To Read Now or Later?

Holiday Issue: Innovation and the Mind

Procrastination is the gap between intention and action, or the putting off of higher priority tasks until a later time. Typically, non-essential tasks are done in lieu of the critical ones. Avoidance, distraction, denial, and laziness are just a few of the ways people allow themselves to procrastinate. Every human procrastinates, sometimes not even intentionally, but why?

     Procrastination is so relatable because, as it turns out, the human brain is wired to do it. It can be explained as a fight sparked between two different parts of the mind when faced with a distasteful activity. In technical terms: a battle of the limbic system (the unconscious zone that includes the pleasure center) and the prefrontal cortex (the internal “planner”). When the limbic system wins, which is often, it results in putting off for tomorrow what could be done today. Unlike the limbic system, however, the prefrontal cortex is the weaker portion of the brain, and it is not automatic. It is what allows a person to integrate information and make decisions. As soon as one is not consciously engaged in a task, his or her limbic system takes over. Then, they procrastinate.

     In today’s world of technology and the Internet, people are procrastinating all the time. John Perry, author of the book “The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling”, says,  “If you went through history and took away all the stuff people were doing while they were supposed to be doing something else, you wouldn’t have a lot left.” The amount of time that the population is spending on websites is evidently shown in statistics, and proves that many are wasting away time. According to Facebook, 1.23 billion users log into the company’s site for an average of 17 minutes each day. Addie Trudel ’19 states, “Social media distracts me because I get so focused on how others view my life more than how I should view my academic life.” One solution to procrastination is the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working in 25 minute chunks, divided by long and short breaks. When facing a large task, break the overall project down into several smaller checkpoints and set up rewards for achieving each new deadline.

    At the core, humans procrastinate when they allow themselves the emotional pleasures of the moment to have more influence on their actions than the unpleasant task that must be done. However, it is possible to learn new ways of putting emotions aside and creating new strategies to increase motivation to complete unpleasant tasks.