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It turns out that there are actually different kinds of procrastinators and sometimes, what feels like procrastination might actually be an adaptive way to get work done efficiently.

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So many of us are procrastinators that we kind of have our own place in pop culture, complete with slogans and t-shirts. You know, Procrastinators Unite!

Tomorrow. It really is super common to procrastinate. Some estimates suggest that 80% to 95% of college students procrastinate at least some of their schoolwork.

And approximately 1/5 of adults, and 1/2 of college students, identify as “severe and chronic” procrastinators. And most of us who do it feel bad about our procrastination. That's probably why we have all the jokes and the t-shirts, so we don't have to think about how it might be making our lives harder than they need to be.

But what if it wasn't necessarily bad to procrastinate? It turns out that there are actually different kinds of procrastinators, and that sometimes, what feels like procrastination might actually be an adaptive way to get work done efficiently. Okay, okay, so it's not all good news.

Procrastination means putting off work that we could do now until later. And, generally, it is considered to be a maladaptive behavior, which means that it's more harm than help when it comes to getting by in your day-to-day environment. Procrastination has been linked to all sorts of things, like worse performance on academic tasks; to quality of life things like worry, anxiety, and depression; and maybe even health problems like hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

But here's the thing. Not all procrastinators are the same. One 2015 study asked 710 individuals who considered themselves procrastinators to take a bunch of self-assessments on procrastination, anxiety, depression, and quality of life.

Based on that, the researchers identified five subtypes of procrastinators, from mild to well-adjusted to severe. This showed that procrastination doesn't have to be maladaptive for everybody. The researchers also suggested that different coping strategies could be developed for people of different subtypes to help them better manage their tendency to procrastinate.

Just as procrastinators differ, some researchers also believe that there are different types of procrastination. Most notably, they talk about active versus passive procrastination. Passive procrastination is what we normally think of when we talk about procrastination.

You push off tasks and don't get them done, and then you feel lousy about it. That sense of self-doubt, anxiety, and distress is actually a key aspect of passive procrastination. If it's not causing you problems, then it's not necessarily a problem.

Active procrastination, on the other hand, can be thought of as a time management strategy. These folks prefer to work under pressure, so they deliberately push off tasks to create a time crunch. But then they get their stuff done, and they feel good about their choices and their work when all is said and done.

There's actually evidence that active procrastinators are more similar to non-procrastinators than to passive procrastinators in certain ways. Like dealing with stress, managing their time, having confidence in their ability to get stuff done, and actually doing it well. Because active procrastinators?

They tend to get pretty good grades. One 2019 study found that active procrastinators showed higher emotional intelligence, greater persistence, and greater self-directedness compared to passive procrastinators. Of course, some researchers aren't entirely on board with active procrastination.

They argue that it shouldn't be thought of as a type of procrastination at all, but rather as the result of two pieces: arousal delay and purposeful delay. Arousal delay is the need to feel pressure to get things done, which these researchers say is not super great. It tends to be correlated with less well-being, because you have to literally put yourself under stress to find the motivation to do the thing.

But purposeful delay, the choice to put off some tasks and prioritize others, is a good strategy for managing complex tasks. These researchers think it might be the adaptive component that others have called “active procrastination.” Another idea that a lot of us may recognize is productive procrastination, where you replace one adaptive behavior with another, less important adaptive behavior. This is the classic doing-your-laundry-instead-of-working-on-that-big-assignment.

You're still getting something you want to do done, but it's probably only happening because you really don't want do that other thing. There's not a lot of research on this, so it's not entirely clear whether it's a super great thing to do. One 2016 study surveyed 1104 undergrads about their procrastination habits.

Some procrastinated their schoolwork through other productive tasks, like cleaning or working on other assignments. Others did stuff like socializing, going on Facebook, and watching TV. And those who procrastinated productively by doing other academic tasks had better grades and were at a lower risk of alcohol use and abuse.

And that's all we can really learn from this one study, since it was asking pretty specific questions. But at least it tells us that productive procrastination might be better than unproductive procrastination, in this one sense. Now, we don't want anyone to feel guilty, no matter what kind of procrastination behavior you fall under.

It's totally a thing people do. There are, of course, plenty of strategies for how you can stop procrastinating altogether. So if your procrastination is causing you problems and you want to try to stop it, go for it!

But the research does seem to suggest that being a procrastinator doesn't have to be the worst thing that ever happened to you. We all procrastinate differently and with varying levels of success, but if you have a good way to manage your need to put things off, you can definitely still get things done. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych, and thanks to our patrons for making this and every episode possible.

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