According to Psychology Today, about 20 percent of us deliberately and regularly procrastinate (Psychology Today, 2013). The isolation of the virtual environment and technologies help us distract ourselves and avoid difficult tasks pretty easily. Procrastination is nothing new. The virtual worker, however, can be even more challenged than the office worker because of the unique environment. Partially hidden and removed, the same anonymity that allows you to de-individuate will also help you rocrastinate. In order to be authentically productive, you need to become more aware of what you are doing.
This sounds so easy and so obvious but it is not as simple as it sounds. You don’t procrastinate because you are lazy, or because you can’t manage time. You procrastinate because you have the inability to control behavior and you fail to think about thinking.
There are many studies that attempt to explain why we procrastinate. There is the 1999 study by Read, Loewenstein and Kalyanaraman which showed that we tend to pick highbrow movies but we watch the simple stuff first and somehow never get around to the ones that take a little more effort. Then there is the marshmallow study by Walter Mischel of Stanford and a host of YouTube videos that attest to the fact that self-control is not easy for about one-third of us (Mischel, Ebbesen, & Zeiss, 1972). We know this is why they have the checkout lanes stacked with gum and candy, and why, for years, you’ve been planning to start your diet next Monday. There are many books available on procrastination.
In the virtual world, it is even easier to procrastinate. You have an RFP (request for proposal) to write or a report to pull together, you have a paper due for class or a deadline to meet, yet here you are playing games, or folding laundry, or baking brownies. You justify this by telling yourself you will get it done. Then you go to check your email and head over to Facebook. You turn on the tube or start to watch a movie online. You just want to chill for a little and then you will get around to it. Maybe a cup of coffee will help? What are you thinking?
The truth is you are not thinking. At least you are not thinking about thinking. Thinking about thinking is what educators call meta cognition. In order to think about thinking, you need to slow thought down. Much of our thinking is on autopilot. In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains why the rational economic thinker is more of a myth than a reality. Human beings, it turns out, don’t always think rationally (Kahneman, 2011). Some of this has to do with instinct and how we are hardwired and some of it has to do with lack of meta cognition.
If you were thinking about thinking, you might realize that you have to write the report, meet the deadline or finish your part of the proposal or you may not have a job. This could be really bad because then you won’t be able to have food in the refrigerator and pay the rent. But, right now, cleaning out the hall closet seems like a much better idea than doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Most people find it very difficult to be honest with themselves about their ability to put off work. If you are all about deadlines, stress and time management, you are probably not going to think about what you are really doing. If you realize you are procrastinating and you start thinking about it, you have a better chance to take steps to get on with being productive.
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