty of other help out there if you want it. One of the things that you can do now to get a better handle on the many aspects of your life is to get to know your personality type better. We have all kinds of tools to help you fine-tune your understanding of who you are.

One test that might help with procrastination is our Motivation Test. Take it to find out what energizes your day and life.

Further Reading