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The Cure for Procrastination: Discipline

Procrastination works fine—in a world where the future is perfectly predictable.

By Julie Rehmeyer
Jun 5, 2008 5:00 AMNov 12, 2019 4:42 AM


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So you are an unapologetic procrastinator, running fast and furious up to the deadline and, often, right past it. It is not that you choose to turn work in late but rather that you have no choice, you say? Now there is mathematical proof to back up your story.

Plotted on a graph, the speed of a procrastinator’s work is a straight line, rising as the deadline gets closer. Based on this observation, computer science professor Michael Bender of Stony Brook University in New York used the line to calculate the time it might take a real-life procrastinator to complete a series of tasks using a variety of common strategies, especially focusing on the most important (but not necessarily the most imminent) deadline first. His analysis, published in the Journal of Scheduling, showed that no strategies guarantee that procrastinators will meet all deadlines. Because procrastinators wait to work, when an unexpected assignment becomes a new priority—thanks to, say, a sick coworker—the model procrastinator has no slack time and blows the deadline. “To meet all their deadlines,” Bender says, “procrastinators have to be able to see the future perfectly.”

But they do not need a crystal ball, says Timothy Pychyl, a psychologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. They need discipline. “Procrastination happens because you’re disorganized, not very dutiful, and probably impulsive,” he says.

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