Lindsay Bell

Procrastinators: Stereotypes and Science

By: Lindsay Bell | February 5, 2015 | 
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Procrastinators Rejoice: Stereotypes and ScienceBy Lindsay Bell

Raise your hand, all of you procrastinators. (Both arms Kermit flail!!!)

I procrastinate. A lot.

Deadlines are my friends. I don’t feel completely motivated until facing down a ticking clock.

And yes, as I’ve written about before, being a procrastinator like myself can sometimes lead to disaster.

Procrastinators tend to get a bum rap.

We lead a dysfunctional life (ok, somewhat).

We rarely pay bills on time (not true), leave Christmas shopping to the last minute (maybe), and don’t cash checks or use gift cards (definitely not).

Bad Procrastinators!

According to the Internet, procrastinators have been broken down into three main types:

  • Arousal types, or thrill-seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.
  • Avoiders, who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success, but in either case are very concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability.
  • Decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision. Not making a decision absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events.

Sheeesh, you’d think we snatched kittens off the streets and ate them for dinner!

See, I don’t feel I fit into any of the above. And while “euphoric rush” is close, it’s not an apt description for what procrastinating makes me feel.

I am more inspired, driven, and creative when I’m on deadline. End of story.

Active and Passive Procrastination

When I did a little more research, I discovered why I don’t fit the stereotypes laid out above. There are active procrastinators, and there are passive procrastinators.

I am definitely an active procrastinator.

Here’s a quote from PsychologyToday.com that explains the difference:

Some procrastinators actually delay tasks deliberately because they like to work under pressure or feel challenged by approaching deadlines. These active procrastinators feel in control of their time and use it purposefully. They are less avoidant, have lower stress levels, and higher self-efficacy than passive procrastinators (Chu and Choi 2005). So while they may put things off, unlike passive procrastinators, they are not paralyzed by worry and indecision-and they get things done.

So, instead of being a lazy, paranoid, non-bill-paying loser, I’m actually pretty awesome! Who knew?

And guess what? New scientific research shows our brains are wired for procrastination.

It’s Evolution, Baby

It’s the classic fight between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. And it’s kind of complicated, so let me break it down as simply as possible.

The limbic system is an ancient, unconscious zone that includes the pleasure center. The prefrontal cortex is newer (evolution baby!) and is basically your internal “planner.”

As time.com reports:

The prefrontal cortex, located immediately behind the forehead (where we tap when we’re trying to think, dammit, think), gets the job done. But there’s nothing automatic about its function. You must kick it into gear (“I have to sit down and write this book report!”). And the moment you’re not consciously engaged in a task, your limbic system takes over. You give in to what feels good—you procrastinate.

So, what did we learn today? Stop trying to categorize people into types or groups, because we’re all made up of a little of this and a little of that.

Human brains are freaking amazing.

And if you’re really feeling down about yourself, there’s probably a way you can use science to blame evolution for your shortcomings.

While you might not want to have an entire team made up of procrastinators, considering they can be in better control of their time, be less stressed, and feel challenged—not paralyzed—by approaching deadlines, having the odd one or two on your staff can be beneficial.

Are you a procrastinator? Active or passive?

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

About Lindsay Bell


Lindsay Bell is the content director at V3 Marketing, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, she’s a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, two annoying cats, and Hank Dawge, a Vizsla/Foxhound/moose hybrid. Ok, maybe not moose.