Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Procrastinating 101: My Laptop Made Me (Not) Do It!

Remember Piers Steel?  Associate professor of industrial psychology at the University of Calgary who brought us a formula to explain procrastination?  Well, Professor Steel's research warns that procrastination is increasing in our society:
In 1978, only about 5% of the American public thought of themselves as chronic procrastinators. Now it's 26%. . .
in the past quarter century the average self-score for procrastination (using a 1-to-5 scale with 1 being no delaying) has increased by 39%. 
At least 95 percent of people say they procrastinate occasionally.

Several media sources that reported on Steel's research in January of 2007 passed on the admonition that procrastinating would make us "poorer, fatter and unhappier."  Other procrastination experts who commented on the five-year-late release of Steel's mega-study agreed about the seriousness of the problem, and its entrenchment in our culture.  Dr. William Knaus said that his work with procrastinators was more challenging than getting alcoholics to give up booze.  And Dr. Joseph Ferrari of DePaul University in Chicago said
The subject is seen as a joke.  But the social and economic implications are huge. These people need therapy. They need to change the way they act and think.

And here's the kicker. Many of the scientists studying the kind of behavior they associate with such dire personal and societal consequences blame technology for its increase. They point out that we have more and more access to gadgets and toys, including cell phones and computers--and now the alluring iPad--that seduce us away from the odious tasks at hand. Professor Steel refers to one popular cell phone/PDA as "crackberry," and says
That stupid game Minesweeper— that probably has cost billions of dollars for the whole society.
(As Steel is a self-professed mostly recovered procrastinator, this statement may reflect some personal experience.)   A 2008 article in the Guardian makes the claim that  
Even the beeps notifying the arrival of email are said to be causing a 0.5 per cent drop in gross domestic product in the United States, costing the economy $70bn a year.

Professor Paul Spector of the University of South Florida has categorized three ways we stray from the path of righteous task completion.  The first, which he calls classic procrastination, involves difficulty getting started.  The second, the province of the perfectionist, is one I know all too well--getting bogged down in details and failing to finish what we've started.  Spector's third group of procrastinators he calls "distractible"--and it is here that technology's increasing temptation-value rears its ugly head.

Steel again:
The internet and gadgets. . .give people a constant source of putting things off, and they create motivationally toxic environments.  Imagine trying to diet with a magic floating spoon of ice cream following you around.

The gist of all this, as I see it, is "Procrastinators of the world, unplug!" Go offline. Create a toy-free zone for work. Not the whole solution, but for some of us, probably a necessary step. And a conundrum for this procrastination blogger.

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