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Who doesn’t procrastinate from time-to-time? Especially when you’re a young adult, just beginning to assert your independence. You have the freedom to do what you want to do when you want to do it. Well, guess what? The good news is procrastinating can be both normal and healthy depending on the circumstances.
Passive and active
It’s important to understand that there are two forms of procrastination – passive and active. Passive procrastination is considered the “bad” type of procrastination, while active procrastination is considered the “good” type. What is the difference between the two? Passive procrastination is described as a self-destructive process that involves a lack of confidence, anxiety, and emotional distress when a task is not finished by a deadline, or when the inability to complete a task feels like a personal failure.
On the flip side, active or “good” procrastination is described as a time-management tactic that is self-controlled. With active procrastination, you can still successfully accomplish tasks and meet deadlines under pressure. Multiple studies have found that procrastination can be “good,” if it’s an active form of it. In fact, results suggest that active procrastination not only improves your joy, contentment, and satisfaction, but also your focus, concentration, and productivity.
Active and passive procrastination are not the same. Active procrastination is considered “healthy” or “good,” while passive is considered “unhealthy” or “bad.”
What’s the difference?
What’s the difference? Well, passive procrastination involves deliberately not doing a task, just because you don’t want to. Active or “good” procrastination involves understanding when immediate action is needed and when it is not. In other words, active procrastination may mean delaying something until a later time – not out of laziness, but for a specific reason – one that could produce a better outcome at a later date.
Listed below are times when it’s good to procrastinate:
- When you need to remove some things from your “to-do list.” When you delay doing a task, or two, or three, it gives you time to decide if it’s really important or worth the effort to complete it. Plus, if you wait long enough to do something (i.e. purchasing that new PlayStation game or Louis Vuitton purse), it may lose its appeal, thus, saving you time, effort, and possibly money!
- When you want to determine just how important the task is to you. Guess what? You’re less likely to procrastinate or delay doing things that are really important to you. Thus, if you have a passion for something it will make your priorities list, regardless of what it is or how long it will take.
- When you want to spark your creativity. Believe it or not, procrastination can make you more creative. More specifically, it gives you time to hash out your thoughts and think of alternative ways of doing things. It helps you “think outside the box” and be innovative.
- When you want to make better decisions. Rushing to complete a task by a deadline can lead to tons of mistakes. It can also lead to poor quality or a lack of passion for the project. Procrastinating provides you with extra time to plan out your next moves, so they are the right moves. Thus, delaying the task may actually produce better results. A win-win for everyone!
- Lastly, when you want to worry less. Ironically, actively procrastinating can make you healthier. Seriously. In fact, a 2005 study found that because active procrastinators are less anxious, they are able to produce higher-quality work. They also have a lower risk of depression, stress, health problems, and emotional distress.
Procrastination isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. In fact, it can have some serious consequences. Make sure you are procrastinating outside of these circumstances:
- When it affects your academic performance. Passive procrastination can lead to poor academic performance in college. A study found that college students, who passively procrastinate are not only more stressed, but also sicker than those who do not passively procrastinate. They also tend to have lower course grades and GPAs.
- When it causes you to have less compassion or empathy for yourself and others. Believe it or not, researchers have found that passive procrastinators tend to be indifferent, disinterested, and cold towards themselves and others.
- When it causes you to be negative. A study on negativity and procrastination found that those who procrastinate until the last moment to, for instance, study for a college exam or a work assessment, are more likely to assume they will fail or be unable to complete the test by the deadline.
- When it forces your co-workers, family members, spouse or partner, or friends to make up for your inaction. Keep in mind that when you passively procrastinate, you make it harder for other people. It causes others to work harder for you, while you do little-to-nothing. What happens then? No one wants to work with you or help you when you need it. This type of procrastination can also cause your co-workers and loved ones to become resentful, frustrated, angry, and hostile towards you.
- When it triggers or worsens mental health conditions. Chronic passive procrastination can actually trigger or aggravate depression, low self-esteem and self-confidence, self-doubt and insecurities, and anxiety.
A study on the pros and cons of passive procrastination found that chronic passive procrastination may lead to both short-term and long-term self-defeating behaviors and psychological issues – in some individuals.
Read the longer version
You can learn more about the pros and cons of procrastination by reading the following articles: Why Procrastination is Good for You by Smithsonian Mag, 6 Reasons Why Procrastination Can Be Good For You by Psychology Today, Why Procrastination Isn’t Always Bad by Forbes, and 10 Good and 10 Bad Things About Procrastination by Psych Central.
Break it down
If you are a chronic passive procrastinator, do yourself a favor and break your task down into more manageable pieces. Understand that the reason why many people passively procrastinate is because they are overwhelmed with the task. So, what should you do in this situation? Complete the task in steps – baby steps, if need be.
Then, focus on completing each step until you have a better grasp on what you need to do or you’ve accomplished your goal. When you have a “less than thrilling” task or project to do, make a detailed outline, complete with steps to achieve it, preferably by the deadline. Work down your list until you have checked-off all of the boxes.
If you want to stop being a passive procrastinator, you may want to consider moving to another location when you need to perform a “not-so-fun task.” A person’s productivity often hinges on his or her work environment. For instance, if you are forced to endure a hostile work environment day-in and day-out, you probably won’t get much done.
More specifically, your attention will be on trying to get through the day unscathed and not on performing tasks on time to the best of your ability. If you complete most of your assignments while lying in bed, in your pajamas, with Netflix playing in the background, you’ll probably be continuously distracted by what’s happening on your shows, or you’ll fall asleep because you’re just so dang comfortable. So, what should you do? First you need to get out of your pajamas and your bedroom, and turn off the television until you finish your task.
Designate a specific distraction-free room in your home (if you work from home) to work. If you work outside of the home, ask to transfer cubes or offices, or purchase distraction-free headphones, and put them on when you’re at work so you can focus better. If the situation becomes unbearable, try to do a lateral transfer to another department or start looking for a new job ASAP!
Tell a friend about it
If you really want to stop being a passive procrastinator, you may want to tell your friend about the task. Provide this person with all of the details – i.e. what the task is, what it entails, what steps you plan to take, how you plan to tackle it, and when it’s due. Ask your friend to check-up on you from time-to-time to make sure you are staying on track.
This will not only help keep you accountable, but also provide you with motivation, encouragement, and support. There’s nothing better than a supportive buddy who is determined to help you succeed in life. So, ask for help. Your friend may even be able to offer some valuable tips on how to perform or accomplish the task with less stress and more ease. Note: Don’t become upset when your friend starts checking-up on you. Remember, he or she is just trying to help you.
If talking to your friend doesn’t help with your passive procrastination, you may want to speak with a counselor about it. A counselor can teach you effective ways to deal with your procrastination tendencies so you can successfully perform tasks by a deadline.
About the Author
Dr. R. Y. Langham
Ph.D. in Family Psychology
Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
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