Our Tendencies to Procrastinate

In the New Yorker, Maria Konnikova looks at the research behind procrastination and finds that those of us who are most likely to procrastinate have impulsive tendencies, or a lack of self-control (which makes sense).

Some tips on doing the things you’re avoiding doing:

“The problem with a goal we’re avoiding is that we’ve already built into our minds how awful it’s going to be,” he said. “So it’s like diving into a cold pool: the first few seconds are terrible, but soon it feels great.” So, set the goal of working on a task for a short time, and then reassess. Often, you’ll be able to stay on task once you’ve overcome that initial jump. “You don’t say, ‘I am going to write.’ You say, ‘I will complete four hundred words by two o’clock,’ ” Steel says. “The more specific, the more powerful. That’s what gets us going.”

Another tip involves downloading apps that prevent you from browsing certain websites (like maybe this one!) when you’re at work and should be putting together spreadsheets or whatever it is that you’re putting off. I haven’t ever had to resort to this, but I know Meaghan has, so maybe she can tell us whether or not those programs have been effective.

Lastly, if you want to try assessing how much of a procrastinator you are, take this test by Piers Steel, a psychologist from the University of Calgary. After seeing that I had to log in to take it, I almost put it off! But I did it and scored a 36.11 out of 100, which means I am a casual procrastinator — fairly conscientious and self-disciplined with a few irrational impulses.

I almost abandoned the test halfway through, though, because I wasn’t sure how many questions I was going to be asked (there aren’t too many). What about you? How did you score?

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