Reflections

Procrastination

Who doesn’t suffer from the dreaded procrastination monster?

If you don’t, please tell me your secret.  I’d love to know how you do it.
If you do, then join me in enjoying this rather interesting article on the subject.  Stick with it, it’s a bit of work to get to the end, but it raises some really interesting points.
The book under review in the article is “The Thief of Time” and is a series of essays taken from many viewpoints.  It sounds extremely interesting, especially the idea of akrasia, which means doing something against one’s better judgement.

Does this sound familiar to you?

This is the perplexing thing about procrastination: although it seems to involve avoiding unpleasant tasks, indulging in it generally doesn’t make people happy. In one study, sixty-five per cent of students surveyed before they started working on a term paper said they would like to avoid procrastinating: they knew both that they wouldn’t do the work on time and that the delay would make them unhappy.

I also thought the section on “hyperbolic discounting” was really interesting.  I personally struggled with the idea that people wouldn’t wait an extra day for the bonus when it was today and tomorrow, but would wait the extra day when it was a month away.  Perhaps in an economic sense I don’t subscribe to the hyperbolic discounting view.  But certainly the example which follows regarding the choice of movies – that’d be me completely.

Then moving on to the idea of a divided self; that certainly makes sense to me.  Not because I have multiple personalities floating around* but because I’ve always subscribed to the ideas in Julia Cameron’s work The Artist’s Way.  In that she talks of the different “voices” we all have inside us, chattering away.  For example you may have voices that you could call a pragmatist, a worrier, a romantic, a critic, or a bully.
So the idea that we have different internal “voices” that argue about the merits of avoiding short-term discomfort (the work we are avoiding) versus the merits of the future rewards seems to be perfectly sensible to me.

The real issue is whether these ideas can be used in order to reduce the stress and strain caused by that short-term “layabout voice’s” extraordinary persuasive power.  Apparently there may be many routes to overpowering that squeaky little voice.
Extended will is one of them.   Binding oneself to a course of action by some external tool – like an external deadline that is administered by another person. Students will be very familiar with that one.
Narrowing the gap between that short-term discomfort and the longer-term reward is another.  So ditch those open-ended tasks that are vague and waffley.  Instead definition and “chunking” should be your way of life.  Small, defined, steps.  Short term projects, or sections of larger projects, are the way to go.

I already understood the value of external accountability.  It is something that works for me and always has.  The narrowing of the gap was something that I hadn’t quite registered the importance of.  My lists are simply that – lists of tasks.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  The article mentions David Allen, and it is one of those things that I have been meaning to do for ages – get GTD** from the library.  It is the current flavour-of-the-month productivity buzz word.  Well buzz-acronym to be pedantic.  I’m just not sure if the concepts sit well with me.  But if I’m going to do my best to reduce the procrastination monster’s presence in my life I think I may well have to give it a go.

So, did anything in the article ring bells for you?  What tools and techniques do you use to overcome the desire to put off until tomorrow that which you could do today?
I look forward to hearing your ideas.

* that I know of, anyway.
** Getting Things Done

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