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Academics invent a mathematical equation for why people procrastinate

Published by Matt Polaine | Filed under Uncategorized

source: urmee khan, the telegraph

Prof Piers Steel, a Canadian academic who has spent more than 10 years studying why people put off until tomorrow what they could do today, believes that the notion that procrastinators are either perfectionists or just lazy is wrong.

Prof Steel, who admits to becoming distracted by computer games himself, argues in a new book that those prone to putting things off suffer from a vice of their own - impulsiveness.

Chronic procastinators, who make up 20 per cent of the population, are more impulsive and erratic than other people and less conscientious about attention to detail and obligations to others, he says in his forthcoming book, The Procrastination Equation: Today’s Trouble with Tomorrow.

The psychologist, from the University of Calgary, has subsequently formed an equation for why people procrastinate, which began by studying 250 college students.

The equation is U=EV/ID.

The ‘U’ stands for utility, or the desire to complete a given task. It is equal to the product of E, the expectation of success, and V the value of completion, divided by the product of I, the immediacy of the task, and D, the personal sensitivity to delay.

Prof Steel says procrastination is becoming a bigger issue because many more jobs are “self-structured”, with people setting their own schedules.

This means that people tend to postpone things with delayed rewards in favour of activities that offer immediate rewards.

“Procastinators tend to live for today rather than tomorrow, for short term gain with long term pain” he writes.

Until now, psychologists have generally linked procrastination to perfectionists who avoid tasks rather than produce less than perfect products.

So, instead of people being too lazy to care about the task, he believes that most procrastinators believe they can complete a task and also care about it.

Lazy people, by contrast, are not bothered whether they can finish the job – they just do not want to do it. Both can come up with excuses such as a dog eating the homework.

Famous procrastinators include writers Marcel Proust and Douglas Adams, who famously said he loved the “whoosh” of missed deadlines passing over his head.

December 9th, 2008


2 Responses to “Academics invent a mathematical equation for why people procrastinate”

  1. Andy Polaine Says:

    It took him 10 years to come up with “U=EV/ID”? What a procrastinator.

  2. Matt Polaine Says:

    We could deduce that the ‘wife/partner’ equation could be:

    U=EVnS/IDb².

    The ‘U’ stands for utility, or the desire to complete a given task. It is equal to the product of E, the expectation of success, V the value of completion, n intensity of nagging wife, and S likelihood of wife stabbing procrastinator, divided by the product of I, the immediacy of the task, D the personal sensitivity to delay, and b, the likelihood of procrastinator to react against factors n and S, which has a progression that is squared, where b equals buggering off on a bicycle and sod the world.

    Therefore, the U value decreases with an increase of n and S. Contrary to expectations.

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