Why people procrastinate

The Economist has this article reviewing experimental results that suggest people are more likely to procrastinate when given abstract tasks:

  • Concrete tasks = Act on time
  • Abstract tasks = More likely to procrastinate

The experiments
Three individual experiments were used to test the hypothesis. In each experiment test subjects were offered a reward (a few dollars) to complete a task within 3 weeks. Half were given a concrete task and the other half an abstract task.

The results
In all of the experiments the researchers found that those given concrete tasks were:

  1. Quicker to respond
  2. Far more likely to respond at all

The article itself doesn’t include much in the way of interpretation. I would think it quite obvious.

  • Concrete tasks: If you have confidence in what is required and that the task won’t change then it pays to get on with it
  • Abstract tasks: However, if the requirement is unclear and might change then it pays to hold out. If you get going you may do the wrong thing or the requirement might change.