I was just reading in the paper about how we have become much more severe procrastinators than we used to be. This certainly fits with my sense of how big a problem it has gotten to be in my life. But it’s not just a general sense – several large studies in the US and Europe have documented how much worse the problem has gotten in the last 10 or 20 years. By far the biggest contributor is the much greater prevalence of distractions in our lives.
It seems that collectively, we have little will power. The best way to avoid procrastination is to avoid distractions that would allow us to procrastinate. Unfortunately, not only are more distractions available, many of them are required tools provided at work to make us more productive (!) – computers, hand-helds, cell phones, faxes, instant messaging, not to mention the other stuff – televisions, latte stands, gameboys, etc.
Some of the study authors estimated that if people just turned off the little bell that announces e-mail messages in our in-box, we’d save hours per day. We’re like little Pavlovian dogs that just can’t help seeing what new e-mail has arrived – which may lead us to check something out on the Internet, make a phone call, type a response, look something up – anything but do what we were originally doing. Oh, and maybe we’ll check out the… erm, blog entries… that have come in in the meantime, just because.
I admit I use it as a kind of reward. I’m reading or writing something for work, and I’ll finish a chapter, then read whatever e-mail has come in and lead wherever it goes if I feel like it. Then it’s back to my work and the next chapter. Of course, I’d get a lot more done if I’d take my laptop downstairs (with the e-mail off) and do it there. Somehow if you save an hour for e-mail before work and an hour after work, it goes a lot faster. Wonder what’s up with that? Probably because you’re not trying to (consciously or unconsciously) avoid work by spending more time on whatever else comes in.
It gets really bad when this habit is so ingrained that even removing ourselves from the e-mail, turning off the blackberry, etc. doesn’t do the trick. I go downstairs with my laptop and I still need that reward between chapters. Well look – there’s games on my desktop!! How convenient – just a hand or two of Hearts, that’ll do the trick. The study authors saved their particular ire for Minesweeper, which has probably caused decades of man-years to be lost from work.
Hmm… and here I am, blogging away instead of writing the latest chapter of my new book. !!!