Analyzing the Art of Procrastination
(pssst—enable images in this email to see the chart below!)
image via The Atlantic
I'm certainly familiar with the procrastination Doom Loop—recognizing my lack of productivity, feeling bad about it, and then procrastinating some more. I unironically am writing this at 11:45pm Thursday evening, fully intending to schedule this email to send in just a few hours. You could say I'm something of an expert in procrastination.
Turns out, the science and psychology behind procrastinating is fascinating. From full-blown avoidance behaviors to mathematic formulas to determine productivity, researchers have found all sorts of interesting reasoning behind how and why we procrastinate the way we do—and it's a great way to learn more about yourself!
Procrastination is NOT a time management issue
Interestingly enough, the most obvious issue that results from procrastination has nothing to do with its origin. Scientists have found that procrastination is actually an emotional response to the task we're putting off. The act of procrastination makes us feel shame or guilt, which gives us less cognitive energy to be productive—which makes us even less likely to begin the task anyway. The cycle is self-perpetuating, and begins with these reasons:
- We delay a task because we feel we're in the wrong mood to complete it.
- We assume our mood will change in the near future.
Avoidance behavior and intolerance of uncertainty
If you're avoiding a task because you're not certain of the outcome, you're experiencing Intolerance of Uncertainty—an avoidance behavior. It can play out in many ways when procrastinating: overcomplicating the issue of where to start (and avoiding the first logical step because you don't know how to do all of the steps in a task), mentally working through all possible scenarios before starting a task, or taking on everything yourself instead of delegating (even when it's impossible to get it all done without help).
The Procrastination Equation
The procrastination equation is a theory that accounts for every major human motivation and procrastination finding—pretty impressive. The equation states:
Motivation = (Expectancy x Value) / (Impulsiveness x Delay)
Motivation is increased by value and expectancy, and is decreased by impulsiveness or delay. The really interesting use of this equation is in deconstructing procrastination scenarios to figure out where a factor is lacking. For example, procrastinating by jumping from project to project is directly related to high impulsiveness: and from that you can see how to re-balance the equation.