January 20, 2009
Personalize Your Activities To Overcome Procrastination

News you can use (if you can only get past the procrastination stage and begin to apply it).

Led by Sean McCrea of the University of Konstanz in Germany, an international team of psychologists wanted to see if there might be a link between how we think of a task and our tendency to postpone it. In other words, are we more likely to see some tasks as psychologically "distant"-- and thus making us save them for later rather than tackling them now?

The psychologists handed out questionnaires to a group of students and asked them to respond by e-mail within three weeks. All the questions had to do with rather mundane tasks like opening a bank account and keeping a diary, but different students were given different instructions for answering the questions. Some thought and wrote about what each activity implied about personal traits: what kind of person has a bank account, for example. Others wrote simply about the nuts and bolts of doing each activity: speaking to a bank officer, filling out forms, making an initial deposit, and so forth. The idea was to get some students thinking abstractly and others concretely. Then the psychologists waited. And in some cases, waited and waited. They recorded all the response times to see if there was a difference between the two groups, and indeed there was a significant difference.

The findings, reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, were very clear. Even though all of the students were being paid upon completion, those who thought about the questions abstractly were much more likely to procrastinate--and in fact some never got around to the assignment at all. By contrast, those who were focused on the how, when and where of doing the task e-mailed their responses much sooner, suggesting that they hopped right on the assignment rather than delaying it.

The authors note that "merely thinking about the task in more concrete, specific terms makes it feel like it should be completed sooner and thus reducing procrastination." They conclude that these results have important implications for teachers and managers who may want their students and employees starting on projects sooner. In addition, these findings are also relevant for those of us resolving to have better time management skills in the New Year!

Sound useful? I am going to try pondering tasks I put off that I really want to get to and try picturing myself doing the tasks, why those tasks matter to my life, and what traits one needs to have to accomplish those tasks. Find out if this works.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 January 20 10:39 PM  Brain Performance

leah cui said at January 20, 2009 11:53 PM:

i find i procrastinate less if i reward myself for doing sometin i need to do

pond said at January 21, 2009 8:11 AM:

But don't you have it backwards? It's when you concentrate on who, what, how concrete details that get you going, the study says. Thinking of abstractions like 'what it means to me' helps you procrastinate.

Bob Badour said at January 24, 2009 1:59 PM:

Don't think about why they matter or what traits one needs. Just think about the mechanics of doing them--that is the lesson of the study.

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