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Taxonomy of procrastination

Taxonomy of procrastination

2023-05-15 11:23:18

The little accountant

No one will get every part they need in life. That’s OK. If everybody was a sportscaster-rockstar-scientist-model-author-influencer-billionaire, we nonetheless wouldn’t be completely satisfied as a result of everybody else can be too busy to be impressed. However nonetheless, it’s somewhat unhappy once you don’t at the least strive to get what you need.

My psychological mannequin is: Inside my head there’s a man named Jim. Once I resolve I need to do one thing, Jim does a calculation:

How a lot time and vitality will this take, and the way a lot reward will it convey?

If Jim thinks the reward on effort is simply too low, he places a “tax” on that exercise. It’s nonetheless attainable to do it, nevertheless it requires lots of willpower. (One thing glucose government perform dopamine one thing ego depletion norepinephrine.) Empirically, I don’t do these issues. Jim wins.

jim the accountant

So, once I procrastinate, I attempt to rephrase the issue as: How do I get Jim to decrease the tax? That is onerous as a result of Jim is cussed and opinionated and skeptical and illogical.

My taxonomy

Taxum 1: Doing the factor is simply too disagreeable in comparison with not doing the factor

You needed to dig a big gap within the floor, however as a substitute you spent all day consuming pie and enjoying World of Warcraft. Why? In all probability a mix of:

Word that it’s the hole that issues. Jim doesn’t object to you doing disagreeable issues—he simply hates it when you’ve got higher alternate options.

Taxum 2: You don’t actually consider that doing the factor will work

Jim doesn’t such as you losing time and vitality on issues that fail.

Sub-taxum A: You don’t assume you’ve got the flexibility. I’ve lengthy needed to have the ability to paint. I simply need to obtain a mediocre novice stage so I could make Bob Ross jokes, however each time I strive, my creations are haunting and Jim howls to cease the madness. So I don’t paint a lot.

Sub-taxum B: You don’t assume you’ve got plan. Typically I need to write and it’s inconceivable. I’ve come to assume that’s actually because Jim is smarter than me. He acknowledges that I haven’t organized my ideas and I have to do extra analysis or make a top level view.

It’s annoying that Jim doesn’t make constructive ideas. He simply tyrannically imposes taxes and refuses to elaborate, which makes these instances onerous to acknowledge. However that’s Jim for you.

Taxum 3: Even when you efficiently did the factor, you don’t actually assume it is going to matter

Sub-taxum A: You assume nobody else will care. This reduces the variety of essays I write about Utilitarianism by 90%, thank God.

Sub-taxum B: You your self received’t care. That is acquainted to each PhD scholar who needed to stay a lifetime of the thoughts and three years later finds themselves finding out sub-dermal temperature sensitivity in 18th-century Mongolian lengthy beetles.

These are related however have completely different options. If Jim desires an exterior reward, you then’re not going to fulfill him by telling your self that the outcomes will matter to you.

Taxum 4: The timeline is simply too lengthy

Do you need to be extra lovely? Maybe the simplest factor you are able to do is use sunscreen to forestall injury to your pores and skin. However this profit is much sooner or later. Jim isn’t impressed by that as a result of he makes use of aggressive time-discounting.


In order that’s my taxonomy. I’ve no formal proof for it. However, I declare that if you wish to do a factor and

  • you want doing it; and

  • you’re positive it is going to work; and

  • you’re positive it will likely be superior; and

  • you’ll get the advantages shortly;

then it will likely be simple. So when you’re procrastinating, search for the bottleneck.

Let’s take into account the usual methods

Make doing the factor extra nice. Say you spend all of your time at your desk enjoying video video games as a substitute of working. Will getting a greater monitor assist? Perhaps not, as a result of whereas that makes working extra nice, it additionally improves not working. You’ve received to watch out.

Some options are odd. I like a big and fully empty desk. I acknowledge that is absurd—isn’t the entire level of a desk to help issues? However it appears to encourage some sense of risk and marvel in Jim. (“With all this area for actions, something is feasible!”) And it improves the expertise of working rather more than it improves my default habits of watching goat escape movies.

Make not doing the factor extra unnice (or inconceivable). It’s also possible to assault the “work distractions hole” from the opposite facet. That is thrilling as a result of whereas it’s onerous to make issues higher, ache is unbounded! My favourite strategies embrace:

  1. Bodily unplugging my wifi router

  2. Leaving my cellphone in a distant room

  3. Put an enormous calendar on the wall. On days you do the factor, draw a smiley face. On days you fail, write “FAIL”.

  4. Normal writing recommendation is to simply puke out a tough draft earlier than you are concerned about enhancing. That is inconceivable for me as a result of Jim doesn’t shut up. By far the perfect resolution I’ve discovered is an evil writing website the place when you cease typing for five seconds every part is completely deleted and Jim shrieks in ache.

Work on the factor with others. Say you need to be a musician and also you begin a band. This does loads. It makes writing songs and training extra enjoyable. It additionally—through a brand new social dedication—makes not writing songs and never training extra painful. And it supplies social proof to Jim: when he sees your mates spending their time making an attempt to land a file deal, he concludes it could possibly’t be that silly.

Break the factor down right into a todo listing. Lists do two issues. First, steadily crossing off a sequence of steps reinforces that success is feasible. Lists additionally create a small reward with a brief timeline, once you cross off every merchandise. Perhaps we must always lean into this and have little “box-checking festivals” the place we play a horn and eat some chocolate. Use your primitive instincts to your benefit.

Do a distinct factor. Up to now we’ve tried to outmaneuver Jim. However typically he’s proper. Perhaps you can’t do the factor, or it received’t matter.

A 12 months or so in the past, I received obsessive about most cancers remedies. I needed to know: How a lot do immunotherapy remedies actually assist? Have they elevated common life expectancy? I began digging round and made some graphs like this:

cancer survival rates

However it was extremely onerous to make myself work on this. Finally, I spotted:

  1. It’s nearly inconceivable to inform if survival charges modified due to new remedies, completely different detection charges, or modifications in life.

  2. I’ve no specialised abilities or information to untangle that.

  3. Different folks do.

    See Also

So I moved on to different very important matters like the origin of “that’s what she said”.

Even when you resolve to not stop, giving your self that freedom can mean you can assume issues by means of and quiet Jim down.

Be sincere about your motivations for the factor. We regularly mislead ourselves. We are saying we need to get in higher form so we are able to “be more healthy”. However actually we need to be hotter so we are able to date hotter folks or impress of us at work. However on the similar time, we regularly don’t really consider that exercising will accomplish these issues.

The issue is, whereas it’s simple to mislead your self, Jim isn’t fooled. He is aware of you’re making an attempt to do one thing that you just don’t assume will succeed.

So, be brutal about your motivations. People are foolish creatures. If you happen to persuade your self that every one your objectives are noble and exquisite, you’re going to search out Jim stomping the brakes in a number of stunning conditions. Honesty received’t cease him, however at the least you’ll know what’s coming! It could additionally typically assist you to reorient your true motivations—to discover a technique to really run for higher well being.

Take medicine. Clearly, I don’t suggest this. However some folks take dopaminergic medicine like cocaine or amphetamines after which appear to are likely to procrastinate much less. How does this slot in?

Some speculate that the mechanism of those medicine is to increase your confidence in your predictions, so that you’re positive the factor will work and produce you reward. That’s useful when you’ve got plan, nevertheless it additionally clarifies one of many downsides of those medicine: You’re extra more likely to have interaction in Jim-disapproved actions like writing a horrible non-Euclidean area opera or beginning a fraudulent funding agency that prices hundreds of individuals their life financial savings.

Why does Jim exist?

There’s additionally the non-solution: Surrender, scale back your ambitions, and cease calling it procrastination. The one factor worse than not doing the factor just isn’t doing the factor and likewise beating your self up about it eternally. You weren’t designed to overpower Jim on a regular basis, so don’t anticipate to.

This brings up a deeper query that will get unusually little consideration. Particularly, why does Jim exist in any respect? Why don’t we’ve infinite willpower? There are many research that counsel that folks with extra willpower have higher life outcomes. The causality of these observational studies is debatable, since you possibly can’t assign somebody a stage of willpower and watch what occurs. However let’s simply suppose willpower is sweet. Then why didn’t evolution give us extra of it?

  1. Perhaps lack of willpower is only a “flaw” that for some cause evolution can’t eradicate.

  2. Perhaps lack of willpower has change into a flaw now as a result of we stay in late modernity and spend our time watching tiny numbers as a substitute of searching and profitable glory with our tribal bands.

  3. Perhaps life is simply too sophisticated to handle with acutely aware thought. You don’t management your coronary heart price. You don’t orchestrate your visible system—you simply “see”. Perhaps juggling all of your priorities like relationships, meals, work, intercourse, sleep, and many others. can also be simply too onerous to be left to consciousness.

  4. Perhaps evolution is aware of that “you” (your acutely aware self) have completely different priorities than it does. An apparent instance can be when you’ve got the urge to have unprotected intercourse which may result in an undesirable being pregnant. “You” assume that’s unhealthy as a result of a child would intervene along with your brunch plans. However Jim says “sure infants good!” and places large subsidies on “have unprotected intercourse”.

What I’d like to know is: Is there a failure mode from having an excessive amount of willpower?

There’s an angle on this that appears promising at first. Individuals who have ADHD have “low willpower”. That is claimed to be a results of some type of dopamine (or norepinephrine) dysfunction—both producing too little, or having low-sensitivity receptors. So is there an issue related to having “an excessive amount of” dopamine? Maybe sure—the dopamine hypothesis is that an excessively delicate dopamine system (or taking lots of meth) causes schizophrenia.

As a cartoon, we’d assume that:

And:

Good concept, proper? Bother is, folks with ADHD are additionally much more likely to develop schizophrenia. So this doesn’t make sense, nothing is smart.

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