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Many of us are procrastinators, putting off inescapable tasks as long as possible. At Pennsylvania State University, David Rosenbaum and colleagues Lanyun Gong and Cory Adam Potts carried out experiments on the matter which they wrote up in the July 2014 issue of Psychological Science.

Subjects were asked to pick up a plastic bucket and take it to the end of an alley. One bucket was close to the starting point, the other much nearer the goal. Surprisingly, the experimenters found that subjects tended to pick up the bucket closer to them and carry it a greater distance to the goal. This persisted even when the experimenters loaded the buckets with seven pounds weight of pennies. When asked why they did this, rather than picking up the bucket nearer the goal and so doing less work, the subjects tended to say that they “wanted to get the task done sooner”.

The research report suggests that these results imply we often begin jobs earlier than needed in order to get them out of the way, even if it means additional effort. People appear wired to incur a significant physical cost to eliminate the mental burden of knowing that something has to be done. The researchers invented the term precrastination, supposedly the opposite of procrastination.

This attitude might seem desirable, but it has been suggested it can be a disguised form of procrastination, by which we tire ourselves out doing trivial and non-urgent tasks which we think of as clearing the decks before getting down to the really important stuff.

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Page created 26 Jul 2014