Procrastinate much? How 20 seconds could help keep you on task
Published Wednesday, September 2, 2015 10:24AM EDT
Everybody procrastinates, at least from time to time. (You might even be procrastinating right now reading this article about procrastinating.) But for those people who take delaying work to a whole new level, there are new tools that might help.
Piers Steel, a professor in human resources and organizational dynamics at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, says there are many reasons why we deliberately put off tasks, despite knowing the potential consequences of doing so.
The author of “The Procrastination Equation” says it’s often because we are disinterested by the task at hand; other times, we lack the confidence that we will be able to complete the job.
But the biggest reason some people are chronic procrastinators and others can get themselves to stay on track, is our personal tendency for impulsiveness.
“That determines the degree to which we procrastinate,” Steel told CTV’s Canada AM Wednesday. “So impulsive people tend to put off to later what they know they should be doing now.”
Emotions play a role in procrastination, he adds, so that someone who is anxious about a task or a deadline might be tempted to do something new in order to avoid the anxiety, rather than dealing with the task itself.
“However, anxious people who are not impulsive will use that nervousness as a cue to get things done,” Steel says.
Steel believes the urge to procrastinate is a part of what it means to be human. But he says it’s grown particularly difficult to fight that urge in the modern world, with its many opportunities for distraction.
“I like to think there’s nothing wrong with us; we’re perfect. We procrastinate because we’ve built an environment that encourages it,” he said. “So if we change the environment, we change ourselves.”
Steel’s lab has been testing something that just might help: a new device from a Hong Kong company called Saent, designed to help computer users block out distractions and help keep them on task.
Users simply hit the button to signal they want to start a focused work session. The device then locks the user into the programs and websites that they need for their work, while blocking such potential distractions as email notifications and social networking websites.
Whenever a user tries to switch to an unproductive application, a friendly reminder pops up recommending the user stay focused on their task.
Steel says trying to work on an Internet-connected computer can be like trying to diet while in a candy store.
“So we try to get you out of that candy store by putting a 15 to 20 second delay between you and to whatever social media or website for example that is your temptation,” he said.
“When you’re impulsive, you are really sensitive to how quickly rewards are given to you,” he added. “If rewards are given to you too quickly, if they’re overly available, it’s very difficult for us to make rational (choices).”
But adding in that short 20-second delay is usually enough to snap us back to reality and distract us from our urge to mentally wander off.