Consider the time it takes you to complete an assignment for school or work.
Now, think of the time it takes to convince yourself to start the task, and how often you might take breaks during the project by opening a new tab or grabbing a snack. The pen-to-paper contact time can pale in comparison to how much time you spend delaying the work.
A study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 20% of the U.S. population suffers from “chronic procrastination”. And while this group is often written off as lazy or careless, a researcher from the study says that “it is not a time management issue — it is a maladaptive lifestyle.”
Procrastination doesn’t really provide anything helpful. In the moment, it can feel like you’re doing yourself a favor by putting off a responsibility. But by periodically choosing to avoid an assignment, you’re inflating your perception of the effort it will require. By the time you actually finish, it can feel like you were working all day just by delaying, confirming your idea of how difficult the task was.
In hindsight, you might be able to tell yourself, “That wasn’t so bad! I could have saved a lot of stress if I had just started sooner!”. But when the next project comes around, you find yourself staring at the deadline-bulldozer as it approaches from the horizon. And you stare, and stare, and stare … until the threat of a failing grade or job termination forces you to begin.
Your brain is, by biological design, a great learner — it is very efficient at associating different behaviors with punishment or reward. And as the delay between the behavior and reward grows, it becomes harder for your brain to affirm that connection.
Imagine two dogs learning “sit”. One dog receives a treat immediately after sitting upon command. The other dog gets his treat an hour later.
Procrastination is instant gratification. When you ask yourself, “Should I start that project, or should I watch TV for a while?”, you are are choosing the immediate treat by indulging in television. On the other hand, by beginning the project, you’re investing in a treat later on.
But your brain is all about strong connections, so it builds the false sense that you are gaining something each time you decide to procrastinate.
Compare the actual reward you get from mindlessly browsing the internet for hours to the reward of accomplishing a task. There are countless fun websites out there that can serve as a pleasant distraction indefinitely — but you can’t fully enjoy that distraction with the deadline looming over your head.
Whereas if you could focus on completing your work without dawdling, you get a tangible reward of value, and you have legitimate free-time afterward to do whatever you want!
Technological developments can put a speedbump in this process. Being expected to work on a computer with internet access is like trying to stay on a long and monotonous highway with exits available every ten feet, each one promising you instant gratification.
Computers are meant to help us save time with word processors and innumerable amounts of information at our fingertips, but this limitless access can also help you shoot yourself in the foot.
We could all abandon our electronic devices and isolate ourselves in random forests to maximize productivity, but that would be denying an enormous resource. The key is getting your brain to understand when browsing the internet is an interesting and engaging activity, rather than a route to distraction.
RescueTime is software that helps you manage your time across devices — it tracks how long you spend working and compares it to time spent on other websites, and uses that info to give you feedback on how to improve your productivity. It gives you the option of blocking websites of distraction for certain intervals of time to keep you on track.
And now, you can integrate RescueTime’s features with Pavlok’s shock device, a one button wristband that delivers a short and safe shock at an intensity level of your choice. So, if your productivity starts going down, Pavlok will let you know — first by beeping, then with vibrating, and then a shock. The goal is to get back to the task as soon as you notice yourself getting distracted.
You can also use Pavlok’s browser app to temporarily block certain websites and limit the number of tabs you can have open to maximize your efficiency as long as you have work left to do.
You already know that procrastination isn’t worth it, and that facing your work in advance will save you time (and worrying) in the long run. Technology should be used as a tool, not a distraction, and Pavlok can help you stay on track.
And if you’re still stuck in the instant gratification loop, just let us know! We can provide personal feedback to help you get over your bad habit.
Everyone is a procrastinator, but not everyone procrastinates. Pavlok can save you time by getting you out of the routine once and for all.
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Habits, Technology & Behavioral Change