Utility = E x V/ÃD

Update – anyone suffering the curse of procrastination should head over to Dr Piers Steel’s website Procrastination Central where there is an opportunity to take part in his research online, have a formal assessment of your procrastination and some suggestions about tackling it. On the other hand you might have something else to do first. /update

I’ve been attempting to write a post but, well, procrastinating over it.

A University of Calgary professor has recently published his magnum opus on the subject of procrastination – and it’s only taken him 10 years.

Joking aside, Dr. Piers Steel is probably the world’s foremost expert on the subject of putting off until tomorrow what should be done today. His comprehensive analysis of procrastination research presents some surprising conclusions on the subject, such as:

  • Most people’s New Year’s resolutions are doomed to failure
  • Most self-help books have it completely wrong when they say perfectionism is at the root of procrastination, and
  • Procrastination can be explained by a single mathematical equation

“Essentially, procrastinators have less confidence in themselves, less expectancy that they can actually complete a task,” Steel says. “Perfectionism is not the culprit. In fact, perfectionists actually procrastinate less, but they worry about it more.”

Other predictors of procrastination include: task aversiveness, impulsiveness, distractibility, and how much a person is motivated to achieve. Not all delays can be considered procrastination; the key is that a person must believe it would be better to start working on given tasks immediately, but still not start.

It’s estimated that about 15-20 per cent of the general population are procrastinators. And the costs of procrastinating can add up well beyond poor work performance, especially for those who delay filing their taxes or planning their retirement.

And that formula up there in the title? it’s Steel’s

Temporal Motivational Theory, which takes into account factors such as the expectancy a person has of succeeding with a given task (E), the value of completing the task (V), the desirability of the task (Utility), its immediacy or availability (Ã) and the person’s sensitivity to delay (D).

Doesn’t help me get the post done though.

8 Replies to “Utility = E x V/ÃD”

  1. Teju – heh. Have you been reading blogs over my shoulder?

    Tall Girl – if you mean your virtual home I’ve been, but blogger wouldn’t let me comment, much to my frustration. If you mean your physical home, just name a weekend – I’ll be there in my van with my dog and however many of the demon spawn are available at the time (Maizy is accustomed to sleeping in the van, don’t worry) 🙂

  2. I don’t agree with him. I have loads of self-confidence and believe the tasks I most procrastinate about are the greatest thing since cats pajamas. But I still procrastinate. Because of distractibility, yeah, that bit is true.

  3. Actually Natalie, I wrote that procrastination can occur for a variety of reasons, only ONE of which is lack of self-confidence. Note the equation on top of this page has several variables. Given that you are distractible, it is probably impulsiveness.

    Yes, its me.

  4. Hello Piers! Very interesting – as I read the report of your research I was thinking of several of my friends, all of whom are bloggers, and was chatting with one about the very topic of self-confidence and we were not at all surprised that *lack* of self-confidence featured as a cause.

    What we’re obviously all interested in, after identifying possible causes, are suggestions as to how to tackle the problem so maybe we should head over to your blog.

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