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Beating Procrastination with Self-Imposed Deadlines 213

Posted by timothy
from the post-now-or-later-now-or-later dept.
castironwok writes "Procrastination attracts us because of hyperbolic time discounting: the immediate (guilty) rewards are disproportionally more compelling than the greater delayed cost. Procrastination is the reward itself. An MIT professor found that when he allowed his students to give themselves their own homework deadlines, they would artificially restrict themselves to counter procrastination. However, they did not set deadlines for optimal effectiveness. I am personally a huge procrastinator and it's always a pull between rational logic (giving yourself the most time by choosing end dates as the deadline), and your past experience saying you will put it off so force yourself to start early."
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Beating Procrastination with Self-Imposed Deadlines

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  • Hey! (Score:5, Funny)

    by SeanMon (929653) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:11PM (#17372444) Homepage Journal
    I was gonna post this yesterday, but...

    Nevermind.
    • by rubycodez (864176)
      and I was going to have brillant and insightful comments on this subject yesterday too. maybe tomorrow I'll post them.
    • by soloport (312487)
      I was going to have first post, but...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Never leave till tomorrow, that which you can put off indefinitely.

      I'll procrastinate tomorrow.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by O_at_H2-O2 (1043944)
      It's really ironic that this gets posted on /.

      I mean, who reading this now has done all their dishes, their work for the day, called their grand-parents to thank them for their Christmas gift, paid all their bills, sent that inquiry to the insurance company, called in for that dentist appointment that is 3 months overdue, etc... I mean who?
    • by aussie_a (778472)
      I was going to mod you funny, but.. meh. I'll finish this post later.
  • by JackHoffman (1033824) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:12PM (#17372458)
    Of course it's also inefficient to start late, but one should not try to start earlier than necessary. The task will occupy your mind longer and especially if you don't like to do the work, it will stress you longer. The task does not become more difficult if you put it off until you need to do it. It just gets longer, because you will allow interruptions (there's still time, so...).
    • by bigman2003 (671309) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:34PM (#17372632) Homepage
      I manage a small programming team, and one of my jobs is to set up deadlines. The nature of where we work means that we don't really HAVE deadlines at all (gubment) but we need to make progress.

      So, I impose deadlines on my team. Usually they are fairly aggressive, but we always meet them. Two days before the last deadline, my team was all working frantically trying to get things done. One of the guys asked, "Why the hell did you make the deadline so early? Why not just push it out two more months?"

      My answer was the same as always: "If I had pushed this deadline out two months, we'd be going through this same exact crunch time, just two months later."

      It's just a fact, if we have six months to do a job, we'll finish in exactly six months. If we're given 12 months to do the same job, we'll finish in exactly 12 months.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TapeCutter (624760)
        "It's just a fact, if we have six months to do a job, we'll finish in exactly six months. If we're given 12 months to do the same job, we'll finish in exactly 12 months."

        This is why programmers should not be confused with engineers!
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Yeah, give an Engineer 12 months to do a 3 month job and they will deliver something completely brilliant, but unrelated to the task that you gave them. Engineers procrastinate the same, except that they do engineering stuff while whittling away the time.
          • by TapeCutter (624760) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @01:04AM (#17373774) Journal
            I did not mean to imply Engineers don't procrastinate, I was talking about the imposition of project end dates from above.

            Engineers do not recieve end dates, they produce them. A lead engineer is required to "sign off" and is legally responsible for the work, incompetence can land them in jail on a manslaughter charge.

            I have ~20yrs in commercial software development, some places include the programmers in the estimation processes, others don't. If my boss fails to ask me for an estimate, I will fail to join him in the "crunch time" panic.
      • by Kjella (173770)
        My answer was the same as always: "If I had pushed this deadline out two months, we'd be going through this same exact crunch time, just two months later.

        Which is really the crux of software engineering. In the pcoress. you're pretty damn sure going to make decisions which aren't ideally correct, but that get the job done. Ot you bite the bullet and say "Look, if you want it it'll be a millon dollars and it still won't give what you think it will."
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It's just a fact, if we have six months to do a job, we'll finish in exactly six months. If we're given 12 months to do the same job, we'll finish in exactly 12 months.

        But does the quality remain constant? Just because you can rush something to finish it a few months earlier, it doesn't mean you are making the most effective use of your time. You could be simply making more work for yourself further down the line.

      • by syousef (465911) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @10:52PM (#17373066) Journal
        Man am I glad you're not my manager. If you don't want your team to burn out you should be minimising those crunch times not resigning yourself to them being inevitable. How do you do that? Lots of intermediate deadlines. Then your team can't wait for the end and just crunch to get it in on time.

        The way you're going you'll end up with a burnt out team that thinks you're a tyrant. ...and it gets modded up as insightful here on /. *shakes head*
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MoogMan (442253)
          It's said that there are two types of people (and many people inbetween the two extremes): Starters and Finishers. Starts are good at planning, but find it hard to continue a task. Finishers are good at maintaining, but are crap at planning or actually starting stuff. "Intermediate Deadlines" will only help one type of person (The starters - they can be good at starting these smaller projects, and not burn out). For "Finishers", intermediate deadlines may in fact make the problem worse!

          It looks, to me, that
      • by wrook (134116) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:04PM (#17373160) Homepage

        It's just a fact, if we have six months to do a job, we'll finish in exactly six months. If we're given 12 months to do the same job, we'll finish in exactly 12 months.

        Perhaps this is the case with your team, but I have to say that I have not observed this on the programming teams I work in. In fact, I have *often* heard managers say this. But actually, it seems not to be the case.

        I have observed two things. If the imposed deadline is shorter than the time actually needed to do the job, then the job will appear to be finished (i.e., people will say they are done), but there will be many things missing. Later, people will say "Oh, we were all under a tight deadline, so I guess we must have forgotten to do that".

        More interestingly, if the deadline is longer than the time actually needed to do the job, I have observed that the job is done early. But (and this is an important but), all of the functionality is actually there.

        To perform this experiment for yourself, I suggest that you take several small problems (small bugs are good for this). Try to find problems that will take from 1/2 a day to a day. Assign deadlines ranging from 2 hours to 3 days. Record the amount of time it actually takes to do the work. Then do code reviews of all the work.

        I think you will find the experiment very instructive.

        I have found that when there is always work in the queue, there is no point to setting deadlines. Instead it is better merely to estimate the work (so that you can make predictions). It is also counter productive to measure the amount of time each task takes (otherwise people will cut corners in order to meet some kind of unreasonable expectation, sometimes self imposed). Instead, just keep a rolling average of how close your estimates are to reality (i.e., we've gone 10 days and we've finished 11 days of estimated work, therefore we are going at 1.1x our estimated rate). This gives you predictability without the negative side effects of measuring too closely. IMPORTANT: Don't complain or cheer if the work rate is different than the estimated rate. This is to be expected. The information is only to allow you to communicate progress with management.

        In every case that I have implemented this (and obviously this isn't my idea -- it's standard practice in many shops), productivity, quality and predictability have all improved. It's worth a try (But don't take my word for it -- do the test...)

        • Way back in University, I was sitting around and chatting with T.D., my lab partner for the University of Saskatchewan compiler course taught by J. P. Tremblay. Our project was written in C, and compiled an input language to a LISP output. One of us commented that in theory, one could compile anything to anything.

          Over the years, my lab partner ended up becoming a full professor himself. He was part of a team that developed some impressive reverse engineering and refactoring software that ran on a clus

        • by zerocool^ (112121)

          I have observed two things. If the imposed deadline is shorter than the time actually needed to do the job, then the job will appear to be finished (i.e., people will say they are done), but there will be many things missing. Later, people will say "Oh, we were all under a tight deadline, so I guess we must have forgotten to do that".

          More interestingly, if the deadline is longer than the time actually needed to do the job, I have observed that the job is done early. But (and this is an important but), all o
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by vtcodger (957785)
          ***It's just a fact, if we have six months to do a job, we'll finish in exactly six months. If we're given 12 months to do the same job, we'll finish in exactly 12 months.***

          Maybe for (some) individuals.

          For many organizations, it's more like if we have six months to do a job, we'll take nine. If we're given 12 months to do the same job, it'll take 24. If we are given 24 months for the same job, it'll most likely never be finished.

          Observation: scheduling a 10 hour task as one hour on 10 different da

      • by aussie_a (778472)

        It's just a fact, if we have six months to do a job, we'll finish in exactly six months.
        Unless of course its impossible finish in 6 months.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        It's just a fact, if we have six months to do a job, we'll finish in exactly six months. If we're given 12 months to do the same job, we'll finish in exactly 12 months.

        Then why not set up a deadline of 24 hours and be done with it? I was going to suggest 30 seconds, but the email server may be slow, and you have to plan for that. Work actually does take real-world time, and putting everyone in perpetual panic mode isn't going to help you. Here's another maxim for government service--the work will ex

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:19PM (#17372516)
    Forces me into finishing up early. I can't watch TV or listen to the radio and sometimes it is a little odd like when I showed up for last week's Christmas celebrations, but I'm making the deadlines.

    P.S. Happy New Year!
  • Real deadlines... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by S. Traaken (28509) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:20PM (#17372522)
    I find that deadlines I set for myself don't help - unless it's a real deadline with definite consequences beyond my own limitations, I tend to ignore it. And even if it is a 'real' deadline, at the last moment I'll weigh the consequences of not having the job done against Yet Another All-Nighter... and sleep generally wins - or another game. Or movie. Or anything else...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by xTantrum (919048)

      I find that deadlines I set for myself don't help - unless it's a real deadline with definite consequences beyond my own limitations

      I couldn't agree more. I currenly own a business that allows me some free time. I've been planning a VOIP application for about a year now and only just now have even started to work on the audio capture module. For the amount of time i have in the day and what i could be doing i just don't find i'm productive enough, i keep putting coding off for something else. Why? because

    • If you're having trouble getting yourself to take self-imposed deadlines seriously, try this:
      Write down an easy deadline on a twenty dollar bill and commit to tearing it up (!) unless you meet it.
      Keep the $20 in front of you as motivation till you finish and then put it back in your wallet.

      Pick things that nothing but procrastination could prevent you from completing on time, and have an exemption for unforeseen emergencies.

  • by Alicat1194 (970019) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:23PM (#17372552)
    ... what else am I going to do at work all day?
  • Anxiety (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cr4wford (1030418) <(kvcrawford) (at) (gmail.com)> on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:24PM (#17372554) Homepage
    I've had a lot of issues with procrastination and anxiety, and recently I realized that procrastination is actually due to anxiety-you feel anxious about a task, so you choose to ignore it for the time being. Thus, doing things that help with anxiety often help with procrastination. I think exercise is the best answer for this, but I imagine things like meditation, yoga, etc. help as well.
    • by falconwolf (725481) <falconsoaring_2000NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @10:03PM (#17372798)

      I've had a lot of issues with procrastination and anxiety, and recently I realized that procrastination is actually due to anxiety-you feel anxious about a task, so you choose to ignore it for the time being. Thus, doing things that help with anxiety often help with procrastination. I think exercise is the best answer for this, but I imagine things like meditation, yoga, etc. help as well.

      Another reason people procrastinate is perfectionism. Some put off doing or finishing something because they want it to be perfect but knowing whatever it is won't be perfect they delay doing it. I was kind of disappointed the article didn't mention this at all. If you know why you procrastinate you may be able to work on it easier than if you don't know why.

      Falcon
    • by Colin Smith (2679)
      I suppose it's worth noting that doing the things that cause you anxiety repeatedly, lowers that anxiety over time.

      Alternatively reward yourself every time you complete a task. Write down the reward beside the task. Pavlovian response, eventually you'll start enjoying stuff. It works even if you know you're conditioning yourself.
       
    • Re:Anxiety (Score:5, Interesting)

      by astrashe (7452) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:30PM (#17373346) Journal
      In the book "Getting Things Done", David Allen talks about this, and he claims his system addresses it. His system is fairly elaborate, and starting to use it is a big committment that I haven't made, so I can't verify that it works. What he says sounds plausible, though.

      Allen's theory is that stress comes from "open loops" -- things you have to keep in your head, and worry about. As you get further and further in the hole, the open loops accumulate, and your stress level goes up.

      Allen's answer is to put everything into a system, and get it ouf of your head. You don't have to remember anything, because it's all written down and recorded.

      The idea is that you don't have to worry about it because you can trust the system. Once you record it, you can be confident that it will get taken care of, because the system is robust, and you know that it works. So at any given time, you just think about what's on your plate at that moment, and tune other stuff out.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by MyIS (834233)

        Meh. I don't think that that addresses all types of procrastination.

        I have a huge hierarchical TODO list (that serves as a note-book at the same time due to the tree-like nature). I think that the above reasoning is very spot-on in the sense that because I record every little thought and proceeding about any one of the tasks and sub-tasks I feel very organized and able to focus on tasks better.

        But at the same time the procrastination remains. It is still the anxiety of taking on a specific task - the an

        • by pyite (140350)
          But at the same time the procrastination remains. It is still the anxiety of taking on a specific task - the anxiety of having to deal with a frustrating and arduous task, even filtered out from others. That's why some TODO items still sit there for days and weeks, even though they are pretty well documented.

          David Allen also discourages the use of traditional todo lists (hierarchical or otherwise) because they can be demoralizing when you don't accomplish some of your daily todos. What he does suggest is th
          • by ZorbaTHut (126196)

            David Allen also discourages the use of traditional todo lists (hierarchical or otherwise) because they can be demoralizing when you don't accomplish some of your daily todos. What he does suggest is the use of a project list. A project is something that has a definite outcome like "Take Vacation in Hawaii." Every project has "next actions" associated with it, where a "next action" is the next physical thing you can do to move the project forward.

            . . .

            This methodology is useful because projects are no longe

            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by telepilot (923790)

              So, what he's suggesting is . . . you take your larger goals, and then you break them up into a sequence of smaller subgoals?

              Sort of like a hierarchy?

              Well... kinda. As pyite wrote above, the main idea behind Allens framework is that you should not have to think about a project or thing you want accomplished more than necessary. By making sure that your subgoals are actual physical actions that you need to do to move the project further along you dont have to "rethink" this step every time you read your todo-list, instead you just "do".

              Say for instance that you have a ToDo-list with an item such as "plan new-years party", with the first subgoal being

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Scarblac (122480)

        GTD is great, but Allen sometimes says things like "assume for a moment we are not putting off this task out of procrastination...", which is often not the case. Also, you don't use GTD for doing a thesis that requires a thousand hours of concentrated work. GTD is very biased towards a work style of little things to do next.

        I use his book together with "The Now Habit" by Neil Fiore, it is concerned with procrastination related problems. Basically, he encourages to focus on _starting_ on something, not on f

        • by Scarblac (122480)

          And one important tip from Fiore that helps me a lot - say you have work to do that fits into blocks of, say, ten hours work. Perhaps writing articles of some sort. Then the urge is really great when you finish one block, to stop then and reward yourself. Don't! Get into a habit of spending at least five or ten minutes starting on the next project.

          After all, you're focused right now, and you'll feel much better about the next project knowing you've already made a start on it. If you don't, you may get anxi

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by BokLM (550487) *
        This is interesting. I bought the book a few months ago, but never had time to read it. It's on my TODO list.
  • by Namlak (850746) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:25PM (#17372566)
    ...but laziness always pays off now. http://www.despair.com/proc24x30pri.html [despair.com]
  • Big problem for me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by astrashe (7452) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:29PM (#17372612) Journal
    It's a big problem for me, and one that I've only had limited success in dealing with. So I don't want to claim to have found the answer or anything.

    But I think the key is to formalize the process of deciding what to do *now*. Another way of saying that is that procrastination is a problem with deciding what to do in the moment -- that if you procrastinate, you have to recognize that your ability to do that is broken.

    The easiest way to manage this is with a to-do list -- you just go through the things on your list, and try not to think about what else you could be doing, or what you should be doing. Just work the list.

    The more robust way is to try to embrace the "Getting Things Done" system (it's described in a book of the same name). The book describes a system that's good enough to keep track of pretty much everything you have going on, and an algorithm that will let you pop off tasks and do them effectively. If you do the system, presumably (it's a big jump, and I haven't made it), you won't drop the ball on tasks, and you'll always know what to do right now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Another good thing about the to-do list is that you get a sense of satisfaction after every small task is completed. So even though the big project isn't done you still get some mental reward, which encourages you to do more.

      We really are simple creatures, aren't we?
      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        Another good thing about the to-do list is that you get a sense of satisfaction after every small task is completed. So even though the big project isn't done you still get some mental reward, which encourages you to do more.

        A lot of people find this hard to believe, but not everybody gains a sense of satisfaction from accomplishing tasks.

        This is especially true in people with behavioral/neurological disorders.
        It stems from a somewhat broken reward system.
        Usually. it can be helped through behavior modificat

      • by swillden (191260) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @02:26AM (#17374096) Homepage Journal

        Another good thing about the to-do list is that you get a sense of satisfaction after every small task is completed. So even though the big project isn't done you still get some mental reward, which encourages you to do more.

        For me, this is often counterproductive. When I check a task off of the list it makes me feel that I deserve to reward myself for having finished a task, so it makes me want to slack off for a bit. That usually leads to doing something like taking a quick glance at slashdot, where an interesting discussion will catch my attention and I'll spend two hours reading and posting, or playing a quick little game... which I find I don't want to stop playing, or putting a few minutes into a personal project... which turns into a couple of hours, or... you get the idea.

        Honestly, I've decided that only two things work well for me: intense interest or intense pressure. If I'm really interested in a task, because it involves learning or doing something cool, I have a built-in motivation to do it and there's no problem. If the task isn't intrinsically interesting, though, the only thing that motivates me is pressure. If I'm not being pressured externally (which is what really works the best, even though it's unpleasant), I have to try to create my own pressure, via arbitrary deadlines, which I then have to convince myself are real.

        I explain this to whoever I'm working for on a given project, and ask them to apply the pressure I need, or, alternatively, give me tasks I think are cool enough that I want to do them. It usually works out pretty well for everyone.

    • by bnf (16861)
      A todo-ish strategy that I've found effective, particularly when I just can't get started on something I'm just not all that psyched about plowing into, is to write down WITH GREAT SPECIFICITY the steps to get started with the task at hand.

      It could be something like..

      open eclipse
      load class file
      lookup the javadocs for the library I'm using
      open the spec documents
      find the specific spot in the project's spec that I need
      figure out the db access info
      decide on the logic for comparing db info to submitted data ....
  • But instead, i'm reading an article on slashdot about procrastination.

    Talk about the right story for the right job!
  • by Tzorcelan (1027584) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:37PM (#17372656)
    Top ten reasons for procrastination: 1.
  • Procrastination (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I read a book that really helped me called "Overcoming Procrastination" by Fiore. Turns out perfectionism can play a huge part (always a struggle for me), as can the fear of success (being afraid that if you do a good/outstanding job, you will have to one-up yourself each time - a thought that can be overwhelming). The book isn't particularly well-written and the last chapter(s) is totally lame, but it does have some very good information otherwise - so if you suffer from procrastination it's worth a read.
    • Turns out perfectionism can play a huge part (always a struggle for me)

      Yea, perfectionism hinders me too, which is why I was disappointed the article didn't bring up perfectionism. However I found out while in therapy after an accidnet that there is a region of the brain that deals with procrastination as well, and if damaged or malfunctioning can lead a person to procrastinate.

      Falcon
  • One way to fix it (Score:3, Informative)

    by MikeRT (947531) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:41PM (#17372678) Homepage
    Work for a company that rewards effort with recognition, money and benefits. People have this habit of not caring unless either they get recognition/are engaged or have a fire under their ass like a spouse and child to support. When I was in college, I was one of the worst procrastinators in my CS classes half the time, but in classes where I could work on my own projects for class credit and recognition, I would put in as one person at least as many hours as an entire three to four person team. Reward people who work, punish those who don't, and show off cool stuff. That tends to motivate people.
  • Put best... (Score:5, Funny)

    by paintswithcolour (929954) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:42PM (#17372686)
    "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by."

    --Douglas Adams

  • The only thing that I've found that works so far is by determining a reward which I'll give myself after a task is completed. Be it more PS3 or beer or just wasting time on the net (sad, I know), the looking forward to the reward helps me get it done faster. Of course, I still have to have the discipline to not just take the 'reward' before the task is done.
  • by jridley (9305) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:51PM (#17372746)
    I find that when properly applied, procrastination results in increased efficiency.
    By delaying my work significantly (but not to the point where I'll have to reduce my delivered quality) I find that I do not wind up coding stuff against docs and specs that will be changed.

    I learned this in college. We'd bust our butts trying to code something early, and the next class the prof would alter the spec because the problem contained unexpected (by him) challenges that he had not intended. If you waited a bit, the prof would code up his solution as an answer key to diff ours against, and he'd hit the challenges and recast the problem.

    So by putting off stuff to some extent, I wind up not coding stuff that I'll just wind up throwing out anyway.
  • by I don't want to spen (638810) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:53PM (#17372756) Journal
    Last post!
  • Divide and conquer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DrCode (95839) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @10:07PM (#17372816)
    That's what works for me. Need to implement a large piece of code and don't know where to start? Pick the easiest part of the project, and implement that. Repeat. Before you know it, you're all done. This works particularly well with an object-oriented language like C++, since there are usually lots of little methods you can work on.

    Another thing I find that helps: At the end of the day, try to leave something trivial for the start of the next day. That way, if you're not a morning person, you have something to warm up with until the coffee kicks in.

    The above also works for writing. Tell yourself that you're going to write a 200-page novel, and you'll probably never get started. Instead, think of how a story might begin, and just write a couple pages. The next day, you'll think about what might happen next, and you add another page or two.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ameline (771895)
      You like living dangerously.

      Leaving the hard stuff until the end is one of the major signs of a project that is going to implode spectacularly. (I've seen this particular pattern a few times now)

      (I also can't believe that I actually got around to posting this :-)
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        The trick is to break the hard stuff up into lots of little tasks that collectively take care of the hard stuff.
        • by ameline (771895)
          Thank you Captian Obvious.

          What if one of the things you decompose that hard task into becomes "prove P==NP"? (yes, I have seen effectively that in a real project, where the hard things were not tackled up front) Not all hard tasks decompose easily -- sometimes the decomposition is itself a hard task.

          The way I look at it is that every "research" problem (one that has never been solved before) you face is like a bullet in a relvolver you're going to play russian roulette with. Whatever you do, don't even both
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mattwarden (699984)

      That's what works for me. Need to implement a large piece of code and don't know where to start? Pick the easiest part of the project, and implement that. Repeat. Before you know it, you're all done.

      Um, I know where you're coming from, but this is exactly the opposite of what you should do. If you have a large project, you want to pick the most difficult, most risky portion and dig into that first. Why? Because if you need to scrap an idea, you need to know ASAP.

      This is one of the toughest things to lea

    • by swillden (191260) *

      That's what works for me. Need to implement a large piece of code and don't know where to start? Pick the easiest part of the project, and implement that. Repeat. Before you know it, you're all done.

      That wouldn't work for me at all. The easiest stuff is also the least interesting stuff, which I have little desire to do. What works for me is to pick the hardest/trickiest parts and implement those first, because they're also the coolest. A little self-discipline is required to keep from going beyond what's actually required, but I can usually manage that.

      Then, after implementing all the hardest parts, all that's left is the easy code to glue them all together, and that's usually rewarding not beca

  • I have a real problem with this. I'm going to write some more about this tomorrow when I'll be more in the mood to do it. Take it from me though, it's going to be a great post and well worth waiting for. It's either that or I stay up all night getting it just right but I'm soooo tired right now. I'll RTFA tomorrow aswell.
  • I find that procrastination helps me work more efficiently. Stay with me. If I start early, I can never concentrate, but if I allow myself to procrastinate, the fear of the deadline gives me adrenaline. That helps me focus.

    The end result is that I am able to get things done faster and more effectively as the deadline approaches.

  • I am personally a huge procrastinator...

    You read /., and therefore we already know this.

    • Hey! I read /. and I'm not a procrastinator. I already finished the sitting-in-a-corner-and-feeling-lonely and the crying-in-the-bed-because-nobody-loves-me. And since it's only 8 in the morning I'm well ahead of sheduele.
  • by NineNine (235196)
    I have a really great comment to make on this article.... but, I'll get around to posting it tomorrow at latest.
  • by iabervon (1971) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:02PM (#17373136) Homepage Journal
    I went to MIT, so I can explain a bit about the culture in which this research was done.

    First of all, there's always something you're supposed to be doing. If you have three assignments for a class due at the end of term, you'll definitely have more important things to get done all term, and then you won't have enough time at the end of term to do the assignments. Even if you didn't do anything fun all term, you'll have procrastinated by getting more of each of the assignments for other classes done than you would have had you worked on the end-of-term assignment earlier. It's really hard to give up on an assignment that's due tomorrow because you haven't started on the one due in two months. It's not just that you have a more immediate reward if you procrastinate the stuff that's not due tomorrow; the reward is calculated and reported to you in advance in percentage points, and you definitely lose those points if you don't go after them immediately.

    Also, assignments are designed for maximizing the standard deviation, which gives the most detail for grading. This is achieved by having the average be 50. This, in turn, means that, if you're doing fine, you could do twice as much work and still not get everything done. And you could check over your answers if you really wanted to, and take even more effort. So it's not like you're ever done with all your upcoming assignments and have time to work on the long-range ones.

    Also, the main risk isn't doing badly in classes or failing them, it's going insane. If you pass any of your classes (or even if you don't, really), you're better of than if you have to take a term off. So doing something fun and relaxing can actually be quite important. I heard claims that sleeping at night sometimes helps, too, but I didn't try that. Relaxing when you need to is always on a shorter deadline than the end of the term, so it takes precedence.

    And, of course, every class has something or other due at the end of the term (or a final just after classes end). You're in trouble if you've got three things due for this class at the same time as every other class has some project or exam.

    So the optimal strategy is probably to choose deadlines around when your other classes have big assignments and exams, and stick to those deadlines, but tell the professor you'll have everything in at the end of term (but then forget that you didn't specify your deadlines).

    The thing I'd find most interesting is how many students chose to have the deadlines at the end of term, but then turned in the first assignment in the first half of the term.
  • http://despair.com/proc24x30pri.html [despair.com]

    Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now.
  • by Almahtar (991773)
    When I was reading this I just started cracking up. This is exactly what I do! I just graduated with a CS degree this fall. The last year and a half I got the best grades even though I was in far tougher courses than the earlier years, and it's because I started doing just what the article said. I tell myself it has to be done 4 days before it really does, and I always get it done at least 2 days before it's due. This kind of thinking really changed things around for me.
  • by wikinerd (809585) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:57PM (#17373458) Journal

    When I want to beat procrastination I cut down the task in smaller sub-tasks with their own deadline.

    For example, if it is 1 January and I have to write a paper until 31 December, then I will try to estimate how long the paper should be and of what parts it should be composed. If I find that I need to write about 10000 words and that the paper should be divided in 6 parts, then I will try to estimate how long each part ought to be. Suppose I find out that 1000 words should go in part 1, 3000 in part 2, 1000 in part 3, 2000 in part 4, 2500 in part 5, and 500 words in part 6.

    Then I will attempt to guess the requirements that should be met before writing each part, for example part 2 may require some extensive research before I sit down typing, and part 4 may need to wait until the results of a computer simulation are available. The research may require some reading on my part, so I will have to know how many books I must read and how long or difficult these books are.

    If I can calculate the prerequisites for writing the different parts, then I assign deadlines to the completion of each part. I continue breaking the subtasks into smaller and smaller tasks, until I can create weekly or daily schedules. Then I use my PDA, timesheet software, or a personal wiki for tracking my progress.

    Another important technique for cutting down procrastination is to minimise startup time/costs. If I need to power up my laptop before typing my essay, then I just leave the laptop open at all times.

    Finally, for people who have to spend their days in multiple locations within each day, it is imperative to maximise your mobility. For example, I want to learn some Python, but I have little formal time for investing in it. What I did was to load PythonCE on my HTC Universal [wikipedia.org] PDA (which, by the way, has a QWERTY keyboard and broadband Internet access), so while I commute to work and university I spend the time reading Python tutorials over the Internet and typing programs into the Python interpreter. The fact that this runs on an always-on PDA (with an extended 8h battery and nearly always-on Internet connectivity, too) means that it is very easy to start from where I left even between days (there is no frequent shutdown-bootup cycle in PDAs).

    Another example I can give for increased mobility is with e-mail: I was using a POP email server which made life difficult when I couldn't access my mail which was stored on my home's hard disk because I was away from home. What I did was to switch to using my own IMAP server. Combined with RoundCube Webmail software, this really created an environment where I can access my email, including my drafts, from anywhere in the world and with any IMAP client I have in hand.

    Other tips for mobility that I know from experience is using laptops with cellular Internet access such as Flybook [flybook.biz], and using Web-based tools on your own Web server instead of desktop applications (sometimes I had to write my own Web tools in PHP) so that you are not tied to one particular machine. Use of SSH/VNC with an always-on broadband connection at home is also useful if you need to access your home PC when you travel (assuming you do leave your PC open 24/7 as in my case).

    Of course, in actual practice, procrastination still occurs and the planning isn't always reflective of reality, and sometimes you just need to accept this fact and stop worrying too much (especially if you are a Type A [wikipedia.org] personality).

    • by Cervantes (612861)
      You didn't beat procrastination, you just replaced it with overly excessive planning that takes so long, and makes you miss your deadlines so much, that it might as well be procrastination.

      That is, however, a bang-up relabling job you've done.
  • deadlines (Score:2, Insightful)

    by baomike (143457)
    one nice thing about deadlines, if you put them off long enough
    you don't have to worry about them any more.
  • As someone who has mostly overcome my natural procrastination, the best way I have found to counter procrastination is by writing my goals down in a pen-and-paper journal. YMMV, but I have found that the act of writing them down (and the visceral act of crossing them off when complete) brings them to the fore of my consciousness in a way that my computer "tasks" reminders don't...
  • by Slipgrid (938571) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @12:41AM (#17373654) Homepage Journal
    As Writ on the bathroom stalls in Miami Universities CS Dept:

    Procrastination is like masturbation: it feels good until you realize you are fucking yourself.
  • by bnf (16861) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @01:13AM (#17373814) Homepage
    If you look at the "Procedure" section of page 220 of the pdf of the actual paper (because I know all of you of course have now read the paper) it talks about the apparent incentives for the subjects involved in the study by stating "In fact, the external incentives for the students in the free-choice section encouraged submission of all three papers on the last possible day."

    In the paragraph prior the writer states "second, students had to announce the [self-chosen] deadlines for submission prior to the second lecture;"

    and then on the next page "in fact, only 12 student (27%) chose to submit all three papers on the last day of class."

    The study was conducted at MIT. The paper never acknowledges the role peer pressure and the desire to be perceived as a non-procrastinator by the rest of the class might play in an individual's choice of paper submission date, particularly if that "announcement" was public, and instead focuses on how the submission deadlines would best be gamed; Yet peer pressure and performance pressure at MIT is an acknowledged problem very much part of the culture of MIT.
  • Oh, dang it all ..
  • I mean, come on, don't you all mast... um, ohhh, procrastinate. Er, nevermind.
  • by ColaMan (37550)
    (skims through comments)

    What, no-one's mentioned slacktitude [arxiv.org] yet?

    Basically, slacking off now on long computer/tech projects means you can take advantage of newer, faster, tech down the track to finish the job quicker, thus winding up finishing at the same time as you would have in the first place.
  • Procrastination is a modern invention. Deadlines are mere abstractions to turn humans into automations that meet cycle times which produce products (output). If we were to structure our lives with more fluidity, we would be more happier, healthier, and I guarantee wealthier. Procrastination is a natural human form of rebellion. School, work et al inpose these 'deadlines' for some bullshit metric that demeans the human being. The whole system to me is very anti-human, it is designed to control you and turn y
  • by meese (9260)
    I have a major problem starting projects, but I've found a trick that gets the job done: alcohol.

    Now you may be thinking that that's exactly what you shouldn't have if you want to get anything done, but it works, applied correctly. The key is having between 1-2 drinks and combining that with some coffee. The alcohol gets you to stop fretting over what needs to be done and gets you to dive right into work, and the coffee gets you to stay awake and somewhat focused.

    I used to keep a bottle of Bailey's or Kah
  • Biased Sampling (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar (714234) * on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:37AM (#17375190) Journal
    > An MIT professor

    Hint #1

    > found that when he allowed his students

    His MIT students. Hint #2.

    > to give themselves their > own homework deadlines, they would
    > artificially restrict themselves to counter procrastination.

    Leaving aside the begged question as to what is normal/natural restriction
    as opposed to "artificial" restriction, the observation is from a situation
    that is not representative of the general college student population, and so
    no generalization can or should be drawn from it.

    I've taught at two different state level colleges which aren't much above
    community college level as far as academic rigor among the students. I didn't
    require attendance and rarely set a deadline other than the required planned
    exams. I rarely got anything until near the end of the semester, and even after.
    I finally had to start giving graded quizzes before the lecture to (a) force
    attendance and (b) force them to read the material before the lecture (a
    requirement of mine because I don't read the book to them, I add to it), or
    (c) accumulate evidence in the form of missed quizzes/homework/classes to drop them.
    Nothing motivates students to show up and to do their work in a timely manner
    like seeing one of their (ex-)classmates being told he doesn't need to be there
    ever again because he was dropped because he missed too much.

    And it's a damn shame I had to do that. Both places had a large proportion of
    "non-traditional", that is, not right out of high school, usually older, have
    families, jobs and all the problems that come with these and other normal adult
    life. I'd set things up so those students could take the course, and never come
    to class at all, if they could learn enough on their own from the book to make the
    grades they needed on the exams. And I didn't want to make those changes -- I was
    ordered to because too many of my students were failing. Yeah, like I made them
    not do their work.

    Online courses were the worst. Most (not some, not just the majority, but most)
    students would do absolutely nothing* until the day before the exam, and then
    spend 1 to 3 hours reading through the material. One third dropped out after
    the second of 4 exams because they couldn't possibly pass. One third were urged
    to do the same for the same reason, but neglected to even do that, and so failed.
    Of the one third that remained, 90% got A's because they had the necessary sense
    of responsibility and motivation to do the necessary work on their own.

"Never ascribe to malice that which is caused by greed and ignorance." -- Cal Keegan

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