Procrastination, as we all know, is a productivity killer. I have a list of jobs (sometimes written down, and sometimes in my head) I need to do on a day to day basis. Some jobs – particularly ones I am worried about, or where a poor outcome has dire consequences- seem to sit on that list for a long time. This often makes them more difficult when I finally get to them! Why do we do this to ourselves? What is the psychology which underpins it, and how can we avoid getting bogged down in procrastination?
Sometimes, I wonder who is driving, me or the autopilot!
This last week or two have been a bit busy. As a result, I suspect I have been leaning a bit too much on my autopilot. On top of the day to day stuff, all sorts has been going on – I have had a big grant application due in, a new member of staff starting and end of teaching session marking, checking, and paperwork are all being done. (I love teaching, but I hate paperwork). I’m also getting ready to visit another university to comment on their courses and preparing to help evaluate one our own institution is launching. Finally, one of my PhD student this week defended their thesis – basically explaining to an independent judge why they should be given a doctorate. Alongside this me, my partner, baby Annabelle and big sister Katherine all went camping for the first time this weekend (having a great time, but a busy, not-much-sleep one!). This is all good stuff, but it means sometimes I forgot to be conscious of what I was doing. Whats the psychology behind this, and can we do anything about it?
I am thrilled to say that my new book, Psychology Squared: 100 Concepts in Psychology You Should Know is now out, published by Apple Press and available in physical form via Amazon and other channels. Written by myself and Dr. Christopher Sterling, this volume outlines 100 interesting ideas and concepts in psychology, each accompanied by a beautiful illustration or fantastically informative diagram. I’m really proud of what we have achieved, and writing it was really the inspiration for the blog. You can read more about it by visiting my little bookstore here.
Implementation intentions and behavioural follow-through
Like many people (I suspect!) I am sometimes not so good at following though on my goals. Here are a bunch of things which this week I fully intended to do, but failed epically to achieve. Note this is the abridged version – the full list runs to 3 volumes.
Buy light bulbs for the kitchen
Call an old friend I ran into on the train last week (Hello J!)
Write down when my annual leave is on our kitchen calendar
Call a work colleague to discuss a new project
Write up some work related expense forms
For many of these things I actively thought about doing them several times a day (as well as whilst cooking crazily calorie laden food in a near pitch-black kitchen).I’m not alone here – these sort of goals only seem to account for around 30% of the variance in our behaviour. Now, I am a reasonably well motivated guy, so why the apparent multiple lack of follow through? Part of the is probably due to the way I formulate my intentions.
What predicts performance differences in two people with equal preparation? Challenge!
Tests, performance and stress.
We all face tests in our lifetime. As I write, all across the country people are preparing for, or sitting exams. My own students are no exception – I have 180 undergraduates who are busy revising (I hope) for a exam on social psychology next week. There are a lot of things which predict success in such tasks. Some are out of our immediate control – some people simply have an aptitude for exams and some (like me!) find them more difficult. Other things are more within our control – how much you engaged with the course when it was presented, how much extra reading you did and how thorough your revision was. But what predicts the differences between two people of equal aptitude, who have prepared similarly? The ‘edge’ the stronger person have may be less to do with how much they know or how skilled they are, and more to do with how they perceive the situation. I understand this via something called the biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat [BPSM]
I am a grown man who is terribly pleased to get a sticker. What is worse is, this sticker is not even real. Yep. My partner bought me an activity monitor (if you’ve not heard of these think footstep pedometer on steroids).
Today I am mostly pleased because, since putting this device on, I have walked the same distance which emperor penguins migrate (112 km if you are interested). For this, my phone displayed a little picture of a penguin when I logged in. Super! Next, I want to climb stairs equivalent to a helicopters cruising altitude. I vow to avoid all elevators from this day on!
At the moment I’ve two major projects on my desk. One is launched, a large study which requires the recruitment of a large number of participants. This project is kicking off after a lot of planning, and we need to make sure we stay on track and make good decisions as things evolve. The second is in the planning stage, a large research grant application involving multiple collaborators. I really want these both to go well – they are significant steps forward for both me and the partners involved.