The Truth Behind Why We Procrastinate
Photo by Mike Madden, licensed by CC.
It’s ironic, but I’m procrastinating this very second. I’m supposed to be reviewing some survey results for a series of leadership speeches I’ve landed with a giant energy company. But instead I’m writing this article.
It’s not like the motivation isn’t there. The client is paying a significant amount of money for me to deliver three talks in three days; so, I should be jumping up and down for joy and eager to dive in. But alas, writing material on time and productivity is easier and more fun for me than spending a half day poking around Google Scholar, reading dry academic papers, and creating compelling new slides. Besides, I can always get to it tomorrow, right?
People tend to procrastinate a wide variety of things. You might procrastinate by putting off that school report, or making those cold calls, or firing someone who clearly has to go, or cleaning out the garage.
But what if you could better anticipate your future emotions? What if you could feel the pain now of being up at three in the morning working on that report, instead of then? Or what if you could feel what it’s like to face yet another complaint against that toxic worker now, instead of next month?
If you could better connect your current self with your future self, you would muster up the motivation you need to accomplish the task now, and not then.
Psychologists Neil Lewis of the University of Michigan and Daphna Oyserman of the University of Southern California attempted to prove this in a recent study published in Psychological Science. They found that if people considered far-off events from the perspective of days rather than months or years, they acted more quickly.
For example, test subjects viewed an event like a friend’s wedding as being “16.3 days sooner when considered in days rather than months and 11.4 months sooner when considered in months rather than years.” In another test, participants were instructed to imagine they had a newborn child. Half of the participants were to consider that their “children” would begin college in 18 years, the other half in 6,570 days. Of course, this was the exact same amount of time. But did the way they counted time influence when would they start saving for that education?
Interestingly, the “parents” who looked at matters from a “days” perspective planned to start saving four times sooner than parents planning from a “years” perspective.
Read the full article "The Truth Behind Why We Procrastinate" at Forbes.