Edward Lai Harner, Edward Harner
Andrea Harner
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December 6, 2006

Procrastination is rational

As I sit on my couch cramming the writing of my essay due in a few hours (that I started a few hours ago even though I had the assignment a week ago)...I come across this brilliance and know that I as a procrastinator should self-hate no longer as I am in fact rational and brilliant:

It's twelve hours before your presentation to the credit committee. The work isn't done yet. The model isn't working. The team is starting to look burned out. You're looking back over the week and remembering those hours you killed chatting with friends on the phone, shopping for Christmas presents, reading websites and looking for a new apartment. If only you could have skipped the procrastination you could get your work done smoothly, and skip these late nights.

Wrong. It turns out the reason procrastination might be so ubiquitous is that it might be rational. An article by Isaac Sorkin and Henry Swift gives us plenty of good reasons why procrastination makes sense.

Fixed costs to starting work. Just getting started involves some costs—filling up on coffee, making a couple of calls to clear your schedule, making sure your Adderall prescription is filled. Putting off work for one long killer session means you don't have do do these things over and over again.
Decreasing marginal costs of working. It's possible that the second hour of work is easier than the first, and the third easier than that. Analysts see this all the time in modeling. Things start clicking. You start to see through the spreadsheets, seeing seven moves ahead, the way chess champions know where things are going after the opening. Meetings often work this way too, getting easier as everyone gets a feel for the other side.
Thick-market externalities. You probably goof off at the same time as your friends and co-workers, and buckle-down at the same time too. It's fun to send links to your buddies, laugh about that Swedish girl from the bar last night, skip out together to head over to Starbucks. Skipping these things to work smoothly over the day involves an opportunity cost of missing out. So it makes sense to clump work like the rest of the team.

For more: An economic study of procrastination.

Thanks to KO for this great and very timely link!

I now have to get back to working and procrastinating!!!

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