Procrastination, Or Why We Keep Putting It Off

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, dudes.

I know what you’re asking yourself: Did I really dig up a bunch of information on procrastination just so I could use that joke in the opener. Yes. Yes I did.

However, that doesn’t mean that procrastination isn’t something we can just forget about. It seriously is a problem here in Casa de Dude, especially around me. I tried to adopt the motto: Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. I tried, but I kept waiting to actually do it.

Heck, I think so much about procrastination, I made the character in my latest novel, Until Tomorrow, the godlet of procrastination. And, no I’m not kidding. The character’s name is Tom Sure, which is short for Tomorrow, For Sure. As in, that’s when I’ll get it done.

So, yeah. Procrastination. Let’s dig in.

David McRaney over at You Are Not So Smart put up a comprehensive post on procrastination the other week and I thought I’d share some of the highlights with you.

McRaney uses your Netflix queue as a great way into the idea of procrastination. Take a look at your streaming queue. There’s a ton of documentaries and important movies in there, isn’t there? I know it’s the case in my queue. It’s sad how many “great” movies I’ve got lined up to watch and, yet, never get to. Turns out, there’s a scientific reason for that. And it’s not because I’m a bone-headed ig-no-ramus.

Okay, sure, I probably am, but that’s not the reason I don’t watch all these movies.

Many studies over the years have shown you tend to have time-inconsistent preferences. When asked if you would rather have fruit or cake one week from now, you will usually say fruit. A week later when the slice of German chocolate and the apple are offered, you are statistically more likely to go for the cake.

This is why your Netflix queue is full of great films you keep passing over for “Family Guy.” With Netflix, the choice of what to watch right now and what to watch later is like candy bars versus carrot sticks. When you are planning ahead, your better angels point to the nourishing choices, but in the moment you go for what tastes good.

As behavioral economist Katherine Milkman has pointed out, this is why grocery stores put candy right next to the checkout.

This is called present bias, which is the inability to understand that our wants and desires will change over time. It’s why, as a kid, we’re always so shocked that adults, who have the time and the money, don’t really have any of the cool toys.

Present bias is why you’ve made the same resolution for the tenth year in a row, but this time you mean it. You are going to lose weight and forge a six-pack of abs so ripped you could deflect arrows.

One day you have the choice between running around the block or watching a movie, and you choose the movie. Another day you are out with friends and can choose a cheeseburger or a salad. You choose the cheeseburger.

The slips become more frequent, but you keep saying you’ll get around to it. You’ll start again on Monday, which becomes a week from Monday. Your will succumbs to a death by a thousand cuts. By the time winter comes it looks like you already know what your resolution will be the next year.

Yep, that’s procrastination.

And here’s some more. I’m going to put off the end of this post until tomorrow. McRaney just has so much good stuff I want to share, I think I’m going to have to come back for more. Join me, won’t you?

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