Procrastination Types: Understanding the Different Ways People Procrastinate

Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions. However, there are many different types of procrastination, which can occur for different reasons and lead to different outcomes.

The main types of procrastination are the following:

  • Mild, average, and severe procrastination. The difference between these types of procrastination is the severity of a person’s procrastination, in terms of how often they postpone things and for how long, as well as how negatively their procrastination affects them.
  • Acute and chronic procrastination. The difference between these types of procrastination is that acute procrastination is confined to a short period of time, whereas chronic procrastination persists in the long term.
  • Anxious and hedonistic procrastination. The difference between these types of procrastination is that anxious procrastination involves postponing things despite an intention to work on them and despite the awareness that the delay is self-defeating and irrational, whereas hedonistic procrastination involves postponing things voluntarily due to prioritization of enjoyable activities or due to lack of caring. In addition, procrastinators may also be differentiated based on other causes of procrastination, as in the case of depressed procrastinators, for whom the main cause of procrastination is depression, as well as perfectionist procrastinators, pessimistic procrastinators, and rebellious procrastinators.
  • Active and passive procrastination. The difference between these types of procrastination is that active procrastination involves deliberate delay that leads to positive outcomes, whereas passive procrastination involves involuntary delay that leads to negative outcomes.
  • Academic, workplace, and bedtime procrastination. The difference between these types of procrastination is the domain in which the procrastination occurs, since academic procrastination involves delaying on academic tasks, workplace procrastination involves delaying on workplace tasks, and bedtime procrastination involves delaying going to bed.

These types can also be used to categorize procrastinators directly, rather than to categorize people’s procrastination. For example, instead of saying that someone engages in mild procrastination, it’s possible to say that they’re a mild procrastinator. Similarly, rather than saying that someone engages in chronic procrastination, it’s possible to say that they’re a chronic procrastinator.

In addition, a person’s procrastination can be categorized based on a combination of several different types of procrastination. For example, a person can be categorized as a mild and anxious academic procrastinator, or as a severe and chronic hedonistic procrastinator.

In the sections below, you will learn more about these different types of procrastination, and see how you can use this information in practice.

 

Types of procrastination

Mild, average, and severe procrastination

The difference between mild, average, and severe procrastination is how severe a person’s procrastination is, based on two main factors:

  • How much the person procrastinates, in terms of how often they postpone things and for how long.
  • How negatively the person’s procrastination affects them, for example in terms of whether it causes them to miss deadlines and whether it causes them to experience stress.

Accordingly, a mild procrastinator will generally be someone who procrastinates only rarely and who isn’t strongly affected by their procrastination, whereas a severe procrastinator will generally be someone who procrastinates often and who is strongly affected by their procrastination.

There are no universal thresholds or criteria for what exactly constitutes mild procrastination compared to severe procrastination, so the same procrastinator may be categorized differently in different situations. This means, for example, that the same person might be categorized as a mild procrastinator in one case but as an average procrastinator in another, depending on which threshold and criteria are used for assessment.

Furthermore, this type of assessment may be context-dependent, for example when it is based on a relative threshold, which depends on the population average, as opposed to a single absolute threshold, which is consistently used across all populations. This means, for example, that the same person might be considered as an average procrastinator if their procrastination is compared to that of young students, but as a severe procrastinator if their procrastination is compared to that of adults in the workplace, because people in the latter population procrastinate much less on average.

However, despite this potential variation, it’s also expected that there will be some consistency between different thresholds and criteria for categorizing people’s procrastination based on its severity. For example, if someone procrastinates often, for long periods of time, and seriously suffers because of this, it’s unlikely that they will be categorized as a mild procrastinator, regardless of the threshold or criteria that are used for assessment.

In addition, when it comes to this categorization scheme for procrastination, it’s also possible to categorize the severity of people’s procrastination as being on a continuum, rather than as involving only discrete groups. For example, it’s possible to categorize people’s procrastination as being somewhere on a scale of 1–7, and then comparing their score on this scale to that of the average person in the same population.

Finally, note that other terms, such as low, moderate, and high, are sometimes used to categorize procrastination based on its severity. Similarly, the term pathological procrastination is sometimes used to refer to severe procrastination, which is likely to also be chronic and difficult to resolve.

 

Acute and chronic procrastination

The difference between acute and chronic procrastination is that acute procrastination is confined to a short period of time, whereas chronic procrastination persists in the long term.

For example, a student who is an acute procrastinator might procrastinate only when it comes to a single assignment that they’re anxious about, whereas a student who is a chronic procrastinator might procrastinate on all the assignments that they get throughout their academic career.

There are no universal guidelines for what constitutes acute procrastination compared to chronic procrastination, so the categorization of some cases of procrastination as acute or chronic may be uncertain. Nevertheless, some cases are expected to be clearly categorized as either acute or chronic. For example, someone who procrastinates for only a week will generally be categorized as an acute procrastinator, whereas someone who procrastinates for many years will generally be categorized as a chronic procrastinator.

Finally, an important caveat is that chronic procrastination is about the long-term tendency to postpone things, rather than about the tendency to postpone things for long periods of time. This means, for example, that a chronic procrastinator may postpone tasks for only a few hours at a time, but this still constitutes chronic procrastination if they display this tendency over the course of years.

 

Anxious and hedonistic procrastination

The difference between anxious and hedonistic procrastination that anxious procrastination involves postponing things despite an intention to work on them and despite the awareness that the delay is self-defeating and irrational, whereas hedonistic procrastination involves postponing things voluntarily due to prioritization of enjoyable activities or due to lack of caring.

For example, an anxious procrastinator might postpone a task because they’re afraid of getting negative feedback from others, whereas a hedonistic procrastinator might postpone the same task so they can spend time having fun with their friends instead.

Anxious procrastination is also referred to as traditional procrastination or irrational delay, while hedonistic procrastination is also referred to as hedonistic delay. An associated type of delay is arousal delay, which involves deliberate postponing things until right before the deadline, due to a preference for working under pressure or experiencing the excitement of finishing things at the last minute.

This categorization scheme for procrastination and types of delay is similar to another categorization scheme, which draws a distinction between avoidant procrastination, which involves delaying due to fears and anxieties, arousal procrastination, which involves waiting until right before the deadline to make tasks more exciting, and decisional procrastination, which involves an inability to make decisions in a timely manner. However, the distinction between these types of procrastination has been criticized.

In addition, note that procrastination can also be categorized based on other types of causes, often in an informal manner (i.e., not based on specific scientific criteria). This includes, for example, depressed procrastinators, for whom the main cause of procrastination is depression, as well as overwhelmed procrastinators, perfectionist procrastinators, pessimistic procrastinators, optimistic procrastinators, and rebellious procrastinators.

 

Active and passive procrastination

The difference between active and passive procrastination is that active procrastination involves deliberate delay that leads to positive outcomes, whereas passive procrastination involves involuntary delay that leads to negative outcomes.

For example, an active procrastinator might postpone tasks until right before the deadline, because doing so helps them perform better, whereas a passive procrastinator might postpone tasks for so long that they miss deadlines, because they feel anxious.

These two types of procrastination are sometimes also characterized as positive procrastination and negative procrastination, or as adaptive procrastination and maladaptive procrastination. Furthermore, passive procrastination is sometimes also referred to as traditional procrastination, and the concept of active procrastination is associated with the type of procrastination displayed by well-adjusted procrastinators, who procrastinate regularly but who are generally not negatively affected by their procrastination. Active procrastination is also associated with the concept of productive procrastination (also known as structured procrastination), which involves doing beneficial things while delaying doing more important things.

In addition, similarly to the distinction between anxious and hedonistic procrastination, the distinction between active and passive procrastination is also associated with the criticized distinction between avoidant procrastination, which involves delaying due to fears and anxieties, and arousal procrastination, which involves purposely waiting until right before the deadline to make tasks more exciting.

Finally, the concept of active procrastination has been heavily criticized and challenged by various researchers, such as those who argue that it’s a form of delay that’s distinct from procrastination, and those who argue that it doesn’t lead to positive outcomes.

 

Academic, workplace, and bedtime procrastination

The difference between academic, workplace, and bedtime procrastination is the domain in which the procrastination occurs. Specifically:

  • Academic procrastination is a phenomenon where people—particularly students—unnecessarily postpone academic assignments. An example of academic procrastination is a student who has a week to study for an exam, but postpones their studying unnecessarily until the night before, even though they wanted to start earlier.
  • Workplace procrastination is a phenomenon where people unnecessarily postpone dealing with work-related tasks. An example of workplace procrastination is someone who keeps putting off writing a crucial report, by wasting their time on unimportant work-related tasks instead.
  • Bedtime procrastination is a phenomenon where people unnecessarily delay going to bed, especially when they know that doing so is bad for them. An example of bedtime procrastination is someone who goes to bed hours later than they intended, because they wasted time browsing the internet, playing video games, or watching TV, even though they didn’t have much fun doing this, and even though they knew that this will cause them to be tired and frustrated the next day.

In addition, procrastination can also occur in other domains. For example, procrastination can occur when it comes to general life tasks, such as paying bills and cleaning the house. Similarly, procrastination can occur when it comes to interpersonal relationships, such as when it comes to responding to texts from friends or approaching potential romantic partners.

Finally, these types of procrastination may be further differentiated based on other relevant criteria. For example, it’s possible to draw a distinction between online and offline workplace procrastination, where online workplace procrastination involves using digital devices, whereas offline workplace procrastination doesn’t involve using digital devices. Similarly, it’s possible to draw a distinction between bedtime procrastination, which involves unnecessarily postponing going to bed, and while-in-bed procrastination, which involves unnecessarily postponing going to sleep after already getting into bed, and these two types of procrastination can be considered to be sub-types of sleep procrastination, which involves procrastinating on going to sleep in general.

 

Procrastination as a behavior, trait, or psychological problem

When classifying a person’s procrastination, in addition to the types of procrastination listed above, it’s possible to also draw a distinction between procrastination as a behavior, trait, or psychological problem:

  • Procrastination behaviour is a needless delay of a task, despite the initial intention to start or finish it.
  • Trait procrastination is the long-term habitual tendency to delay tasks or decisions across a variety of tasks, despite the initial intention to perform them, which is very often irrational, accompanied by negative emotions, which may cause poor performance or personal dissatisfaction about the outcome.
  • Procrastination as a psychological problem is procrastination behaviour or trait procrastination which is accompanied by negative emotions and cause poor performance or personal dissatisfaction about the outcome.

— From “Conceptualization and operationalization of delay: Development and validation of the multifaceted measure of academic procrastination and the delay questionnaire” (Haghbin, 2015)

 

Dealing with different types of procrastination

Understanding the different types of procrastination can be beneficial from a practical perspective, because different types of procrastination can have different causes and require different solutions.

For example, a solution that helps an anxious procrastinator might not be effective when it comes to a hedonistic procrastinator. Similarly, an anti-procrastination technique that helps someone who suffers from bedtime procrastination might not help someone who suffers from academic procrastination, and vice versa.

As such, if you’re trying to reduce someone’s procrastination, including your own, it’s beneficial to first identify what type of procrastination they have, using the information in this article, before figuring out why the procrastination occurs and how to overcome it.