Academics invent a mathematical equation for why people procrastinate
It might seem an idle pastime but academics have come up with a mathematical equation for why people procrastinate.
By Urmee Khan
Last Updated: 7:33PM GMT 07 Dec 2008
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 fro today rather than tomorrow. for short term gain for 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.