September 26, 2014

What could be worse than procrastination? Precrastination, study finds

Daily Briefing

    "Precrastinate"—the tendency to begin a task as soon as possible, even when doing so makes little sense—may be worse that procrastination because it may ultimately waste more time and physical exertion, according to a recent study in Psychological Science.

    Vicious cycle: How to break the 'procrastination doom loop'

    Examples of precrastination may include parking in the first available spot, even when it is further from the store, or unloading the dishwasher by quickly shoving all the dishes in a random cabinet.

    For their study, Pennsylvania State University researchers asked 27 students to participate in an experiment involving two buckets filled with pennies in an alley. Standing at one end of the alley, the students were asked to pick up one of the buckets and carry it to the other end of the alley:

    • One bucket was closer to the participants but further from the end of the alley.
    • The other bucket was further from the participants but closer to the end of the alley.

    Most participants picked up the bucket closest to them and carried it to the end of the alley, even though it involved carrying the bucket a longer distance. Most said they did so because they "wanted to get the task done as soon as" possible.

    When the researchers conducted the experiment again, they made the closer bucket heavier. Slightly fewer students chose the closer bucket, but precrastination effect remained.

    How to stop procrastinating

    "Apparently, hastening completion of the subgoal of grabbing a bucket made completion of the main goal seem closer at hand," the researchers wrote.

    The researchers theorized that having a goal in mind taxes one's working memory, so accomplishing the goal as soon as possible allows the brain to dump the memory faster.

    In other words, humans tend to choose the low-hanging fruit, even if it is worse in the long run (Khazan, The Atlantic, 9/24).

    How to be efficient at work

    See our archive of articles and studies on boosting efficiency during the workday, including: 

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