Procrastination down to a science

Why you can’t seem to turn off those cat videos

We’ve all been there: your deadline creeps closer and closer but that assignment just doesn’t seem to complete itself. Though you had more than enough time to have it done by its due date, you find yourself scrambling to hand it in at all. As much as we fight it, procrastination can get the best of anyone. But if we know that it will only lead to more stress for ourselves in the long run, why do we continue to do it?

One researcher may have found the answer. Piers Steel, a professor of human resources and organizational dynamics in the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, explores the roots of procrastination in his new book The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop putting things off and Start getting Stuff Done. The book examines why procrastination is on the rise, and dissects the reasons why we put things off and what we can do to stop it.

In an interview with Inside Higher Education, Steel shares the ‘Procrastination Equation’, a formula for why we put work off. It looks something like this:

Motivation = Expectancy x Delay / Impulsiveness x Delay

“We lack motivation and put stuff off when we doubt our abilities (i.e., low expectancy), hate doing the task (i.e., low value), are sensitive to delay (i.e., high impulsiveness), and have to wait for the task’s rewards (i.e., high delay),” Steel explained.

Steel goes on to explain that eliminating distraction and temptation is one of the most important steps in combating procrastination. “Really, there is usually nothing wrong with our goals except when we are trying to enact them in an environment that is incredibly distracting,” Steel said.

He also suggests dedicating yourself to work between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., which tend to be peak hours for productivity.

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