Whenever I have major deadlines encroaching, I suddenly find YouTube and Facebook utterly fascinating and irresistibly amusing. I end up spending my scarce time randomly surfing the web despite the hours of work I have yet to do. Looking back, I often wonder how I could have possibly justified watching hours of YouTube videos? I mean I’m an economist for heaven’s sake! I am well versed in cost-benefit analysis. I understand the inner workings of achieving market efficiency. So why, despite all my econ know-how, do I often find myself regretting the choices I have made?
To better understand my procrastination problems I turned to my fellow economists, and this is what I found: I have time-inconsistent preferences! David Laibson, an economics professor at Harvard, explains that “unpleasant chores feel only half as bad when we imagine doing them tomorrow, versus actually doing them today. ‘Pushing costly, unpleasant tasks into the future is like getting a 50 percent discount on them, psychologically.’”
This basically means that I am human, and tend to overvalue the here and now. I privilege the present me over the future me by doing what makes me happy now instead of what will make me happy in 48 hours. Fortunately, there are ways to help us deal with our time inconsistent preferences. StickK.com is a website that helps keep you on task by having you risk your own money. If you don’t meet your deadlines/goals you lose the money you assigned to the task.
Hopefully this cleared up a few things about procrastination. Best of luck on your future endeavors and may you make time consistent choices from here on out.
Interesting post, it definitely seems consistent with what I do. There is a paper by Hoch and Loewenstein (1991) that discusses this in greater detail.
Take a look if you want to learn a little more about how and why we make these choices based on this time-inconsistent preferences.