Why Wait?

Procrastination seems so central to human behavior that it’s hard to believe the word did not enter the English language until the sixteenth century. It’s comforting to know that even during a period when workers had few options for  distraction, they still found a way to put off what they should be doing.

The study of procrastination has become a topic of scholarly research. In a review of the field, New Yorker business writer James Surowiecki outlines some of the leading explanations for why we shirk our duties:

  • Inability to defer immediate rewards for long-term success
  • Fear of failure leads to excessive planning
  • Miscalculation of how much time a task will take
  • Sense of being overwhelmed by a large, vague task

Knowing the cause of procrastination suggests some options for overcoming it. Most of the strategies involve limiting choices and imposing constraints. A popular software program allows Windows and Mac users to block internet access for a specified period. You can break down a task into more manageable, defined chunks.

Finally, you can subject yourself to negative reinforcement. Some folks trying to lose weight will make a bet with friends. For every pound lost, the friend will donate to a favorite charity. But for every pound gained, the dieter must donate to a despised charity. When it comes to tackling academic tasks, which tend to be self-directed and open-ended, this kind of skewing the consequences can help us stay on track.

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