2015 August 18 Tuesday
Anatoly Karlin: Procrastinators Should Not Trust Future Selves
Anyone irresponsible enough to procrastinate today can't be trusted to get it together in the future.
When you are procrastinating, you are essentially trusting your future self to do the work that your present self does not want to. But if you make a habit of procrastination, of being unreliable, would it then be rational of your present self to depend on your (presumably equally fallible and unreliable) future self to do that what your present self is too lazy and slothful to do today? Itís grossly irrational and irresponsible!
What do you think of this argument? To put it another way: what's your rationalization for why you can procrastinate and dismiss Karlin's argument?
One of the ways I make myself more effective is to deny myself things I want until I make some milestone. This can be a small milestone and a small reward. It helps.
By Randall Parker at 2015 August 18 08:17 PM
When you put off a task it's often not exactly the same task as it was when you come round to do it. To put it another way, things change.
Most often when you put something off the task only gets worse. If someone is waiting for something they are annoyed at the delay and it makes it more difficult to ask questions.
But when you put something off, there is a chance that the task either goes away or becomes easier. That's what i'm hoping for when I put things off. Whether it's rational or not I can't say.
I disagree for the reason that Karlin appears to place a zero or negative value on procrastination. For me, procrastination happens when there's an unrecognised problem and my subconscious wants time to process it. Procrastination isn't a bad thing in such situations because it gives the procrastinator time to avoid mistakes by thinking about the problem and/or time to get additional information.
In a way procrastination is an insurance premium paid now, in order to benefit my future self.
It's akin to doubt - smart people have doubt because they see complexities to which dumb people are blind. That means that dumb people can come up with simple (and wrong) answers when smart people come up with more nuanced answers (that might be a little less wrong).
The obvious rationalization is that at present I am under much less pressure to do the task than I will be when the deadline approaches, so my future self will have considerably different incentives. Mind, I've often found that I underestimated the time necessary to complete the task, and so started it too late. Mostly procrastination hasn't worked out for me, so I try to avoid it. I find it much more rewarding to do the work early, and then relax knowing it's done.
But, if I were better at estimating time needed for completing tasks, procrastination might be a reasonable option.
We procrastinators rely on hard deadlines that come from outside of ourselves. My job gives me plenty of such deadlines. It is probably why I do not work for myself.
I work for myself, and I procrastinate (sorta; though this comment clearly counts).
However, I'm fairly perceptive to my mental state and how long my typical kinds of tasks should take to complete. So my procrastination decision comes down to the following criteria:
* how long should the task take in my current mental state? best possible mental state? worst possible mental state?
* how much time do I have remaining to complete this task?
* how many possible interruptions can turn up between now and the deadline? (this is the step that sometime catches me; but I can still stay up for a few days in a row when needed#
Mostly, I'm trying to match my times of greatest productivity against my most important #usually highest paying) tasks and lowest productivity times with the least important tasks.
I agree with Bellmore that the usual answer is that your future self will be motivated by an impending deadline. And there is the advantage that this gives you more time to think about problems.
The big problem with this approach is that it sets you up to tread water through your entire life. And not accomplish anything of significance. Because there are a lot of tasks in life which are important but not urgent. The classic example being to start on that book you've always really wanted to write.
The best book that I've read on time management and planning is Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen. It's important to determine which tasks, documents, items, goals, dreams, etc. are relevant to our lives and process all of these inputs. I agree with the idea of delaying making a decision as a way to think about it some more, but we should still categorize this decision immediately. Allen suggests lists that can include: next actions, waiting for information, someday, work, home, goals, etc. Leaving uncategorized "things" in our minds or piled on our desks needlessly saps mental energy. Once we've taken the hours or days to sort all of our outstanding "things" (this could even take weeks if you have mountains of papers and drawers of "stuff", Allen suggests going through everything and either trashing, donating, filing or categorizing it), we can conduct weekly reviews of our lists and accomplish tasks on the "next actions" list, while reviewing the others and adding new actions to that list to work towards realizing the goals and projects that we have. Check out the book, it's excellent. An updated version was recently released that takes into account all of the massive, technological changes that have occurred in personal technology and the internet.
There is significant cognitive load in making decisions. Decision fatigue, more specifically, is an active area of interest that happens to be completely disregarded by various project management and time management methodologies.