Why do you not do the things you don’t do?

Let me try that again.

Why do you procrastinate?

Maybe that’s not a question you’ve really asked yourself. I sure didn’t. I’ve learned to work around and cope with my own tendency to put stuff off. It’s something we all have to grow into, right?

But this year is different. Our teenagers are anxious and panicky. In this world of a million distractions and uncertainties, we realized they needed some extra help. Fortunately, Darren found a book that’s a great starting point.

A Teen’s Guide to Getting Stuff Done by Jennifer Shannon, LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), approaches procrastination not as a flaw to be conquered, but as a part of your personality to be understood. She has created four categories of procrastinators:

  • The Perfectionist: The perfectionists put off tasks (whether chores, social occasions, or schoolwork) if they don’t feel confident that they know how to do it right.
  • The Warrior: Warriors can be focused and driven . . . as long as they’re interested in what they’re doing. They need to feel motivated, and they avoid any task that bores them.
  • The Pleaser: Wanting to connect with and please everyone around them, pleasers often make their own needs a lesser priority. They will put off tasks that they want to do in order to accommodate others.
  • The Rebel: Independence is paramount. Rebels resist having to do anything they consider unfair, pointless, or maybe just not their own idea.

Shannon explains how each type thinks and operates. All four types might neglect to write an essay for English class, for instance, but each one puts it off for different reasons. The key, she says, is to understand what is motivating you to procrastinate—and then to replace that motivation with a new one that will help you tackle instead of avoid tasks.

This book is good for teenagers because Shannon is very affirming and positive. She states more than once that procrastination is not laziness or bad morals; it’s a human condition that we all learn to deal with. She acknowledges that this generation deals with distraction on a level that no previous generation has had to. She doesn’t condemn her audience for their attachment to friends and social media, and her advice isn’t merely a list of rules and tips on how to be better organized. She’s frank about how teenagers often neglect important tasks to the detriment of their own goals in life, but then she offers help for it.

And as 14-year-old Sparkler pointed out, Shannon doesn’t try to be cool. Teenagers don’t like to be patronized and they can spot imposters from fifty paces. However, an adult who understands their struggles, teaches them to have compassion on themselves, and doesn’t try to use slang? My teens were willing to lower their defenses and listen to what she had to say.

Darren is reading it aloud to the family in the evenings. We’ve had some good discussions about our own personality types and our own struggles. Seventeen-year-old Gamerboy admitted that he was procrastinating doing something he actually really wanted to do, and then was able to articulate some reasons why he might be putting it off.

(Also, 11-year-old Ranger saw himself in three of the personality types, but not the Rebel—which gave Darren and me a bit of a pained laugh. This kid has resisted outside suggestions since toddlerhood, and has cried onto his schoolwork because I insisted that he follow the instructions as given.)

Will this book solve all of our teens’ procrastination, panic, and anxiety this year? Alas, if only. But I believe it will give them a foundation to build on—not just for this year, but maybe even as their lives unfold into adulthood.

—Sara