Pro-cras-tin-ate: Why Do We Insist on (Not) Doing It?

by Derek Loosvelt | October 07, 2010

If, like me, you have trouble doing things that you say you'll do (sending those thank you cards, fixing that faucet, putting together that Ikea shelf bought four months ago) and tend to put things off until an undetermined date, then you have what is called "manyana disease" -- more commonly known as the penchant to procastinate.

Indeed, it's a ruinous disease (a silent killer) that has likely afflcted all of us at one time or another (either at the workplace or at home) and yet its causes are largely misunderstood.

This is the starting point of "Later: What does procrastination tell us about ourselves," an enlightening and fascinating piece in the current issue of The New Yorker by the magazine's financial columnist, James Surowiecki, who puts to bed some of the misunderstandings of the roots of the disease, if not the disease itself. Here's an excerpt (in case you can't get to the entire article):

"... viewed this way, procrastination starts to look less like a question of mere ignorance than like a complex mixture of weakness, ambition, and inner conflict. But some of the philosophers in “The Thief of Time” have a more radical explanation for the gap between what we want to do and what we end up doing: the person who makes plans and the person who fails to carry them out are not really the same person: they’re different parts of what the game theorist Thomas Schelling called “the divided self.” Schelling proposes that we think of ourselves not as unified selves but as different beings, jostling, contending, and bargaining for control. Ian McEwan evokes this state in his recent novel “Solar”: “At moments of important decision-making, the mind could be considered as a parliament, a debating chamber. Different factions contended, short- and long-term interests were entrenched in mutual loathing. Not only were motions tabled and opposed, certain proposals were aired in order to mask others. Sessions could be devious as well as stormy.” Similarly, Otto von Bismarck said, “Faust complained about having two souls in his breast, but I harbor a whole crowd of them and they quarrel. It is like being in a republic.” In that sense, the first step to dealing with procrastination isn’t admitting that you have a problem. It’s admitting that your “you”s have a problem ..."

Filed Under: Finance


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