Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Today.... Tomorrow... the day after Tomorrow

"Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow"  Mark Twain

Frank Partnoy's book "Wait, The Art and Science of Delay" has a great chapter on procrastination.  Instead of allowing procrastination to be demonized, he describes the rich history of studies on procrastination.  "Procrastination does not mean doing absolutely nothing. We are always working on something.  The procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely, and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important". 

So what matters is comparing what we could be working on and the calculated probabilities with the discounted future costs and benefits of the future outcomes compared to present outcome.  Parnoy uses the analysis of discount rates for money to illustrate the paradox of preferences that are not time-consistent.  In the short term we are more impatient (a high discount rate) than the long term (lower discount rates).  In fact the hyperbolic curve causes two phnenomium:

(1) High discount rates lead to a bad kind of procrastination (we discount the future too much).
(2) The bias of the present over the future (impatience and indulgence)

Confused?  It is easy:

When what is immediate is a benefit - we are impatient gluttons; when what is immediate is a cost - we procrastinate.

So procrastination is about trade-offs on your "To do" list.  That's why I have put off writing down my to do list. :)

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