Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I came across a link to Timothy Pychyl's blog Don't Delay, which is devoted to the subject of procrastination, while reading Procrastinating Again? How to Kick the Habit, an article that appeared in Scientific American Mind recently. Sometimes it seems to me that I need to work as hard or harder in my personal life as I do in my professional life, if I am to succeed at all. It is easy to believe that working hard eight hours a day in my personal life will improve my professional life as well. The only things that could slow one down is severe fatigue or illness. The blog sounds interesting. Without reading it yet I'll bet perception is the key to fending off this common foe.


Aratina said...

Thank you for the links. I'm really glad to see real science supporting the Don't Delay blog and nearly procrastinated away sleeping while reading it :P

Keir said...

Anything stick out as particularly useful advice? I just read the 24 Aug '08 entry and liked the advice from 95 year old Dr. Viktor Frankl to "Do everything as soon as possible" and "Do the unpleasant tasks first". The second one is a hard pill to swallow!

or this quote from 25 April '08: "In fact, we may spend a lifetime acting like a 3-year-old, and rationalizing it to ourselves the whole time. I don't feel like it. I need to feel better in order to act. First, I need to feel better. No you don't. In fact, your feelings will follow your behaviors. Progress on that task will improve your mood."

I like how he puts the thesis of each entry in bold face so it sticks out easily when speed reading. And I am surprised one person can find so much to write about in what seems like so narrow a subject!

Aratina said...

The actual research really stood out. I've never seen that before on the topic of procrastination; usually it is just a psychologist's expert opinion.

I liked the part where he highlighted correlations of procrastination with personality components. I had always thought of myself as a conscientious person, but according to the research, in fact, I am not, because a major component to that is being aware of and responsive to your surroundings (social and environmental surroundings): "a highly conscientious person is dutiful, organized and industrious" and "lack of conscientiousness, defined as self-discipline, orderliness and organization, is a key personality trait that is highly correlated with procrastination."

But I was particularly interested in procrastination as an optimization technique. In the Scientific American article, it is supposed that by putting off work until the last possible minute, we actually minimize the pain of doing the work while still receiving a high dosage of good feelings for completing the work: "maximum amount of work in a minimum amount of time—with a minimal amount of pain."

Unfortunately, what procrastinators don't realize is that by just digging in and doing the work, their perception of the work will likely change and they will enjoy it. So in the end, procrastinators miss out on enjoyable activities and turn out lower quality work.

Also, I liked the explanation of how procrastinators actually do forget things using "out of sight, out of mind" techniques like losing a bill in a mess of papers as discussed in the Procrastination Tax entry.

Another one I really enjoyed reading was the entry Resisting Temptation. People who were state-oriented rather than action-oriented worked well when they had external controls applied, but when those controls were removed, the state-oriented people couldn't let go of the task or switch over to other tasks--they dwelt on the task they had been doing far longer than necessary, resulting "in self-suppression that outlasted task completion.... our over-reliance on external control to maintain self-control actually alienates us from our sense of self, our emotional preferences and self-generated goals."