People don't procrastinate because they are lazy, says Dr. Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done. “It’s self-harm,” he told The New York Times.
Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield, agrees. “This is why we say that procrastination is essentially irrational,” she told the Times “It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences... People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.”
From the article:
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Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.
In fact, there’s an entire body of research dedicated to the ruminative, self-blaming thoughts many of us tend to have in the wake of procrastination, which are known as “procrastinatory cognitions.” The thoughts we have about procrastination typically exacerbate our distress and stress, which contribute to further procrastination, Dr. Sirois said.
But the momentary relief we feel when procrastinating is actually what makes the cycle especially vicious. In the immediate present, putting off a task provides relief — “you’ve been rewarded for procrastinating,” Dr. Sirois said. And we know from basic behaviorism that when we’re rewarded for something, we tend to do it again. This is precisely why procrastination tends not to be a one-off behavior, but a cycle, one that easily becomes a chronic habit.
Leonardo Da Vinci kept a to-do list. The thing that struck me was his interest in seeking out experts to teach him and show him how to do things. This list is from 1490 or so.
[Calculate] the measurement of Milan and Suburbs
[Find] a book that treats of Milan and its churches, which is to be had at the stationer’s on the way to Cordusio
[Discover] the measurement of Corte Vecchio (the courtyard in the duke’s palace).
[Discover] the measurement of the castello (the duke’s palace itself)
Get the master of arithmetic to show you how to square a triangle.
Get Messer Fazio (a professor of medicine and law in Pavia) to show you about proportion.
Get the Brera Friar (at the Benedictine Monastery to Milan) to show you De Ponderibus (a medieval text on mechanics)
[Talk to] Giannino, the Bombardier, re. the means by which the tower of Ferrara is walled without loopholes (no one really knows what Da Vinci meant by this)
Ask Benedetto Potinari (A Florentine Merchant) by what means they go on ice in Flanders
Ask Maestro Antonio how mortars are positioned on bastions by day or night.
[Examine] the Crossbow of Mastro Giannetto
Find a master of hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lombard manner
[Ask about] the measurement of the sun promised me by Maestro Giovanni Francese
Try to get Vitolone (the medieval author of a text on optics), which is in the Library at Pavia, which deals with the mathematic. Read the rest
In Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less (published in 2016, just out in paperback), Alex Soojung-Kim Pang painstakingly investigates the working lives of the likes of Charles Darwin and finds that history's most productive high-performers were working about four hours a day and slacking off the rest of the time: napping, strolling, having leisurely lunches.
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My latest Locus column is "How to Do Everything (Lifehacking Considered Harmful)," the story of how I was present at the birth of "lifehacking" and how, by diligently applying the precept that I should always actively choose how I prioritize my time, I have painted my way into a (generally pleasant) corner that I can't escape from.
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