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Procrastination revisited

BiologicalWhen it comes to procrastination, it seems like our brain has a mind of its own. According to Esther Landhuis, writing in the January/February, 2015 issue of Scientific American Mind, you can trick your brain into meeting any due date by thinking differently about deadlines. When we think of a deadline as something occurring in the present, we are more likely to begin the task.

For example, something due this week would be perceived by the brain as something more urgent than something due this month; something due this month would be perceived as being more urgent that something due next month, and so on – even though the actual number of days to the deadline are identical.
So a project due date of March 31st set on March 21st would prompt action faster than a due date of April 1st set on March 20th even though you had the same number of days to complete the task.

Research confirms this. One experiment, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, involved asking 100 students when they would start a data-entry task if they had 5 days to complete it. The ones who were assigned the task late enough in April so the deadline fell in early May were less likely to start the task right away compared to those whose deadline fell in March – even thought they had the same number of days to work on the task.
Since the brain seems to divide time into segments, we could use this fact by issuing assignments early enough so the deadlines fall in the same week, month or year. This might necessitate breaking the longer tasks or projects into shorter sub-tasks with shorter deadlines.

It might also suggest that making New Year’s resolutions might be best moved to the middle of the year rather than the end of the year so that the deadlines fall in the same year. After all, leaving a resolution until next year when you thought of it this year could be construed as procrastination.

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