On procrastination

While surfing the internet and listening to music (Shostakovich’s fifth symphony) I came across this rather interesting article on procrastination. Now, as a student, I am probably one of the biggest culprits when it comes to procrastination or ‘putting things off’. It has even got to the point now where I put things I enjoy doing off such as finishing watching that Firefly boxset someone lent me, or reading the incredibly short but very promising book I’m three chapters into. This is a disturbing development, putting off school/college/uni work I am used to, I’ve been doing that since high school, but not even having the motivation to do the things I enjoy?! Somethings not right. It’s not even as though watching a few episodes of a boxset or finishing a short work of fiction requires that much effort, one simply sits down and, in a few short hours, it is done and enjoyment has been had! Therein, however, lies the problem. ‘Sitting down’.

Before I came to university a couple of months ago I was working full time in an office. I would perform mind-numbing, entirely thoughtless labour for seven and a half hours, all the while watching the clock until that wondrous moment when the large hand struck twelve and the small hand struck six. During these hours and afterwards I would be starved of mental stimulation, the brief hour I had for my lunch was usually spent with my head in a  book seeking said stimulation. Therefore when I got home I couldn’t wait to read books or watch dvd boxsets I had queued up. Compare that to today, I have a comparatively sparse timetable, however the activities that make up my current timetable provide infinitely more mental stimulation, even coming to the point where my mind is challenged. This mental exertion means that, prior to completing my work now, my attitude is markedly different to pre-university me. This then results in that wonderful, worldwide phenomenon of ‘procrastination!’.

Of course there are other factors that affect the likelihood of a person performing a certain task, there is a wonderful example in the article linked earlier in the post and I quote…

“A study conducted in 1999 by Read, Loewenstein and Kalyanaraman had people pick three movies out of a selection of 24. Some were lowbrow like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Some were highbrow like “Schindler’s List” or “The Piano.” In other words, it was a choice between movies which promised to be fun and forgettable or would be memorable but require more effort to absorb.

After picking, the subjects had to watch one movie right away. They then had to watch another in two days and a third two days after that.

Most people picked Schindler’s List as one of their three. They knew it was a great movie because all their friends said it was. All the reviews were glowing, and it earned dozens of the highest awards. Most didn’t, however, choose to watch it on the first day.

Instead, people tended to pick lowbrow movies on the first day. Only 44 percent went for the heavier stuff first. The majority tended to pick comedies like “The Mask” or action flicks like “Speed” when they knew they had to watch it forthwith.” (Mcraney, 2011)

This particular study example struck me as this is exactly what I have been doing for a while now, in fact, this is exactly what I did last night. At around 23:30 last night I had a choice, continue with my book as planned or watch a comedy television program. The book would require more effort but bring greater satisfaction and the program would require less effort and still bring a modicum of satisfaction. In the end I chose to watch the program now and read the book later, I have done this around about five times now. The study quoted in the article and my personal experience would lead me to believe that we, as humans, often have a tendency choose the junk option now and push back the healthy option to a later date, this leads me to my conclusion and to one of the primary ‘facilitators’ so to speak of my procrastination habit, Facebook.

Facebook is a great tool, it allows me to keep in touch with friends (what few I have) and often, somewhat like this blog, to express my thoughts in a public domain. The problem I have and I know from personal experience many others have with Facebook, is that it can be highly distracting. One of the reasons is that it is so easy to access! The vast majority of students use a laptop or desktop computer to complete work, I use a desktop all the time in my course, as you would expect from a computing degree. Facebook and a million and one distractions is just a few short clicks away. The thing that often puzzles me about Facebook is ‘how can something so often so boring, where nothing (of note) can happen for hours at a time, be so constantly distracting. The answer, I belive, lies in the effort/satisfaction ratio.

The effort to satisfaction ratio is all-important when your body subconsciously decides to do something, at least it is to me as I made it up! There seems to be a certain point at which your mind decides a certain activity should be undertaken, a point at which there is minimum effort required and maximum satisfaction achieved. Facebook is a great way to make you miss assignment deadlines as it is requires next to no effort whatsoever, while providing the procrastinating student with a little to a lot of satisfaction. It is this lack of effort requirement that can make mindlessly browsing Facebook seem a great deal more attractive than finishing that Systems Analysis report or reading that great Russian novel etc…

Even as I speak I am on Facebook, with a Systems Analysis sheet eagerly awaiting my attention and it is to this I must go! Until next time…

Adantur out.

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