Procrastination

Thursday, January 27, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

This week we talk about procrastination.   Now I am not only an expert practitioner of the procrastinating arts, but  have actually written an essay on this topic [ed.note: which has been expanded -- finally! -- into a book, The Art of Pracrastination].  In fact, in spite of my many outstanding contributions to philosophy (IMHO) I’m pretty sure it's the most read thing I have ever written.  You can find it at

      http://www. structuredprocrastination.org.  

 However, this doesn’t mean I’m really and expert on the phenomenon of procrastination.  It’s a very short somewhat tongue in cheek essay to make procrastinators feel better about themselves.  But there are real experts on procrastination, and one of the finest, Timothy Pychyll of Carleton University, will join us Sunday.  He has done psychological research on why we procrastinate, and also what the best methods are for dealing with it.

But that leads to the question: why is procrastination a philosophical problem. 

Since the time of the Greeks, philosophers --- at least some of them --- have been puzzled by how we decide that something is best to do, and then not do it.   And procrastination is an example of that.  I decide the best thing to do, all things considered, is to get up from the couch, go to my desk, and grade some term papers.  But instead of doing so, I lie on the couch and watch a rerun of Cheeers for the fourth time.

We might just call that being laxy.  But perhaps I finally get up, but instead of grading the papers, I start cleaning up the kitchen, and then move on to cleaning the garage.  I’m not being lazy; I’m just not doing what I think it’s best to do…that’s procrastination, not  it’s not laziness.  As Robert Benchley put it, managing to anticipate the main point of my essay,

anyone can do any amount of work,provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.

(http://www.hackvan.com/pub/stig/etext/how-to-get-things-done-despite-procrastination.txt)

 Procrastination isn’t laziness.  It is irrationality.   But is it mysterious?  After all, if people weren’t irrational, philosophers wouldn’t have much to do.

But it seems like a peculiar form of irrationality?  Suppose you are multiplying 7 times 5 and adding ten.  So you figure 7 times 5 is 35, add 10 and you have 45.  And then you carefully write down 55.  I don’tmean a slip of the pen.  Having figured out that the right answer is 45, you carefully and intentionally write down something else.  That seems pretty weird.

Well procrastination is like that.  You figure out what’s best to do, most important to do, the rational thing to do, the right answer to the question, what should I do?  And then you do something else.

 But to be puzzled, of coiurse, we have to have a certain picture of the will, --- that is, with how we decide what to do, and how that leads us to do that  ---that makes the analogy work. The picture is that deliberating is like figuring out the answer to a problem, the problem of what to do, and that acting is just drawing the conclusion. If that was the right picture, procrastination, as well as other forms of  ``weakness of the will” would be mysterious.

The phrase “weakness of the will” actually suggests another one.  It’s the job of reason to figure out the best thing to do.  But what gets done is what we want to do the most.  The job of the will is to make us want to do the best thing, so that we do it.  But often the will is weak …. quite often with procrastinators like you, and, occasionally, me. It can’t convert the results of reasoning into a desire that motivates us.

 Well, philosophers are good at spinning out theories, but psycholgists have to actually put them to the test.  Timothy Pychyll will help us choose between our pictures, or, more likely, suggest something better. 

 

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Comments (15)


Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, January 27, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

I am reminded of the procrastinator's creed: Never

I am reminded of the procrastinator's creed: Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. I think procrastination is a form of rebellion---without a cause. Most of us, regardless of how rational, have a few loose screws; a few frayed circuits. This is not remarkable when we consider the light-speed pace of twenty-first century living. I have found solace in procrastination since retiring from a job where things which had to be done yesterday could have all waited until next week. A job where incompetence was rewarded while capable workers were denigrated and leadership was predicated upon political loyalty.
We learn procrastination, in various ways from various people. Initially, we question the utility of it. But, as we learn more about why it used, we understand that it is a coping mechanism which can make our hectic lives more tolerable. Sure, we pay our bills and take our medicines on schedule (if we know what is good for us), but if something can wait until tomorrow---or longer---we take advantage of the option. I am drinking my only can of Labatt's Blue. I could go get more. But it can wait.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, January 27, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

i'm not really sure if i'm interested in this jour

i'm not really sure if i'm interested in this journey into your choices. to procrastinate, to put off doing an activity, is just a possible relation - thankfully you stayed away from portraying --- procrastination --- as some technical termus and thereby stopping consideration in its real?-ness.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, January 28, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Isaac Neutron: The state of a job where its tasks

Isaac Neutron: The state of a job where its tasks can literally wait for a week or more. that's actually one of the more adept things i've heard in a while. god forbid one actually has a relation with the relatedness of the possible task of the whole state of affairs.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, January 29, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

So the only conversation you're willing to have ab

So the only conversation you're willing to have about procrastination is about how to be rid of it? And you scoff at my email about human malaise as a more apt lens on the issue? You were all quite content to describe the human condition in exclusively utilitarian terms, life as a set of "goals" such as 'moving sandbags'. I felt like I was listening to a conversation among sandbags, unmoved.
My unabridged email to you read as follows...
The problem with adopting economics and logic as the pole star of a philosophy is that you become indistinguishable from corporate motivational speakers. You all sound like a 1-800 motivational advertisement. What of resistance? What of fighting off coercion? Hippies used to speak of this, now they?re all self-important baby boomer careerists. What better example of how impoverished economic and logical pragmatism have become as philosophies of ethics. Again? what of resistance, what of sabotaging the banks!
I challenge you to leave off the predictable fallacy that reason=logic or pleasure=good as the basis for every behavior. What about dwelling in a state of pure human free will? In fact, malaise is the human condition. Art and meditation express precisely this.
Please speak instead of the long history of human free will as expressed through, for example, the flaneurs of Oscar Wilde?s day who would walk turtles on leashes as an expression of liberation from utilitarian philosophy.
James Decker
http://Resipiscent.com
San Francisco, CA
====follow up===
You did not refute or speak to my comment. You return as quickly as possible to utilitarianism and talk of ?rewards.? Economics is not philosophy. Again, I challenge you to speak of art, meditation and RESISTANCE as the height of human possibility. NOT careerism and ?accomplishments? such as you trade in at the university.
Snoring over here.
James Decker

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, January 29, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

I did not find the this piece very convincing. Th

I did not find the this piece very convincing. There is nothing irrational about procrastinating and the mathematical analogy is simply flawed. When faced with a decision, we all have choices. Some of these choice may actually provide more pleasure or enjoyment than the "rational"choice. Hence, procrastinating can certainly add to on'e pleasure.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, January 29, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

"HOW DO WE FEEL ABOUT OURSELVES WHEN..." As poi

"HOW DO WE FEEL ABOUT OURSELVES WHEN..."
As pointed out in the show, this goes back to ideas about the self (addressed in last week's show).
Aside from the fundamental and unanswerable question of philosophy, "What or who is "we"" (the other fundamental and unanswerable question of philosophy is "Is there anything other than one's consciousness"), addressing the statement concerning "feeling" about one's self, I contend, is not really doing philosophy. The duality of the "feeler" and the "feelee," since both are the same person, invites two layers of speculation that defy the use of reason as a tool of investigation. Once reason is not useable, and we can only speculate as to causation WITHOUT using our power of reason, we become only observers, or maybe poets (if we have some very particular language skills). Philosophy is not observation alone; it is the application of reasoning to thoughts.
The idea of self-deception is like this. There really is no such thing, rationally, as knowing something, and then thinking about one's self while BELIEVING what one knows isn't true.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, January 29, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

I will jump into this discussion shortly. Quite un

I will jump into this discussion shortly. Quite unexpectedly, only hours after the show yesterday, I was rushed to the hospital in pain. Turns out to be kidney stones (I've torn my achilles tendon completely and experienced less pain than what that little "stone" caused yesterday - amazing). In any case, until I get back here, there's lots of information freely available at procrastination.ca - FREE blog on Psychology Today (Don't Delay), FREE podcast on iTunes (iProcrastinate podcast), FREE cartoons (Carpe Diem) and lots of information and research.
cheers for now,
tim

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, January 29, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

I love this blog. Er, well, I do like it a lot. A

I love this blog. Er, well, I do like it a lot. A Vietnamese friend set me straight on liking and loving years ago, saying: we are supposed to love PEOPLE and like THINGS. Anyway, who knew that something as facially innocuous as procrastination could generate such strong opinions? And how could we have predicted it would result in serious philosophical discourse? Thanks to all for participating and especially to Dr. Perry for setting the pot to boil. I think I'll take a nap now. No---it is only 9:30 am---I'll do it later.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, January 30, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

I think I'll wait and write my comments tomorrow.

I think I'll wait and write my comments tomorrow.
Good Day,
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, January 31, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Do you have the names of the songs that were playe

Do you have the names of the songs that were played on the JANUARY 28, 2011 Procrastination show? I heard one, that I really liked. Thanks, Sam

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, February 1, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

This is more or less a test---just to see if my co

This is more or less a test---just to see if my comment gets into the system (last attempt failed). It is interesting to me that this post on procrastination evoked so many opinions. I'll try to say more if this passes muster.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, February 1, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Well, so far, so good---my test comment seemed to

Well, so far, so good---my test comment seemed to get in. As I tried to say a day ago, procrastination seems, on first blush, fairly innocuous. Until it affects (or causes) life-or-death decisions. I used two examples: one, the executive pardon order by a governor which is transmitted and received too late to stay a death sentence; and two, the collapse of the Silver Bridge (in the 1970s or there abouts)---my uncle could have died in that tragedy, but did not BECAUSE of procrastination.Long story, so trust me, OK?
Several diametric forces appear to be at work in such instances. One is Jung's SYNCHRONICITY, or meaningful chance. Another is likely to be N.N. Taleb's extension of the Jungian thesis---something he calls Black Swans: numerous combinations of probabilities which are IMPROBABLE, but just happen anyway. If you get in the way, sorry about that.
Anyway, my intuition is this: the commenters to this post are at least as smart as their comments indicate. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude they have at least considered the more serious aspects of something we might otherwise view as innocuous. Just sayin'...

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

I actually have a more specific view of procrastin

I actually have a more specific view of procrastination, and I ran a similiar argument in an essay against paternalism. My view is that procrastination is rational for us in a more general sense.
When we say that procrastination is irrational we mean it is irration relative to a certain 'best' aim, but is that really the 'best' aim for us? If I believe that it is best to stay home and write an essay, but instead go out with friends, perhaps it was rationally best for me to do so on social grounds. Thus it becomes a matter of two competing rationales. The cleaning example could be an example of you as an individual fighting against pressure from an institution. Thus, procrastinating is resistance.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, June 18, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

I got your point, your idea is very nice and i h

I got your point, your idea is very nice and i have another idea of procrastination... thanks for sharing your thoughts ..

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, July 2, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

Like so many researchers and scholars past and pre

Like so many researchers and scholars past and present, you guys are way off. Are you trying to explain procrastination or do you want get rid of it quickly and easily?
If you just want to explain procrastination, then all you're really doing is demonstrating it in your attempt.
The only meaningful discussion of procrastination is a discussion that provides a clear and practical answer to the following question: How do I stop procrastinating? This is the most important question you're readers will ask on the topic. You know, the readers who procrastinate on the academic writing tasks that define their profession?
The most effective way to stop procrastinating is also the most effective way to stop being clinically depressed or to stop having the diagnosis of autism. It's called applied behavior analysis. It's all about harnessing and transferring motivation from high probability behaviors to low probability behaviors, it's a precise science that's as simple as it is counterintuitive.
Just like there's a fat practical distinction between explanation and cure when comparing psychoanalytic vs cognitive behavioral treatment outcome and follow up studies, there's a fat distinction between explaining procrastination and curing it. The alternative is rationally and empirically indefensible.

 
 
 

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