Procrastination

Posted in Principles

When’s the most popular day of the week to start a diet? Tomorrow.

We all procrastinate. We put off for tomorrow what we could (and often should) do today. These delays have real consequences. For example, procrastinating on filing taxes costs an average of $400 in fees and unclaimed tax refunds. And the consequences can also be deadly. Putting off annual health checks may account for men’s higher death rates from preventable diseases. Farmers in the developing world may procrastinate making a trip to town to buy fertilizer, which often results in none being used when planting season comes around.

We find it so easy to procrastinate because delaying a task by a day or two doesn’t feel like much in the moment. We’re also overconfident that while we are falling prey to temptation today, we’ll be more disciplined tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, we repeat the same cycle and we’ve eventually procrastinated for weeks. Clear deadlines can stop this cycle.

The nature of the task can influence our tendency to procrastinate. We also tend to put off starting things that we cannot finish in one sitting. For instance, if a form takes 40 minutes to complete and we only have 20 minutes now, we will not bother starting. We’re more likely to procrastinate a complex or tedious task because it’s easier to be tempted by a more pleasant alternative in the moment. We can combat procrastination by making tasks easier, and breaking down complex tasks into bite-sized steps.

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