The Psychology of Procrastination: How We Create Categories of the Future
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Paying bills, filling out forms, completing class assignments, or submitting grant proposals – we all have the tendency to procrastinate. We may engage in trivial activities such as watching TV shows, playing video games, or chatting for an hour and risk missing important deadlines by putting off tasks that are essential for our financial and professional security. Not all humans are equally prone to procrastination, and a recent study suggests that this may in part be due to the fact that the tendency to procrastinate has a genetic underpinning. (2) Yet even an individual with a given genetic makeup can exhibit a significant variability in the extent of procrastination. A person may sometimes delay initiating and completing tasks, whereas at other times that same person will immediately tackle the same type of tasks even under the same constraints of time and resources. A fully rational approach to task completion would involve creating a priority list of tasks based on a composite score of task importance and the remaining time until the deadline. The most important task with the most proximate deadline would have to be tackled first, and the lowest priority task with the furthest deadline last. This sounds great in theory, but it is quite difficult to implement. A substantial amount of research has been conducted (3) to understand how our moods, distractability, and impulsivity can undermine the best-laid plans for timely task initiation and completion. The recent research article The Categorization of Time and Its Impact on Task Initiation (4) by the researchers Yanping Tu (University of Chicago) and Dilip Soman (University of Toronto) investigates a rather different and novel angle in the psychology of procrastination: our perception of the future.