It’s practically a law of nature: When you have a looming deadline, suddenly every Instagram story, horoscope, and cat video is riveting. You know you won’t be able to relax until you check the project off your list (and that your Zen ritual is waiting for you), and yet you can’t seem to get it across the finish line.
“I think for a lot of people, it’s not that they can’t figure out what to do to be happier,” says bestselling author and happiness expert Gretchen Rubin. “They know that they would be happier if they exercised, or they quit sugar, or they got more sleep, or they worked on their novel in their free time. But for some reason, they’re not able to follow through on that.”
“I think for a lot of people, it’s not that they can’t figure out what to do to be happier…But for some reason, they’re not able to follow through on that.”
In her new book, The Four Tendencies, Rubin explains how understanding one small aspect of your personality could be a game-changer when it comes to procrastination: How you respond to expectations. (Do you buck when someone assigns you a task, or do you thrive when there’s structure?) As she sees it, you could be an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or Rebel (and you can take this quiz to find out which):
Upholder: Discipline is my freedom.
Obliger: You can count on me, and I’m counting on you counting on me.
Questioner: I’ll comply—if you convince me why.
Rebel: You can’t make me, and neither can I.
But keep in mind, Rubin says, ‘There is no ‘right’ way. There is no best practice; it’s only what works for you.”
Keep reading to find out how to use your tendency to end procrastination for good.
If you’re an Upholder, try scheduling
Upholder tendencies are happiest when there’s order and routine, so you don’t struggle with procrastination to the same extent everyone else does (lucky you!). But Rubin says you may put off tasks that are personally fulfilling but don’t seem as important, like finishing that book you wanted to read. “Really set aside time for it. Really put it on your calendar. Say, ‘At 2:00 on Saturday, I’m going to read for an hour,’” Rubin recommends.
If you’re an Obliger, try finding an accountability buddy
According to Rubin, Obligers will drop everything—like that after-work yoga class you booked—to help a friend or meet a deadline. But when it comes to following through on goals you create for yourself, the struggle is real. How do you fix it? “For Obligers, it’s always about outer accountability,” Rubin says. “If there’s an inner expectation that they want to meet, they need outer accountability for it.” So book a session with a trainer or start a meal-prep squad in order to stay motivated.
If you’re a Questioner, find clarity
“Sometimes when Questioners seem to be procrastinating, it’s because they don’t understand why a deadline is justified,” says Rubin. You’re much more likely to act on something if you get why the ask is important—knowing your boss needs that report by EOD Friday because she’s planning to read it on a flight she’s taking on Saturday could be the “aha” moment you need.
So if you find yourself resisting a task, do your thing and ask questions for clarity—just be careful to make sure the exercise stays productive, and that you don’t use your curiosity as a stalling tactic.
If you’re a Rebel, understand the negative consequences
“A Rebel is tricky. Rebels want to do what they want, when they want to do it,” Rubin says. But even the freest of spirits will commit if they come to understand that inaction could have negative consequences. Visualize what will happen if you don’t do your laundry (no clean underwear—gulp), or who you’ll be letting down if you skip the sunset run you planned with your squad.