Cognitive bias : Procrastination

Procrastination is the action or habit of delaying activities or situations that should be attended to, replacing them with other less relevant situations that we find more enjoyable.

“Good resolutions are useless attempts to interfere with scientific laws. Their origin is pure vanity. Their result is absolutely nil.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Join me in this little example that will help you better understand this term.

Example of procrastination

You have 10.000 euros on your bank account. You know you should invest them to “make your money work for you”. But you simply do not do it. You are tired just about the idea to connect to your banking app, choose the right investments, sign all the papers…

Procrastination is so human. It is always better to do unpleasant things tomorrow rather than today.

Procrastination has however often bad consequences. If we do not invest when we are young, our life will be difficult when we get retired. If we do not pay our bills, additional fees will apply.

What could we do then to limit this behavior?

Let’s have an insight from behavioral economics!

Dan Ariely, Professor at Duke University, gives us some tips in his book Predictable Irrational.

He ran an interesting experiment with his students that we can simplify as below. To validate their term, students had to write a short paper. 

  • In the first case, the deadline was fixed and non-negotiable.
  • In the second case, students were free to set up themselves the deadlines, but it had to be announced in advance and as binding.

In both cases, penalties applied if the deadlines were not respected.

Results: Deadlines were much more respected in the first case than in the second case.

Conclusion: If we set the deadlines ourselves, we might not perform well. Moreover, we will not start making any progress towards the completion of the task until the deadline approaches. Dan Ariely summarizes its results in this short video.

What is the role of cognitive biases in procrastination?

Cognitive complexity bias can lead us to believe that a task or problem is more difficult to solve than it really is, causing us to procrastinate or give up. We tend to think that only complicated solutions to our problems are valid. But the key to overcoming this plague is to seek simplification when we are faced with a situation we find troublesome.