When we procrastinate, we “voluntarily put off tasks despite believing ourselves to be worse off for doing so. When we procrastinate, we know we are acting against our own best interests.” (~ Piers Steel) If your aim is to reduce procrastination, you’ll want to increase Expectancy and Value or decrease Impulsiveness and Delay. Either will work, but the quickest way is to do both at once.TheExceleratedLife.com
I had this really great idea for an article that I was going to write and share with you. It was going to have interesting stories and some really helpful ideas. But I never got around to writing it. But, oh boy, it’s going to be really good! Maybe I’ll do it next week . . .
An Irrational Delay
Procrastination strikes us all at one time or another, and by definition, when we have an important task that we need to complete. Ever notice that you seldom procrastinate on going out with friends? Or taking in a movie or ball game?
But if you have an important project at work, or a long report to write for school, or a big home maintenance job, or an exam to study for, you are apt to find yourself doing anything but what you need to do. I know that happens to me — I’ve even been known to do a load of laundry or vacuum the carpets to put off writing an article.
Piers Steel tells us, in The Procrastination Equation, that procrastination is an irrational delay because “we voluntarily put off tasks despite believing ourselves to be worse off for doing so. When we procrastinate, we know we are acting against our own best interests.” [Steel]
With that in mind, wouldn’t it be in our best interest to learn some ways to combat procrastination?
The Procrastination Equation
Piers Steel breaks down the act of procrastination into four distinct components. He shows how these components act together via the Procrastination Equation: Expectancy x Value / Impulsiveness x Delay = your tendency to procrastinate. [Steel]
Let’s examine each of these components.
The Numerator: Expectancy x Value
Expectancy refers to your expectations for the task or project. Do you expect to succeed? Do you have confidence in your ability to do what you aspire to do?
Value tells how important the task or project is for you. Does the task have value for you? Is it meaningful?
The Denominator: Impulsiveness x Delay
Impulsiveness is measured by the number of distractions and the ease with which they take your attention away from your important task. The search for immediate gratification is a characteristic of impulsiveness as well.
The last component is delay. When’s your deadline? How far into the future is it? A deadline that is too far away is apt to be demotivating, making it easier to delay getting started on your important project.
The Procrastination Equation Explained
Here’s the equation one more time: expectancy times value divided by impulsiveness times delay. If your aim is to reduce procrastination, you’ll want to increase the numerator (Expectancy x Value) or decrease the denominator (Impulsiveness x Delay). Either will work, but the quickest way is to do both at once.
If you are procrastinating on a task, what is your expected outcome? Do you expect to succeed or are you doubtful? If the job is too big, break it down into smaller steps till you feel sure you can successfully perform each one.
How much do you value the task? If the value of the individual task seems low, step back and look at the bigger picture. How much do you value the end result? A lot, I hope, if it’s important to you. Now, how can you attach that same meaning to the task you are putting off?
One of the best ways to reduce impulsiveness and distractions is to set up deep work time blocks – 45 to 90-minute blocks of time when you focus single-mindedly on the job at hand. Turn off notifications, close e-mail, set your phone to Do Not Disturb mode, do whatever you need to do to disrupt interruptions. Set a timer and get started.
To decrease delay, set an appropriate deadline . . . not too soon and not too far away. If you are procrastinating on a long-term goal, break it down into sub-goals and then smaller steps. Ideally, you’ll have a small task that you complete every day such that each day brings you closer to reaching your objective.
Move From Procrastination To Productivity
Here are a few specific strategies to break the logjam of procrastination and how they can affect one or more of the Procrastination Equation components.
- Implementation Intentions
Implementation intentions are expressed as “If A happens, then I’ll do B”. With an implementation intention in place, you pre-decide your action in a given situation. This reduces impulsivity.
- Break Big Jobs Into Steps
It is always tempting to knock out the small, less important tasks than to tackle that big, important job that seems overwhelming when you look at it in its entirety. That’s because we want to get things done and mark them off the list.
Doing many small, relatively unimportant things takes your focus off those important tasks that must be done. So, instead of facing this enormous project as one giant job, break it down into small, discrete steps. You’re likely not going to do it in one gigantic step anyway. Break it down so it’s easier to get started and to see progress. Breaking a big job into steps increases expectancy and reduces delay.
- Activation Energy
The concept of activation energy says that it takes much more energy to get started than it does to keep going. Another way to tackle an important job you are having trouble getting started on is to set a timer for seven minutes, block out all distractions, and start on the next step of that big, unpleasant, scary task.
When the timer goes off, stop if you want to. But our tendency is to keep going once we’ve invested time in the job. At the very least, you’ll have spent seven minutes on an important task. Using activation energy increases expectancy and reduces impulsivity.
The Procrastination Equation & The Excelerated Life
Procrastination has no place in Excelerated Productivity™ — improving efficiency and effectiveness. Especially once we know that, as Piers Steel said: “When we procrastinate, we know we are acting against our own best interests.”
In order to give our best for ourselves, our loved ones, and in service to the world, we must overcome our tendency to put off important but difficult jobs. Using the Procrastination Equation can help as we seek ways to increase expectancy and value while decreasing impulsiveness and delay. Look for ways to make small improvements consistently, day by day, and see the benefits compound over time. That is embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Excelerated Productivity™ — improving efficiency and effectiveness — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.
Steel, PhD, Piers. The Procrastination Equation – How To Stop Putting Things Off And Start Getting Things Done. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2011.
Thomas, Maura. “How to Stop Procrastinating and Improve Productivity.” Maura. Regain Your Time, January 3, 2020. Web. November 10, 2020.