Why We Procrastinate

| 7 Comments

Most of us are guilty of procrastination. It's a bad habit. We all know this, so why do we continue to do it? Research done in Germany at the University of Konstanz showed that we are more likely to put things off when we think of them abstractly rather than when we think of them concretely. This actually makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? I never thought about it before and prior to reading the article I made a point to come up with my own hypothesis as to why we procrastinate, but I couldn't come up with anything!

When doing research, psychologists handed out a questionnaire to students who were being paid to complete the study. They had three weeks to respond, by e-mail, about "mundane tasks" (i.e. opening a bank account and keeping a diary) but some were asked to respond about the types of people who generally complete the given task and what it implies about them (abstract) while others were asked to describe the technical aspects of how you would go about completing each task and what one would expect to happen from there on (concrete). Those given the abstract option took much longer to respond, some not even completing the assignment, while those given the concrete option had little delay.

After I read the study, I was dumbfounded. It was such a simple plot but it made so much sense! Apparently, thinking about the task more concretely makes it feel more urgent and necessary to complete. So perhaps abstract thinking results in procrastination because nothing is anchoring it down in your brain if you're just throwing around ideas...? Just an idea. What do you think? Can you think of any alternative explanations?

The diagrams below give simple visuals of procrastination and how it translates into payoffs (top) and pain (bottom). The site I got the images from makes another interesting point that maybe we procrastinate because avoiding strenuous situations (pain) is part of human nature. Just keep in mind that this site didn't provide much concerning scientific evidence and could be a display of confirmation bias at work.


So which idea do you think is more parsimonious? Maybe you have a completely different hypothesis for this phenomena, why do you think that is more sensible?

Just a little note: By definition, procrastination is "the deferment or avoidance of an action or task which requires completion by focusing on some other action or task" (Science Daily).

Sources
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090112110106.htm
http://www.davecheong.com/2007/05/23/fight-procrastination/

7 Comments

I think that procastrinating is a result of some psycholigical feature that is really hard to explain. May be it is kind of necessity when it comes to unpleasant engagement we need to deal with within certain time frame. may be it is about being afraid to take responsibility about something. Or it is a matter of pure laziness. It might have huge number of various explantions.
Rentals

I think that procastrinating is a result of some psycholigical feature that is really hard to explain. May be it is kind of necessity when it comes to unpleasant engagement we need to deal with within certain time frame. May be it is about being afraid to take responsibility about something. Or it is a matter of pure laziness. It might have huge number of various explantions.
Rentals

I think procrastination is just avoiding what requires something that we don't really want to do. Whether it be homework, running errands, or just replying to a message - we want to do what is easier or seemingly more enjoyable at the time. It then really isn't a question of why we do it because as humans we are after what we desire at the moment.

I agree with joh09598 for the most part. Humans tend to avoid things they consider arduous and painful. I think another reason why we procrastinate so much is because things seem so distant and, like you said, abstract. I know I put off assignments that are due in a couple weeks despite the fact that they require more effort to complete. I keep telling myself I have time, when I really don’t, and other things are more important or just plain fun. Procrastination is probably one of the worse habits.

I am also definitely guilty of procrastination. Even though I know that it is a terrible habit, I find myself procrastinating things and regretting later on. I is very fascinating to see that researchers actually had carried out researches on procrastination. After reading your blog, I agree with the reasearch findings that abstract tasks results in more procrastination than concrete tasks. If a task is concrete before my eyes, I would also feel more urgent and feel the need to complete it more than if it was just an abstract idea in my head. I think this research finding will be useful to apply to completing assignments and homeworks throughout semester. If we write our tasks down in our planner or calendar and put it on the desk or the wall in our room, they will become more concrete and we weill procrastinate less.

Sometimes I just feel like procrastination happens to me because I know there are better things in life to sitting on my chair and typing a stupid 2000 word paper for an elective that has no meaning for my life. However, I have learned that overcoming procrastination in any class can help in the real world to better motivate us to do things when we love to do it. THat is why it is important to find a career path that will motivate us to complete our work to the best of our ability. Procrastination is just a way of telling us that this isn't our life path.

I can definitely relate to the idea of procrastination happening when you think of a task as abstract, but I had never thought of that even being a cause until reading it in this post. I have to tell myself that I must get an assignment done at this time, at this place to make myself do it, otherwise I just end up leaving it till the last minute. I also can see the point of avoiding it due to human nature. I cannot count the amount of times I have thought about doing something like cleaning or an assignment and went to a movie or another fun activity instead.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by loxxx182 published on March 29, 2012 10:34 PM.

No Feelings, No Worries.........Right? was the previous entry in this blog.

East vs. West is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.