My phone vibrated to another text, I picked it up and read ‘Hey dad, check out Sunday Times pg 7 – two of your favs – procrastination and Mark Twain’. So I dutifully read it. The article is not NEW news but the message has never been more important, especially as we face the uncertainty of 2009.

‘Procrastination is a prevalent and pernicious form of self-regulatory failure’ Piers Steel

Piers Steel at University of Calgary is, it seems, planning to publish a book based upon his research into procrastination, which I pointed people to back in 2007. It is good stuff. In 1978, only about 5% of a sampled population thought of themselves as chronic procrastinators. Now 26% do. Furthermore, Steel’s study found that in the past 25 years the average self-score for procrastination (using a 1-to-5 scale with 1 being no delaying) has increased by 39%. So, although procrastination has been recorded in writing for over 3000 years, it has never been easier to procrastinate than it is now. And it is getting worse!

There are many reasons for this. A main reason is that we have so many more easily accessible temptations, which make it harder to be self-disciplined now than ever before. Furthermore, many people are now in self managing or self directed working environments. Remote teamworking adds to the problem with a reduction of continuous visibility and accountability and allows – even encourages – last minute cramming to complete a task.

Steel has developed an E = MC² formula for Procrastination: U = E x V / Gamma x D.

This comes directly from his research work on Motivation, from which we now have the Temporal Motivational Theory (TMT), to add to all the other research available around Motivation. He may have to ‘consumerise’ it for the ‘Self Help Book Market’ but to quote directly from Steel’s Procrastination paper:

Utility (U) refers to how desirable a task or choice is for an individual to perform. By definition, people pursue whatever behavior has the highest utility. As the numerator of the equation indicates, activities that are high in expectancy (E) and value (V) should be more desirable. The denominator of the equation captures the element of time. Enjoyable activities that are immediately realizable (D), that have a short delay, should be more highly valued. As delay becomes large, utility necessarily shrinks. Gamma refers to how impulsive or sensitive to delay you are, and the larger Gamma becomes, the greater is the sensitivity.  

So What! What can you do to manage your procrastination?

  1. Understand that this is an increasing problem for all of us, so we must build greater internal strength than in the past and hold ourselves more accountable, even when others can not see our activity level day to day. The Habit Helper article might help.
  2. Don’t accept off-the-shelf personal solutions. After all, ‘In the real world one size fits nobody’. Use our proven programmes to provide practical personal help to you and your people
  3. Ratchet up the E (Expectancy) and V (Value) elements of your equation on particular projects or deliverables through our Goal Control approaches.
  4. Reduce the impact of distractions and temptations – toxic elements like living in the inbox, Web ‘Researching’ and completing lower value QFE (quick, fun and easy) tasks even though you have an important deliverable to work on.
  5. Check out these Resources:
  • Here’s A quick, easy, 22 slide presentation by Piers. A Laypersons guide to the whole thing
  • Take Piers’ Procrastination questionnaire. It will take about 10 minutes. Hit the ‘here’ link towards the bottom of the homepage.
  • Piers Steel’s paper: The Nature of Procrastination: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review of
    Quintessential Self-Regulatory Failure
  • Piers’ paper on Temporal Motivational Theory (TMT)

Finally, good ol’ Mark Twain. This was the quote the Sunday Times used in its article: ‘Never put off until tomorrow what can be put off till the day-after-tomorrow just as well.’ Mark Twain