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14 Oct 2010

The Irrationality of Procrastination

I came across a book review in the October 11, 2010 issue of The New Yorker about The Thief of Time, edited by Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White. It’s a collection of essays on procrastination. Under an illustration there was this caption: Procrastination interests philosophers because of its underlying irrationality.

I never knew that procrastination received such puzzling attention. No one can really explain why we do it. Yet, it’s very common across all personalities. What makes it even more puzzling is that “indulging in it generally doesn’t make people happy.” In fact, according to Professor Piers Steel of the University of Calgary, “people who admitted to difficulties with procrastination quadrupled between 1978 and 2002.” He defines it as “willingly deferring something even though you expect the delay to make you worse off.”

Why is this important to intuition? Well, in order to appreciate intuition’s impact, we need to appreciate the degree to which our emotions influence our decisions and actions. Since procrastination is a frequent, everyday occurrence, it can serve as a tangible reminder to go beyond simple, rational analysis.

While many of us would acknowledge this, we often don’t practice it. Rather, we attempt to analyze problems in rational, logical and objective terms employing the best scientific analysis we can muster. We try to quantify then weigh benefits and costs without even considering the emotional weights of each. Then, we try to communicate our findings in the same way.

This can lead us astray because in reality emotions play a dominant role in people’s decisions and actions. Thus, when we try to be objective, we often aren’t realistic. Imagine not accounting for procrastination in planning because it’s irrational.

1 Response

  1. Jeannette Marshall

    Another GREAT post ! I am aware of my tendency towards procrastination so I do try hard to offset this weakness by consciously getting the things out of the way quickly that I may fall into the trap. They tend to be more mundane things like Expense Reports or the data entry part of analysis for spreadsheets (that part I love). Perhaps it helps if I’m 1) aware of the weakness, and 2) try to see past the mundane tasks to the part I like when I get past them??

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