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
What is it
Everyone procrastinates – academics are especially prone to it. But why do we procrastinate? Is it lack of will-power? Or is procrastination more like a disease, something that might be cured? Can we structure our priorities in such a way so as to accomplish more even while procrastinating? John and Ken can no longer put off the discussion with Tim Pychyl, Director of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University and author of The Procrastinator’s Digest: A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.
What is going on when people procrastinate? And is procrastination philosophically interesting? John and Ken conclude that this phenomenon is actually very puzzling: procrastinators are deciding that one course of action is the best thing to do and but then they proceed to do something completely different.
Timothy Pychyl, a psychologist from Carleton University and author of The Procrastinator’s Digest, joins John and Ken to discuss procrastination. Tim defines procrastination as a breakdown of volitional action, and insists that procrastination has no redeeming quality – it is always a failure to do what a person ought to do. John, Ken, and Tim discuss whether Ken is actually a procrastinator and whether sometimes procrastination can be good.
After the break, Tim and our hosts continue to discuss why people procrastinate. Is it easier to wait for the deadline to “get your act together”? Are procrastinator’s actually perfectionists who procrastinate in order to give themselves an excuse for failure? Tim also suggests that procrastination is connected to “short-term mood repair” – avoiding what we do not want to do in the moment to focus on what will make us feel good now. John, Ken, and Tim also consider a hypothesis that procrastination results from a person thinking s/he can get more done in a last-minute scenario than is actually possible. Callers ask more interesting questions about procrastinating. Is the opposite of procrastination, a kind of obsessive-compulsive behavior, a danger as well? Could some procrastination be driven by lingering doubts about the action that you have judged to be best, and therefore a kind of rationality?
In the last segment, John, Ken, and Tim discuss ways for procrastinators to improve their behaviors. John suggests that procrastinators should not feel too bad about themselves for procrastinating – in putting off the seemingly biggest and most important tasks, procrastinators actually get a lot done! They finish the show by discussing future discounting of tasks – does this tendency to prioritize the sooner, smaller reward over the larger, later reward explain procrastination? In closing, Tim encourages people to just get started on their tasks and set weekly implementation intentions to act.
- Roving Philosophical Reporter (5:17) – Caitlin Esch discusses procrastination with the public. It sounds like everyone procrastinates something or another, but why does this happen and what are the effects of procrastinating in people’s lives?
- 60-Second Philosopher (48:48) – Ian Shoales discusses procrastination, pro-activeness, life-altering decisions, and why it’s better to turn your essay at the last minute.