Procrastination can be rational. If you have a difficult phone call to make, and you can't get focus to deal with it, it's rational to not do the obvious thing of picking up the phone and making a mess of the call.
I procrastinate when I don't feel able to get a task sufficiently into focus that I can progress it. There's a particular struggle with sequencing steps - working out a series of things to do to contain the task.
My technique for getting around this is to brainstorm simple things I could do around my outcome. This could be as trivial as writing a paragraph about why it feels hard.
After a bit of this, I can string together four or five tasks. Once I have a sequence of things, I can get some motion. Then procrastination ceases to be a problem.
Something else I find useful is to accept exhaustion. If I can't sequence, it may be because of exhaustion. Go and lay on a couch with no intent, and try to think about it with no pressure. Sometimes new ideas come here. But if I fall asleep - it was needed. Come back after rest for another go.
This is not what I consider procrastination, and I consider myself a major procrastinator, struggling constantly with time management issues because of it.
What you are describing is a context of ancillary effort surrounding the task. These are Things Being Done To Do The Thing.
Necessary but insufficient. Secondary, but nonetheless essential.
Procrastination, on the other hand, is the Absolute Evasion Of All Things Related To The Task At Hand.
Not lead up. Not preparation. Not sequencing. Not anything.
Do Something, but make damn well sure it's Not The Thing That Relates To What You Ought To Be Doing.
Email fidgeting. Netflix grazing. Guitar strumming. Water boiling watching. But not The Thing. And not Near The Thing.
Anything But The Thing.
This is doubly hard when creative (read: conceptual, thinking, fuzzy, ethereal, imaginative) work is The Thing To Be Done. Because sometimes Not Doing The Thing is what Needs To Be Done To Do It.
But just as often, oh man, do we like to fool ourselves into even avoiding Not Doing The Thing Needed To Do the Thing We Need To Do by simply Not Even Doing That.
If you pack batteries all day into tiny boxes in a warehouse filled with angry and watchful foremen (I've done this), there's no possibility for confusion between Getting It Done and Not Getting It Done.
But if you've got 600 words to write on how SEC New Rule 506(c) pertains to real estate crowdfunding, who's to say that sitting on your ass and watching 7 episodes of Adventure Time isn't integral to your effort. (It's not. But still, who's to say?)
Don't even get me started on billable hours. That's a whole nother can of worms.
edit: care to explain the downvote?
Also looking into it (just based on the wiki blurb, not having read the book. So it's entirely possible I'm misunderstanding it). But a "universal force that he claims acts against human creativity" sounds cheesy. There's no external force acting against me when I watch Adventure Time instead of accomplishing something (I'm guilty of that too), or browse HN while at the office. I'm just being lazy and doing something easy and enjoyable, instead of something hard but beneficial. And that matches the definition of procrastination pretty well.
I guess I really connected with what you said and it was well written. You said it in a way that would take me quite some time to get across, and described it much better than I could. That blended pretty well with my own experiences. I could procrastinate about procrastinating myself, it's not a good place and a frustrating feeling. I tried to read as many books and read about as many other people as possible to try better my understanding of why I do it so much, so often, despite me knowing a lot of data about it. I believe what Petsfold is trying to do is to personify procrastination to a recongizable point, like a character, so you can consciously choose to not let that character win. That's my main takeaway from the book. It's certainly helped me. I still procrastinate, but I feel like I know a little more. Almost like "what is it I'm resisting about x that's making me procrastinate so much". This can sometimes, not always, help me identify and act on variables that might be affecting me at that moment in time. Best of luck, and thank you again.
However, I do consider my past and future selves as different people in my mind. I am someone who talks to himself constantly. I've added talking to my past and future selves. I will say, out loud or mentally, "Thanks Past Me." There is something about being grateful to my past self for things I have done that have made my life better today, that makes me more able to do things that will make my life better for my future self. And I think a part of it is that I know, because I am grateful to my past self, that my future self will be grateful to me.
What can economists learn from linguists? Behavioral economist Keith Chen introduces a fascinating pattern from his research: that languages without a concept for the future — "It rain tomorrow," instead of "It will rain tomorrow" — correlate strongly with high savings rates.
It seems like the lack of a future tense in one's language could make it easier for a person to identify with their "future self" (as the article terms it).
That's a question best left for a linguist to answer, not an economist. The Internet is full of amusing correlations between language and behavior, and most of them are bullshit.
Here's an analysis of Chen's argument by an actual linguist: http://sinoglot.com/blog/2013/04/futurity-in-chinese-and-eng...
The effect of language on economic behavior: Evidence from savings rates, health behaviors, and retirement assets
MK Chen - The American Economic Review, 2013
For that matter, how does "It rain tomorrow" not indicate a phrase in the original language that might as well have been translated into English as "It will rain tomorrow"?
And while you very well could make the translation from whatever the original was to "It will rain tomorrow," it might not be a literal one that preserves the original tenses, which would obscure exactly what he was trying to point out.
It's obviously got at least one word for the future ("tomorrow"), which is kind of like having a library function strcat instead of just +
Also, English doesn't have a future tense, so there's that.
Has happened, is happening, will happen?
But they said it as if one does.
The post focuses on the fact that it's hard for us to think about our future selves. So procrastination is the result of short-term bias, and a desire for immediate gratification.
I personally think that's irresponsibly oversimplistic. Procrastination can get much, much more complex than that.
Well said. I find there are two main reasons I might procrastinate. Sometimes it's because I'm working on something boring or frustrating, and I just want a break from it. Sometimes it's because I'm scared I'll fail, whereas if I never start, I'll never risk that.
I'm trying (with a bit of success so far) to reshape my habits to stop the second kind of procrastination. The first kind, I don't even consider to be a bad thing. When I was a child, I learned to program and do maths because I found "school maths" boring. I read a lot of amazing books because I couldn't be bothered to memorise facts in a sub-par geography class. Now I'm (supposedly) an adult, this form of procrastination consists of deferring low-priority but necessary tasks (e.g. timesheets, marking students' work, health and safety reviews) and working on cool things that motivate me.
That said, these structures and habits were built because of some set of reasons that may seem completely irrelevant today. My parents spoiled me silly and never expected me to take any serious responsibility for anything. I used to read tonnes of books for pleasure, but I never did any of my homework because I didn't see the point of it.
Years later, I struggle to get myself to commit to doing work that I personally acknowledge as important and useful to me.
As a serious, pathalogical procrastinator, the best explanation I've ever seen for why people procrastinate is this one: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastin...
I realize this also focuses on Instant Gratification as the cornerstone of the problem, but it describes the actual struggle with much more detail and nuance.
The idea from the article is that you are actually wrong about what you think your reasons for procrastinating are. They may feel intuitive to you, but they are inaccurate. The idea is that if you identify with your future self more often, you will align the interests. People who naturally do this procrastinate less.
Rather than thinking about fear of failure, imagine a future self that has done the thing. Even imagine a future self that has done the thing poorly and another that has done it well. Imagine a future self that just gets to talk about doing the thing poorly to someone interesting at a party. Imagine another future self that has been rewarded and recognized for having done the thing well or just got lucky. Identify with those future selves and let them compete with your current self. Each of the future selves results in doing the thing. They are way cooler than the current self who wants to not do the thing. Make it a competition between done-well and done-poorly to see who wins rather than letting done-not-at-all getting too much attention.
The main thing I do when I realize I'm frittering away time when there's something pressing that I really should be doing, I think "OK. On xxx Date in the future, you are going to be held accountable for The Thing. That date is approaching, and when it gets here, you are either going to fail or succeed, and the difference will likely be what you spend your time on right now."
This is moderately successful for important tasks with important consequences, but not so helpful when I really should, say, do my laundry. But I figure that if I can get the hard things sorted out, I'll slot the laundry in somewhere later (textbook procrastination rationalizations, yes, I recognize the irony).
I'm also playing with todo lists to help me plan better - keeping everything in my head is certainly not optimal. I sampled a bunch of methods: so far Wunderlist has been the best for just straight todos. I would like to change my habits so that when I'm too tired (physically or mentally) to do intellectual work, I default to a less demanding task - exercise, errands, whatever - instead of HN. But that's still a work in progress.
One other thing is that I've been keeping more notebooks. If something happens, and after the fact I think "Hmm, that could have gone better..." I'll jot some notes down about what I could have done instead. When the semester starts (I'm an undergrad student) I also want to start keeping a rough weekly plan in the notebook, like this: http://calnewport.com/blog/2014/08/08/deep-habits-plan-your-...
Yeah, like you, changing habits/organisation is a big thing. Another is that I've set things up such that it's far easier to exile myself from the internet. I try to restrict my leisure browsing to one VM and my work to another VM. So on.
> This is moderately successful for important tasks with important consequences, but not so helpful when I really should, say, do my laundry. But I figure that if I can get the hard things sorted out, I'll slot the laundry in somewhere later (textbook procrastination rationalizations, yes, I recognize the irony).
I don't mind letting these things languish. If it takes me a long time to do laundry, so what?
Thanks for sharing your findings about todo lists. My todo list is essentially the same thing as my calendar, and I wonder if I'd benefit from separating them a bit.
Our identity is more stable at some times than others however. Supposedly, stability peaks mid-life. I wonder if middle aged people procrastinate less.
Also, how much do people differ in their ability to identify with their future selves? We know that people have different time preference and some people emphasize the immediate (discount) more than others. Do they procrastinate more, too? Is this difference innate, cultural, ideological?
Peter Frost theorizes that viewing yourself as part of this great chain of ancestors and descendants was very adaptive (maybe even more important than mastering agriculture) at one time and helped drive human expansion. Which would make it at least partially cultural.
Finally, some people view procrastination as a fundamentally rational way to avoid doing work that may never need to be done, like you would a gut feeling about someone's trustworthiness. This doesn't work in an artificial setting of term papers but in a complex system you can simply wait things out quite often.
So again, for the people who do struggle with procrastination in their own lives, figuring out how to do something about it (if they want to do something about it at all!) requires a very thorough self-examination.
To me it seems like the notion came from our history of servitude. Of course a Lord is going to pressure his peasants to work harder. So of course the head of a hide is going to be pressuring his nephews to get working.
Laziness and procrastination only become negative in the concept that we have to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. I'm sure the generation before Henry Ford reduced work hours to 8 hour days and work weeks to 5 days thought their kids were lazy. Who wouldn't when you're working 12 hour days 6 days a week!
My son might be of the generation working 4 hour days 4 days a week. He might be of the generation where mandatory work is a thing of the past.
I doubt it... At the very least you need to go much further back than Ford.
While Ford was one of the earlier industrialists to willingly accept and embrace the 8 hour day, it was by no means his doing. AFL and other unions had been fighting for working hours reductions for decades by then - with loss of life on more than once occasion - , and gradually started getting concessions.
The first widespread demands for an 8 hour day in the US happened 30 years or so before Ford was even born.
The first attempt at introducing 8 hour working day for federal employees passed in 1868, when Ford was 5.
New York got partial 8 hour working days (for certain traides) from 1872.
In 1889, the Second International agreed with the AFL to make May 1st 1890 a day for demonstrations in commemoration of the Haymarket massacre, and in support of the 8 hour working day. And so, the US unions fight for the 8 hour working day is actually directly responsible for May 1st as the international day for labour demonstrations.
It wasn't until 1914 that Ford cut working hours from 9 to 8, at a point when millions of workers in other industries had already achieved it. At that point, 8 hour working day had been a labour demand for 2-3 generations already.
The idea that we should spend most of our time actively working on things or working towards things is kind of odd when you examine it closer.
I like using the term work-averse or task-averse because then I'm forced to think about not just the person doing the task, but the context of the task.
(1) A link from the link you posted (http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/11/how-to-beat-procrastination.ht...) suggests two explanations (low-confidence in kicking the habit, and inability to change their storyline) and some ways to beat procrastination.
Do these two explanations ring true? Also, have you tried the advice there?
(2) You might have been task-averse in answering this but can you comment on the following point by seren:
> it could be social anxiety
(3) How can I get in touch with you? I have something to try and fix procrastination if you are willing to be a guinea pig. I would appreciate the feedback.
It's like a parallel choreography of desires ending being counter productive.
Fight it. (I wish I was taught courage patience and application earlier)
But it's a nice idea. Another tendency we have is to shed our skins and not remember what it was like to be a child. This effects the way we interact with children.
That GP's quote describes my exact experience with Beeminder. I lost a bit of money there, while procrastinating even more because of huge amounts of stress related to failing the task and losing money I can't really afford to lose.
Procrastination comes in all various sorts and forms. We have to remember that things other people perceive as productive, but we know aren't productive to what we need to accomplish, is procrastination as well. Of course, there's also the form of procrastination that represents fear of failure.
Basically, procrastination is a rational manifestation of laziness, which as has been discussed in the past is a survival trait (avoid expending energy if possible)
If we think of our future selves as other people, maybe the folks who can't think of other people's feelings very well also have a hard time planning for their future selves.
Every year or two, I get a tattoo representing an idea or a defining point in my life. There are a few that aren't in line with the current me, but they're a permanent visual reminder of who used to live in this skin, so I love them just as much. Sort of real-life version tagging.
In some ways the theories are at odds. My argument is that people often view their future selves as the identical person that they are today, just in the future. That they can't identify that the future person is, in effect, a very different person. This article posits that people view future person as a separate person altogether, and screw them anyways.
It is a fascinating topic that you can waste away a day contemplating. Ah well, future you can do what you were supposed to do today.
Please comment instead or downvoting! My comment wasn't meant to be offensive or anything but english is not my mother tong. So please tell me WHY!
It was an epiphany... for me. I guess my downvoter didn't see it that way
It's okay to have epiphanies, the challenge is to communicate them in a way that your audience appreciates.