Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Theory of Compound Procrastination

There are, as we all know, a nearly infinite number of chores to complete at any given moment. (C=number of chores). Unfortunately, one's Motivation for completing these chores (M) decreases inversely to C.

M= 1/(C*I)

Complicating the ability to complete chores is the Intertia of Procrastination (I). I rises as the usefulness (U) of the task undertaken to avoid actual work decreases. For example, playing GameCube has a U of 0.1, which in an undamped state will lead to a I value of nearly 9.7. (Reading blogs has a U of 0.3) The less useful the task currently underway, the harder it is to emerge from a state of non-action and do work (or writing).

In seeking to overcome procrastination paralysis (a condition commonly observed among writers), one tactic is to employ Compound Procrastination. In this case, the writer begins several important projects simultaneously. When Motivation begins to lag on one project, the writer can begin to work on a different project. This allows the writer to procrastinate, while at the same time actually accomplishing something useful.

One other way to improve one's M score is to accumulate procrastination tasks in one central location. For example, in the case of one subject (P. Gabridge), he would dutifully clear all papers and publications from his desk every day and empty them into a large milk crate, intending to sort, file, and respond to these items at a later date. As this crate begins to fill, the Procrastinational Gravity of the pile rises. This allows the subject to complete tasks which might normally be put off (blogging, folding laundry, cleaning the cat litter box). The law of Conservation of Procrastination allows for these chores to be finished, while maintaining a steady nagging feeling that the participant isn't really doing what he's supposed to.

(Excerpted from p.56 of Your Life by the Numbers (Why Dissertations Take Forever to Finish and Other Answers to Everyday Questions) by Professor P.M. Gabridge

(Now what am I going to do to keep from cleaning out this box?)


Art said...

I like this.

I once read a quote from, I think David Mamet, that went kind of like this:

Always be writing.

If you aren't writing a play,
then write a screenplay.

If you aren't writing a screenplay,
then write a novel.

If you aren't writing a novel,
then write a short story.

If you aren't writing a short story,
then write a poem.

If you aren't writing a poem,
then write an essay.

If you aren't writing an essay,
then write an article.

If you aren't writing an article,
then write a letter to the editor.

If you aren't writing a letter to the editor,
then write a grocery list.

I am paraphrasing from memory, but that is the gist.

With regards to ranking things in a day, and prioritizing.

A simple thing I learned a few years ago was this.

Ask yourself the following things, in this order:

1. What things are required of me today?
2. What things will give me the most return?
3. What things will give me the most reward?

It is a useful way to generally prioritize things. And for a procrastinator like myself, it helps me to focus on the required things that procrastinators seem to put off.

For instance, if you have a deadline for a final draft of a script due tomorrow, you probably need to proofread it today. This may not give you the most return, (as opposed to actual writing and working on a first of subsequent draft,) and it certainly isn't the most rewarding. However, it is required and should fall high on your priority list for that day.

patrick said...

I love the Mamet quote. I wonder how far down the list blogging would come in?

One of the corporate productivity programs used to have a good system of having you rate your to-do items, A, B, and C, with A items being ones that absolutely must be done today. You are only allowed to have a few of these items, and you make a point of doing those first, before any others. I think I do that subconsciously these days. The trick with writing is that it can often feel like a "B" activity, but if you don't make it an "A" item, your writing time ends up getting sucked away.