The first step to overcoming procrastination: Know thyself

Procrastination is one of the most damaging characteristics that students display because it robs them of good grades and prevents them from maintaining productive and healthy relationships with their teachers, families and friends. Procrastination can have both external (e.g., situations involving work overloads) and internal causes (e.g., personality characteristics).

The following six procrastinator personalities identified by Sapadin (2012) in her book “How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age: 6 Unique Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles” are examples of the internal causes that can fuel procrastination. I highly recommend Sapadin’s book because it provides thinking, speaking and action strategies tailor-made for each of the six personality styles designed to help students lessen their tendency to procrastinate. If you are a procrastinator, you can use Appleby’s Maxims to begin the process of decreasing your tendency to procrastinate.  You can accomplish the first of these maxims (“Know thyself.”) by using the following six descriptions from Sapadin’s book to identify and understand your own procrastination style or combination of styles.  Next, you can use the strategies from Sapadin’s book to accomplish the second maxim (“Be true to thyself.”) by creating a plan to help you overcome—or at least begin to diminish—your inclination to procrastinate.  Finally, it will be your responsibility to actually accomplish the third maxim (“Just do it.”) by putting your plan into action now, not sometime in the future.

Here are Sapadin’s six procrastination styles. Do you recognize yourself in one or more of them?

The perfectionist believes her value as a human being is at stake every time she undertakes a task. The world is an all-or-nothing place for the perfectionist, which means that if the project she is working on fails, or is not the best, then she is a failure too. Her greatest fear is that she will not measure up to her own expectations or the expectations of others, a belief which may have its origin in a parent who looked at the 98 percent on her term paper and asked what happened to the other 2 percent. Procrastination allows the perfectionist to postpone completing an assignment because if it’s not complete, it can’t be judged.


The dreamer yearns for an easy, painless and nonthreatening life. When the world disrupts this dream by presenting difficult challenges, the dreamer retreats into his mind, creating an ideal world in which he is a “special” person who does not have to play by the same rules as everyone else. This dream is very comforting, but it also creates damaging academic, occupational and social/romantic consequences by producing late assignments, unfinished tasks and broken promises.


The worrier has an overpowering need to feel safe, but pays a high price for this feeling. Her most fearsome foes are risk and change, which paralyze her because she fears they will push her outside of her narrow comfort zone. Expecting the worst, she creates a stream of negative “what ifs” that predispose her to assume that taking an action will produce a disastrous outcome. The worrier has “Better Safe Than Sorry” tattooed on her soul. Hence, worriers experience less joy and fun in their lives than most other people; but they believe it is an acceptable price to pay for feeling safe.


The crisis-maker creates lots of drama in his life by waiting until the last minute to get things done. He under-reacts to situations that provide plenty of time to work by saying, “I don’t work well until I really start to feel the pressure,” and then over-reacts with great frenzied bursts of activity just before the deadline. This burn-the-candle-at-both-ends strategy may work for the young, but over time it will fail because it will become harder and harder to transform yourself into superman/woman with jolts of adrenaline and caffeine.


The defier harbors a deep resentment toward authority, and has learned that the safest way to rebel is to use passive aggressive techniques. When asked to perform a task, a defier will almost always say “sure, I can do that,” but then “forgets” to do what he promised. This strategy provides the defier with a sense of power over others, but unfortunately it often leaves the important people in his life feeling betrayed, manipulated and/or used. When this strategy produces its inevitable negative consequences (e.g., failing a course), the defier consoles himself by thinking that this is the inevitable price he must pay if he wants to do things his own way.


The pleaser is always busy, so it doesn’t seem like she is procrastinating. Her focus, however, is not so much on getting her work done, but on pleasing others so they will like her. There is really no problem with that strategy unless she gets distracted from focusing on her own obligations. Pleasers may think they can do it all, but eventually they lose the balance between school and fun, work and leisure, and the professional and the personal. Soon she is disappointing not only those she wants so desperately to please, but also herself by producing mediocre work and making up excuses to explain why her work is late.

Do you recognize yourself in one or more of these descriptions? If your answer is yes, then you have taken the first step in a journey that can transform you into a happier and more productive person. But don’t forget that this journey has the following three parts:

  • Know thyself.
  • Be true to thyself, and then…
  • Just do it TODAY, not tomorrow.


Sapadin, L. (2012). How to beat procrastination in the digital age: 6 unique change programs for 6 personality styles. Long Beach, New York: PsychWisdom Publishing.

Reposted with permission from the American Psychological Association’s Psychology Student Network

About the Author

Drew C. Appleby received his BA from Simpson College in 1969 and his PhD from Iowa State University in 1972. During his four-decade career, he chaired the Marian University Psychology Department, was the director of undergraduate studies in the Indiana University-Purdue University (IUPUI) psychology department, and served as the associate dean of the IUPUI Honors College. He used the results of his research on teaching, learning, advising and mentoring to create strategies that enable college students to adapt to their educational environment, acquire academic competence, set realistic goals and achieve their career aspirations. He published over 200 books and articles (including The Savvy Psychology Major); made over 600 professional presentations (including 25 invited keynote addresses); received 44 institutional, regional and national awards for teaching, advising, mentoring and service; and was honored for his contributions to the science and profession of psychology by being named a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Midwestern Psychological Association, and as the 30th distinguished member of Psi Chi. His work with IUPUI's varsity athletes led him to be named “My Favorite Professor” by 71 student-athletes, over 300 of his students have earned graduate degrees in a wide variety of academic and professional fields, and he was designated as a mentor by 777 IUPUI psychology majors, 222 of whom indicated he was their most influential mentor by selecting the following sentence to describe his impact: “This professor influenced the whole course of my life and his effect on me has been invaluable.” Appleby retired from IUPUI with the rank of professor emeritus in 2011.