Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
The Procrastination Game: Getting Things Done Should Be Your New Habit

The Procrastination Game: Getting Things Done Should Be Your New Habit

I mention the late writer and speaker Stephen Covey, DRE, often.  I sometimes think to myself that maybe I mention him too often and therefore try to be aware of when I am overdoing it.  But, it seems to me that he had much good to say.  And, one of those important things is that in order to manage ourselves effectively, we must "put first things first." He actually said this is the hardest of his famous seven habits.

 It is pretty intuitive, but Covey is saying that we must have the discipline to prioritize our day-to-day actions based on what is most important, not what is most urgent.  He is not the first person to say this, as the concept belongs to antiquity.  But, saying it and doing it are two different things.  I know it is something that I struggle to do.

In thinking about this, it comes to mind that in order to maintain discipline and to focus on our goals, we need to have the willpower to do something when we don’t want to do it. We need to act according to our values rather than our desires or impulses at any given moment. A recent article by University of Oregon Assistant Professor Elliot Berkman and Doctoral Candidate Jordan Miller-Ziegler caught my eye for its insight about procrastination.

They say that the decision about whether to do something comes down to how much we value it in that moment, also known as its subjective value. When we procrastinate, it means that we value something else more than finishing the task at hand. And, they say to combat this, we need to increase the subjective value of what we are working on by either increasing the value of finishing the project or decreasing the value of the distraction. In other words, we must make distractions seem less valuable in the moment.

For example, it is tax season. I can decide to do my taxes (After all, the deadline is coming!) or I can watch a basketball game as part of March Madness. I get an immediate reward from watching a ballgame, assuming it is a good game, and preparing a tax return entails what these authors call "delay discounting." I know Uncle Sam wants me to do my taxes, and he will not take no for an answer.  So, basketball or taxes?  Most of us will usually put first things first, but that doesn't mean it is easy.  One of the great things today is that we can record a favorite TV program and say to ourselves, "That will be my reward when I get these taxes done."  That is a very rational approach.

But, the two authors write, “People are not entirely rational in the way they value things."  And, this is certainly a lesson for me.

Brent Magers, CEO