15 January, 2007

The Thief of Time

According to Science Daily, Dr. Piers Steel, a University of Calgary professor in the Haskayne School of Business, has just published a paper in the Psychological Bulletin claiming:
  • Most people's New Year's resolutions are doomed to failure (Well, duh!)

  • Most self-help books have it completely wrong when they say perfectionism is at the root of procrastination (Did you hear that Wifie? Now you’ll need a new excuse.)

  • Procrastination can be explained by a single mathematical equation (Oh yeah, let’s see it!)

The formula, it seems, is this:

The desirability of doing a task equals your expectation of succeeding, times the value to you of completing the task, divided by the task’s immediacy or availability, times your sensitivity to delay (or Utility = E x V / ΓD, as Dr. S so succinctly puts it.)

To put this another way, your chances of doing something increase if you think you can do it and you think it’s worth doing. However, the ΓD bit doesn’t make sense to me. This says your desire to do the task will go down the more easily accessible it is and the more sensitive you are to delay. I suspected that Science Daily got something wrong here. So I looked at the press release they used which is on the University of Calgary’s (very slow) website and it looks like Science Daily simply reprinted it verbatim. (Wow! Is that all it takes to be journalist these days? And all this time I've been working for a living!)

I went to see whether I could find the full paper. It wasn’t at the Haskayne School of Business website (although they seem to be very proud of their roof) so I checked Dr. Steel’s own site: Procrastination Central. This is moderately interesting. It contained a procrastination self-test program (I scored in the bottom 10% - 'rarely or not a procrastinator'), some links to meta-analysis tools (you never know when such things might come in handy), and links to lots of procrastination research papers (which I’ll get around to reading one day I’m sure – if their perceived value goes up rather a lot.) It didn’t have his paper though. I could have had it from the American Psychological Association for US$11.95 if I’d been really keen (damn, there goes that perceived value thing again!) but $12 is $12 and not to be frittered away on a whim.

Sadly, it took Dr Steel ten years of research into procrastination to come up with this and, because it isn’t available online, right now, I’ll probably go to my grave suspecting it was fatally flawed.


Becky said...

Not a bad self-test quiz...helped me put off my logic assignment ;-)

~ Daughter

Jason Weaver said...

Your comment about getting round to reading the procrastination papers made me laugh out loud. This is very interesting, an equation to go with Csikszentmihalyi's theory of flow.

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