Procrastinating

 
Smart scheduling can also thwart procrastination. In an experiment published in 2002 Duke University behavioral economist Dan Ariely, then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and marketing professor Klaus Wertenbroch of INSEAD, a business school with campuses in France and Singapore, asked students in an executive-education class to set their own deadlines for the three papers due that semester. Ariely and Wertenbroch set penalties for papers turned in after the self-imposed deadlines. Despite the penalties, 70 percent of the students chose deadlines spaced out over the semester, rather than clustering them all at the end. What is more, those who set the early deadlines scored better, on average, than did students in a comparable class in which Ariely set one due date for all three papers at the end of the semester. Such planning can buck any inclination to put off the work. “The deadlines made them better performers,” Ariely says.

More simply, Pychyl advises procrastinators to “just get started.” The anticipation of the task often is far worse than the task turns out to be. To demonstrate this fact, his group, in work that appeared in 2000, gave 45 students pagers and checked in with the volunteers 40 times over five days to query them about their moods and how often they were putting off a task that had a deadline. “We found that when students actually do the task they are avoiding, their perceptions of the task change significantly. Many times, they actually enjoyed it.”

In Raymond’s case, getting to the task was, indeed, the hard part. Knaus helped him to do that by first determining the reason for his instinct to delay: Raymond feared being tested on the synopsis and looking foolish. So Knaus asked him to pick the lesser of two evils, doing his work—and risking imperfection—or avoiding difficult tasks and losing his job. When Knaus put it that way, the lawyer was able to “just grind it out.” Instead of being fired, Raymond became a “superstar” at his firm.

Note: This article was originally published with the title, "I’ll Do It Tomorrow".

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