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An Expansion on Procrastination Wednesday 2/1/12

Posted by smcgamer in Help and Fixes.
I’m a procrastinator, probably like a lot of us.  While browsing the web for ideas on how to fight it, I came across this great article on David McRaney’s blog You Are Not So Smart.  It basically says that you don’t procrastinate because you’re lazy and cannot manage your time.  The reason you procrastinate is that you think that your future self will actually do the task you set him/her.

On Account of Procrastination

I’ll give you an example:  say you have a book you want to read.  It’s about advanced calculus, and it would help you out significantly in your studies, but it’s not required reading.  You wake up one morning, and task your future self to start reading it, perhaps get a good 20 to 30 pages in.

You go about your day, but when you return home, you see the TV on and a box of donuts on the table.  You really, really don’t want to read that book, even though you were so sure that you did just this morning.

“What the heck?!” you think.  “Earlier, I was all for starting my reading.  But now I don’t want do.  Why?”

According to the article, it’s because you’re not that great at making certain decisions.  You usually always want to go for the donuts and the TV, but you think that Future-You will love to start reading that calculus book.  But Future-You probably won’t.

But I think there’s a little more to it than that.  There’s a reason why you can show up for work or school day after day but not read a calculus book, despite that being easier than work or school.

There are a few kinds of tasks:

  • Tasks that you have to do:  Including school, work, picking the kids up from soccer practice, what have you.  These things have immediate negative consequences if not completed, so you do them.  An authority of some sort is holding you to complete this task.
  • Tasks that you have to do, but not now:  Such as writing a midterm essay or studying for finals.  There’s a set deadline, but it’s in the future.  There are no immediate negative consequences for waiting, just delayed ones, which is why so many students cram on the night before the test.  You know, in the back of your mind, that there will be massive problems if these things aren’t completed, but you figure that you don’t have to do it now.  And Future-You does that, too, at least until it’s almost too late.
  • Tasks set forth by you alone:  Tasks such as writing a story, or other such hobbies.  This is the worst kind of task; there’s no authority but the one who set it, and there aren’t going to be any negative consequences for not finishing it.

So what can be done?  The article suggests that you have to think about thinking.  To quote:

Thinking about thinking, this is the key. In the struggle between should versus want, some people have figured out something crucial – want never goes away.

Procrastination is all about choosing want over should because you don’t have a plan for those times when you can expect to be tempted.

Go check out the article, it goes way more in-depth than I do here.

Also, disclaimer.  I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, just a guy trying to figure out the world.  If you see anything wrong, please leave a comment and I’ll fix it.


1. Procrastination Theories II « Home in the Clouds - Sunday 2/5/12

[…] And then this: https://smcgamer.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/an-expansion-on-procrastination/ […]

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