Procrastinate or Prepare? It’s a Matter of Type

I have a piece of advice for you today: don’t run a 10 km race without at least a little bit of training beforehand. That is, unless you want to experience a stabbing, burning pain in the arch of your foot for an indeterminate period of time afterwards.

I was one of over 49,000 people who participated in the Vancouver Sun Run this past weekend, and while I had a great time running alongside a giant horde of people in the beautiful, sunny spring weather, my lack of preparation for the race has me paying the price in the form of crippling foot pain, which I’m currently obsessing over and self-diagnosing as plantar fasciitis (even though I appear to be in the totally wrong age group, and it’s more likely just a strain of the plantar fascia ligament).

Isn’t the Internet grand? What did people use to self-diagnose before?

Anyway, it’s pretty frustrating to sustain this kind of an injury, especially when it likely could have been prevented with a bit of preparation.

But I’m definitely an under-preparer. This isn’t to say that I go into situations completely blind and just wing it all the time; it’s more to say that, most of the time, I feel confident enough in my ability to navigate any situation that I don’t feel like I need to prepare myself all that much. I know lots of people who fall into the opposite camp, who (in my mind) over-prepare for everything. These are the people who start writing papers the same week they are assigned, and have them finished with more than a week to spare.

To make an extreme simplification of the matter, I’ll divide the student population into two opposing camps: the anxiety camp and the procrastination camp. Those who do their work early usually do it because they feel a lot of anxiety if they don’t, while procrastinators justify their behaviour by saying they work better under pressure.

Is the latter claim valid, or is it just an excuse? Is one camp better than the other? From personal experience, I can say that I have indeed written some great papers in a very short period of time before a deadline. However, I can also say that I’ve written some very poor papers employing the same strategy. Also, once grad school came along, I found the process of writing good papers did not lend itself as well to last-minute, late-night marathons (which certainly doesn’t mean I didn’t find myself in that position a few times).

Have you heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)? It’s a personality preference assessment often used in career counselling settings, developed using the famous psychologist Carl Jung’s theories of personality, which, in its most rudimentary interpretation, classifies personality using binaries or opposites. As such, you might be more of an extrovert or more of an introvert, for example. The two classifications are opposed.

I’m by no means an MBTI expert, but I know a bit about psychological type. When you do an MBTI or similar assessment, you get a four-letter code at the end that describes your personality preferences. Mine is INFP, for Introvert, iNtuition, Feeling and Perceiving. There is one axis on the MBTI that I think plays a special role in the procrastination/anxiety issue. It’s the fourth letter of the four-letter code after the assessment: either a J (for “judging”) or a P (for “perceiving”), which describe lifestyle preferences. Perceivers tend to be a bit more abstract, and like to keep decisions open. Judging types tend to prefer a very organized lifestyle, and like to plan things ahead.

The thing is, these are simply ways that people see the world. Neither is better or worse than the other, which is the wonderful thing about personality. That’s not to say that procrastination is a healthy behaviour, but I suppose I’m here to tell you that it’s often seen as a major problem or a “flaw,” when in some cases it might not be. Is manageable procrastination working for you? If you’re a “perceiver,” it might be against your nature to do a lot of preparation in advance, when you don’t feel like you have the necessary motivation and context. At least, you will find it difficult to prepare in the same way that a “judging” type prepares. Maybe you won’t be able to start writing that paper weeks in advance. But I bet you’d be able to start doing some serious mental prep work in that time. Do some thinking about what your position is. Talk about your paper with someone. Work on it in a more abstract, less concrete way without committing to one course of action—because it’s likely that’s how you see the world anyway.

Unless, of course, you’re preparing for some kind of strenuous athletic event. All the abstract preparation in the world didn’t save me from the concrete suffering I now find myself in.

Do you know your type? Feel free to discuss it in the comments. (Here’s an UNOFFICIAL type assessment based off of the MBTI whose results should be similar).

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