Sunday, 8 March 2009

Rationality & Procrastination

Can procrastination be rational?

This article by Isaac Sorkin & Henry Swift - An economic study of procrastination, The Swarthmore Phoenix, Nov 30, 2006 - suggests there can be at least 3 good reasons for procrastinating.

1). Fixed costs to starting work:
  • Some people, before they can settle down to a task, need to go through various rituals - such as tidying their desk, answering emails, filling up the coffee.
  • Putting off work for one heavy session means you don't have do these rituals over and over again.
2). Decreasing marginal costs of working:
  • Many people find the 2nd or 3rd hour of work easier than the 1st hour - i.e. they "feel in the zone", things start making more sense and work becomes more efficient.
  • It is sensible then to make your work sessions as long as possible in order to take advantage of these returns of scale.
  • Meetings quite often work this way as everyone starts to understand the other participants side of the argument.
3). Thick-market externalities:
  • The idea is that if everyone else is doing the same thing that you are, it gets easier and more enjoyable.
  • Skipping these things to work smoothly over the day involves an opportunity cost of missing out on the fun.
  • So it makes sense to clump work like the rest of the team.

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