Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Matthew Homann at the [non]billable hour linked to this news release on Why Do We Overcommit?. The article discusses a study by two business-school professors on why people overcommit their time and money. Many of the authors' conclusions could also explain why we procrastinate, a bad habit for law students and lawyers alike, so I quote from the news release here:

Research by two business-school professors reveals that people over-commit because we expect to have more time in the future than we have in the present. Of course, when tomorrow turns into today, we discover that we are too busy to do everything we promised.

. . .

The authors suspect that's because every day's a little different: The nature of time fools us and we "forget" about how things fill our days.

. . .

Zauberman and Lynch continue, "People are consistently surprised to be so busy today. Lacking knowledge of what specific tasks will compete for their time in the future, they act as if new demands will not inevitably arise that are as pressing as those faced today."

In short, the future is ideal: The fridge is stocked, the weather clear, the train runs on schedule and meetings end on time. Today, well, stuff happens.

. . .

Can people learn to predict future time demands more in line with reality? The authors observe, "It is difficult to learn from feedback that time will not be more abundant in the future. Specific activities vary from day to day, so [people] do not learn from feedback that, in aggregate, total demands are similar."

Gal Zauberman and John G. Lynch Jr., Resource Slack and Propensity to Discount Delayed Investments of Time Versus Money, 134 Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 23-37 (Feb. 2005) <http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/xge134123.pdf>.

Whatever your reason for procrastinating, break it now. You will not have more time in the future — in fact, you will have less. In addition to regular demands on your time, which would keep you as busy as you are today, you will have to deal with everything that you put off today. Plus, those professors who started the semester slowly to make sure you understood the material will have to accelerate their pace to cover everything; you will get new clients and new cases; and other pressing demands will arise. Save yourself some stress and do it now.

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