August 13, 2023

The Two Types of Procrastination and Deathbed Regret

By Paul William

August 13, 2023

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links which means I receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through them.

I’m a major procrastinator and have been for years.

But until recently, I never gave much intentional thought to the way I delay and postpone actions that could be in my best interest. 

This all changed during one of my recent time-wasting sessions when I (ironically) came across Tim Urban’s Ted Talk about procrastination and decided to watch it instead of completing any of my chores.

In the talk, Tim presents his hypothesis that everyone is fundamentally a procrastinator — a result of our instant-gratification tribal “monkey minds” not yet having evolved to match our advanced society in which long term planning can reap great rewards.

Fair enough.

But where things get really interesting is when he breaks down the two different types of procrastination, and explains why one is far more sinister than the other.

Basically, there are two types of procrastination:

Deadline based procrastination

man procrastination studying

This is where there’s an imposed deadline that creates urgency, driving you to take action — like a due date for a college paper.

If the paper is due Friday, a procrastinator will wait until Thursday night at which point they’ll face the feeling of panic and remember the implications of failing.

Then they’ll pull an all-nighter and get it done.

This situation is not ideal, but it’s fairly contained and the damage is limited.

Once you get through the night and turn the paper in, you can take a nap and then life continues as normal. That is until you procrastinate again next semester…

But there’s a second, far worse type of procrastination that’s not so contained: 

Non-Deadline based procrastination

woman procrastination sleeping

This type of procrastination arrives in a situation where there is no imposed deadline that drives urgency. 

For example, longer term goals like mastering a craft or becoming an entrepreneur. 

These are pursuits where nothing happens until you put in sustained effort to build momentum.

But since there’s no deadline to cause panic to motivate you, most people put off these goals, getting distracted by the million other things in life. 

This is a recipe for disaster, since putting off your goals generally leads to feelings of unhappiness and regret that slowly simmer under the surface, until one day you’re left with a sobering realization: your failure to achieve wasn’t due to the fact that you couldn’t — it’s that you were never even able to start chasing the dream at all. 

The inevitable conclusion comes when you find yourself on death’s door, realizing you were just a spectator in your own life,” blowing wherever the winds of chance and distraction happened to take you.

So what to do?

There’s no one-and-done life hack here.

The only real way to avoid falling into the non-deadline procrastination trap is to cultivate a strong sense of self awareness and constantly remind yourself to prioritize long term growth over instant gratification.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, and an even harder one to remember, which is exactly why I wrote this post — to remind myself (and you!) to periodically stop and ask what steps you’re taking to fulfill your potential.

Because when it comes to achieving long term goals, it’s not like a Hollywood movie where you suddenly learn the power was inside of you all along, instantly arriving at a state of mastery and fulfillment.

You must consistently put in the work, evaluate your progress, and keep a tight leash on you monkey brain that will always try to steer you toward instant pleasure.

So while it’s up to all of us as individuals to personally balance the pain of discipline vs the pain of regret, I hope you’ll opt for long-term growth and reap the rewards and sense of satisfaction it brings.

Procrastination FAQs

  1. What’s the main difference between deadline-based and non-deadline-based procrastination?
    Deadline-based procrastination is driven by a set time frame, while non-deadline-based procrastination affects longer-term goals without any immediate pressure, leading to more profound, long-lasting effects on life.
  2. Can procrastination be entirely eliminated?
    While it’s challenging to completely eliminate procrastination, understanding its types and triggers can help you manage it more effectively, steering you towards more productive behaviors.
  3. How can I deal with non-deadline-based procrastination?
    Building self-awareness, setting clear goals, and prioritizing long-term growth over immediate pleasure are essential in combating this type of procrastination. Creating artificial deadlines for yourself may also help.
  4. What are some tools or strategies to help control procrastination?
    Strategies such as time management techniques, breaking tasks into smaller parts, and seeking support from friends or mentors can be effective in managing procrastination.
  5. Why is understanding the types of procrastination important?
    Recognizing the two types of procrastination helps you identify how and why you’re procrastinating, allowing you to implement targeted strategies to overcome it. Understanding the more insidious non-deadline-based procrastination is particularly crucial in long-term personal development.
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