Everyone procrastinates a little, but according to psychologist Tim Pychyl, some personality types are more likely to put stuff off.
If you’re impulsive, disorganized, or consider yourself a perfectionist, Pychyl says you might not be knocking out tasks in a timely fashion.
Pychyl is an associate professor at Carleton University. He has been studying procrastination for the better part of two decades, which makes him perhaps the foremost expert on what compels people to delay important tasks.
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t procrastinate because we lack the necessary willpower or time-management skills. “We procrastinate because of a misregulation of emotion,” Pychyl tells Business Insider. “It’s an emotion-coping response.”
Try to recall the last time you procrastinated — maybe it was a big project for work or a set of chores at home. In any case, you probably put the work off because you dreaded confronting the emotions that came with the task: embarrassment, incompetence, or perhaps pure boredom.
According to Pychyl’s research, the kinds of people most likely to misregulate their emotions are those who are more impulsive, are low in conscientiousness (meaning they lack self-discipline), and fear seeming imperfect.
These traits aren’t causes for procrastination, Pychyl clarifies. The underlying causes are the failure to meet the bad feeling face-to-face and the shortsightedness in leaving the task for a future you. But they are correlated in many cases.
Overcoming the urge to procrastinate has to start with seeing it for what it is: a failure not in time-management, but in dealing with emotions. “You have to recognize it’s about feeling good in the short term,” he says. “That’s the place you have to start conceptually.”
For people who can’t stomach a gigantic task, Pychyl recommends just starting a small part of it. The first step to cleaning out your inbox is opening your email. The first step to writing a long essay is opening a blank document.
As you slowly build momentum, the task will become more manageable. And it won’t be long before you realize the bad feelings that kept you from starting probably weren’t so bad after all.