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.