Saturday, January 14, 2012


To procrastinate is to delay or postpone action. 

We've all been procrastinators before:

"I've been busy with work this week, I'll go to the gym next week."
"I'll start budgeting next week... I promise."
"I really need to stop eating out so often."
"My new year's resolution is to finally start eating healthier."

"I need to stop buying new shoes... after this one last pair on sale."
Here are some great articles on procrastination:
You Are Not So Smart
The New Yorker

The articles are quite verbose, and I have a good feeling none of you will really take the time to read and understand each article.  It's so much information that I'll try my best to break it all down into a few great points for you.

Procrastination is surprisingly costly:
- Each year, Americans waste hundreds of billions of dollars because they "never found the time" to file their taxes early.
- Corporate employees give up huge amounts of money in matching 401K contributions because they "never got around to signing up for" a retirement plan
- 70% of patients with glaucoma risk going blind because they "forgot to use their eye drops" on a consistent basis
- The U.S. debt ceiling debate debate dragged on until the last moment possible, resulting in the credit-rating agency Standard & Poor to downgrade the US credit rating for the first time in U.S. history, then causing the U.S. markets to experience the most turbulent week since the 2008 financial crisis with the Dow Jones plunging 635 points / 5.6% in one day.

It doesn't make sense to procrastinate:
The great paradox about procrastination is that it involves doing something purposefully that is against one's own better judgment.  Procrastinators willingly put off doing something today even though they know and expect the delay to make them worse off.  Also interestingly, although the tasks we put off seem to be unpleasant tasks, getting the task completed in advance doesn't make people happy.

Our memory for the intensity of visceral rewards is deficient
When we put off something by telling ourselves that we'll do it tomorrow, we fail and forget to take into account that tomorrow, the temptation to put off work will be just as strong as it is today.

The Planning fallacy
We tend to always underestimate the time it will take to complete a task, because we often expect a smooth scenario where accidents or unforeseen problems never occur.  These hiccups will delay time from your work.  
"I'm late because there was all this traffic and an accident on the freeway."

Procrastinators tend to want to prepare as much as possible for a task to plan it out properly, but to what end?  Often, lack of self confidence combined with unrealistic dreams of heroic success, self-handicaps someone: rather than risk any slight failure, these procrastinators prefer to create prefect conditions that make success impossible, which in turn creates a vicious cycle.

"I want to learn as much about investing and retirement planning BEFORE I risk losing my hard earned money."

Procrastination is not about being lazy and having poor time management
It's a complex mixture of weakness, ambition, and inner conflict.  This is why simply "trying harder" will not accomplish the task.

"I'll need to try harder to stop being lazy."

Use external tools and techniques to help the part of yourself that wants to get work done
Outside tools can be a powerful way to make ourselves do what we actually wanted to do.  I made a post earlier about why a to-do app is so powerful for me.  If I don't write something down, as a priority it won't get done. Compulsive gamblers will sign contracts with casinos to ban them from entering the premises.  A famous author once locked himself in a room naked to write, knowing that he could not leave the room to go into the outside world until he was done with his deadline.  People make bets with their friends when they are trying to lose weight or finish a project so that if they don't deliver on their promise, it will cost them money.

Reframe the task in front of you
Procrastination is party driven by the space between effort and reward.  It's the gap between what is required of us now and the reward that we reap only in the future, if ever.  We have to narrow the gap by whatever means necessary.

The vaguer the task we set for ourselves, the more abstract the thinking it requires, and the less likely we are to finish it.  Open ended tasks with distant deadlines are much easier to postpone than focused, short-term projects.   We need to divide projects into smaller, more defined sections.

- Today I will open a retirement account.  Tomorrow, I will start reading about which funds to purchase.
- If I'm too lazy to make lunch everyday, I will make lunch for 3 days in a row, and put them in separate bags labeled: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.
- My deadline is due in 4 weeks, I will divide this deadline into 3 specific mini-deadlines each due 1 week apart from each other, then I will spend the last week organizing my project.
- I will leave my gym clothes in my car so that I will go straight to the gym after work and change there.  By going home to change, I will end up too comfortable and lazy once I get home to change and go drive out to the gym later.

Limit the choices we have
When people are presented with too many choices, people are often afraid of making the wrong choice.    People are not as rational as they like to think they are.  More information doesn't mean that we will be more productive.  This relates to perfectionism.  Studies find that when people are presented with too many choices, the choice they choose to make is to do nothing, which often may be the worst choice of all.  

In conclusion, procrastination can result in stress, sense of guilt, loss of productivity, creation of crisis, inefficiency, and disapproval from others for failing to meet one's responsibilities or commitments.   The worst in my opinion being apathy, or showing or feeling lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.

That's all for today.  Have a good weekend!

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