Postponing Procrastination: The Psychology of Productivity

iStock_000015842329_TugOWarA recent article in The Atlantic offered psychological advice about how to increase productivity. “Instead of delaying gratification, [people] act as if they prefer their current self’s needs and desires to those of their future self,” said psychologists Neil Lewis of the University of Michigan and Daphna Oyserman of the University of Southern California.

The reason people don’t seem to know how to increase productivity by decreasing procrastination is because we see ourselves as two different people; one in the present, and one in the future. “Future Me” is much less important than “Present Me.”

The trick to increasing productivity is to think of your future self as more connected to your present self. For example, “What if Present Me was forced to imagine exactly how Future Me will feel the night before the big paper is due, and Present Me had never bothered to start?”

Oyserman and Lewis conducted a series of experiments and found that if subjects thought about a far-off event in terms of days—rather than months or years—they were more likely to start planning for the future and increase their productivity immediately. “For example, the authors write, something like a friend’s wedding ‘seemed 16.3 days sooner when considered in days rather than months and 11.4 months sooner when considered in months rather than years.’”

In a follow-up experiment, researchers focused more on if subjects would take action sooner rather than later if they considered an event in days, rather than years. “Participants were told to imagine they had a newborn child, and that the child will need to go to college in either 18 years or 6,570 days. The researchers found those in the ‘days’ condition planned to start saving a whopping four times sooner than those in the ‘years’ condition, even when controlling for income, age, and self-control.”

There are several tricks to learn how to increase productivity, and learning to connect your future consequences to current states is a big one. It’s almost like a form of self-empathy. “To most people, Future Me is much less important than Present Me. Present Me is the CEO of Me Corp, while Future Me is a lowly clerk.” So, manage yourself in the present to be more productive for the future.

If you would like learn more about how you can teach your team about the benefits of Postponing Procrastination and increase Productivity in your organization,  call Coach Michael Stelter at Advanced Business Coaching, Inc. (262) 293.3166