The Procrastination Equation

Posted under Procrastination on Friday 11 September 2009 at 1:24 am

Procrastination EquationProcrastination is a serious problem of many modern people, which actually goes several hundred years back and was troubling humanity centuries ago. St. Augustine, a Father of Latin church, who lived and worked in the IVth century, spent years in studying the issues related to procrastination. This concept helped St. Augustine to fight against his physical and mental temptations, that is why he was looking at positive sides of procrastination. Another famous scientist, Leonardo da Vinci,  was also a victim of this negative behavioral model. Due to his chronic delaying, lots of his paintings and bright technological ideas were left half-done. Mark Antonius, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Douglas Adams, Agatha Cristie and many more of famous successful people were chronic procrastinators as well.

Why do we always start a new life or a cholesterol lowering diet tomorrow, not today? Why our kitchen should be cleaned right before important exams? Why we have a tendency to check out our e-mail messages every morning instead of coming straight to work? Why do we go on putting the things off even knowing about negative consequences of procrastination? A scientist from Canada Piers Steel, as associate Professor of industrial psychology at Haskayne School of Business (University of Calgary), studied these issues for more than 10 years, and his research ended up with creating a new concept called the Temporal Motivation Theory, publishing a wonderful book and a series of articles in the journal of the American Psychological Association.

The heart of procrastination“, the specialist says, ” is an adaptive natural tendency to value today much more than tomorrow“. It is interesting that Steel decided to use a complex mathematical approach to the problem of putting things off and attempted to create a formula, which would define procrastination. The specialist claims that chronic delaying can be expressed by the following Procrastination Equation: U=EV/ID, where U is our desire to complete a certain task (or our drive to delay the completion). At that, E is expectancy to succeed at the task, V is the value of the completed task, I is the degree if urgency of the task and, finally, D is our individual sensitivity to delay.

After studying the subject both from theoretical and practical perspectives, Steel offers several innovative explanations of procrastination as a social phenomenon. The expert is convinced that the majority of today’s procrastinators (which, according to Steel, account up to 5% of today’s population) are not just lazy people who want to avoid doing the things they do not want to do. He says that such factors as our natural impulsiveness, a lack of self-knowledge or self-confidence,  an absence of strong motivation and our natural desire to see immediate results are among the main factors that contribute in development of this bad habit. The Temporal Motivation Theory, the procrastination equation and the study in general received positive reaction of many management specialists, who found it applicable to modern business leadership practices.


  1. Comment by charles aka JayblaQ — June 17, 2010 @ 4:12 pm

    Thanks for coming out with this issue, i really appreciate but the major problem is that i really lack self confidence in mi self can u please help me out on how to over come this sickness like i would better refer to it as a sickness……
    when it comes to doing things some times i get skead of doing them cos of the fear of the unknown

  2. Comment by Shane — March 29, 2011 @ 5:13 am

    Very interesting equation! Like many people, procrastination is something I often struggle with. Now that I think about it, I can absolutely confirm that the equation is correct. I’d never seen it like that before, but sometimes I procrastinate not because of lack of U (desire) or lack of importance of the task (V), but because I don’t really believe I can get it done (E).

  3. Comment by Lindsey Brother — March 29, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

    Interesting that I should stumble upon this post that’s a couple of years old while my partner sits – frustrated after two days procrastinating over a university lecture he has to give soon. In his instance I don’t think it’s to do with valuing today more than tomorrow… I think it’s being over fussy, a perfectionist and thinking that “everything must be perfect”.

    Reality is … good enough is good enough! But he wont listen!!

  4. Comment by Jamal Stephens — April 7, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

    Leonardo da Vinci was a procrastinator? Imagine what that prolific genius could have produced if he got his act together!

    I can relate to procrastinating from producing art. Unless there is a flash of inspiration, it can be difficult to commit to something when it seems like it will only end up being mundane when completed.

  5. Comment by Gerald Hartnett — April 7, 2011 @ 8:23 pm

    Procrastination has never been a good thing. Many people have this kind of problem and I can’t deny that I also deal with such though I’m doing my best to battle with it. Your insight is really good, you hit the right spot.

  6. Comment by Ed Ward — April 9, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

    The first time I saw the title. I had to click it. This is a good post especially for people who procrastinate like me. Th equation is humorous.I’m going to post this equation on my work table. This will motivate me to keep working.

  7. Comment by Althea Herb — April 10, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

    A very unhealthy habit, its surprising more and more people are practicing it and actually love to nurture it. Ed is right… when I saw the equation “Procrastination Equation: U=EV/ID” you’ll just have to forget about it and start working.

  8. Comment by Lucien — April 10, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

    Well, you’re right! I think “a lack of self-knowledge or self-confidence” affecting Procrastination. When people think that they can’t do something it means their brain will stop thinking and trying to solve a problem or complete a job. That’s why self-knowledge or self-confidence is also important in avoiding Procrastination.

  9. Comment by Nicolas Mcdonald — April 12, 2011 @ 10:51 pm

    I like thinking that when I am procrastinating, I am merely valuing today more than tomorrow. It’s a positive way of saying that I’m living in the moment, and can’t be bothered with getting things done.

  10. Comment by Allen — April 13, 2011 @ 8:06 am

    Just finished a book called Switch. Awesome book about how to create change in our lives and overcome procrastination. The book says, and they got this from another book, that we have two parts, the Rider which is our brain, and the Elephant, which is our habits and such.

    Procrastination can only be overcome by using the the Rider and Elephant together. If you try to use Willpower, the RIder can control the Elephant for a short time, but then he gets tired and the Elephant goes wherever he wants to anyway.

  11. Comment by Elliot Ramsey — April 13, 2011 @ 10:35 am

    I can’t believe that an equation was actually created to measure procrastination. I’m not sure how I could even measure “expectancy” and “sensitivity”…?

  12. Comment by Amiel Sac — April 16, 2011 @ 11:45 pm

    The logic behind the equation done really is clear. Though I am not really a procrastinator, I can even apply it to myself now and see how good or how bad things will become.

    Anyway, whatever the equation maybe, the bottomline will always be that procrastination should be overcome. It will not do you good in the long run and it will just stress you out!

  13. Comment by katie smith — April 26, 2011 @ 11:15 pm

    Interesting post! I hate procrastinating as this prolongs the activity when I could have finished it at that moment. Besides, procrastinating has no good effects on you so better get up and start doing your thing.

  14. Comment by Scar lette of Niacinamide Gel — May 2, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

    Every single person in this world suffer in this epidemic like attitude, we lose jobs, important events and all the values of precious time just because we refuse to do what is needed to be done and when all the hefty loads of tasks keep filling up our heads, here comes he greatest mark that comes out “laziness”.

  15. Comment by Scott — May 5, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

    I have some real issues with my own procrastinating habits. My tasks pile up, my passions take a backseat, and the cycle continues. It’s a hard habit to break.

  16. Comment by Kerry Enser — August 25, 2011 @ 11:26 am

    I find it hard to believe that only 5% of the population are considered procrastinators. Most of the people I talk to can relate to procrastinating. So what characterizes a “procrastinator” — someone who gets *nothing* done?

  17. Comment by Ward — October 2, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

    i am definitely in the 5% although I do get stuff done eventually

  18. Comment by Jane on Kojic Acid Soap — June 4, 2012 @ 1:49 am

    Procrastination is in the blood of everyone I guess, it is in the matter of how human manage to prioritize what to procrastinate… the problem is for most people, failure to better management is inevitable.

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