Innovation

Calculate your procrastination with the Temporal Motivation Theory

Just when I thought I understood the hows and whys of procrastination (or at least how and why I procrastinate), someone came along and turned it into a mathematical equation. Check out this recent news story: "A formula for procrastination."

According to the article, "University of Calgary professor Piers Steel, a self-described reformed procrastinator, said the act of dillydallying can be boiled down to three human traits: the person's confidence, values and impulsiveness (how susceptible he or she is to immediate delight)."

I know that I'm not the only one in the world who is guilty of procrastination. Steel believes that "most people who procrastinate are impulsive; they value what they can have today more than what they can have tomorrow—and long-term goals don't have motivational force. 'My theory is that if your model of motivation remains level, it only spikes up right before deadline, like a shark's fin,' Steel said."

When I read this, I have to admit that I was a little defensive. I have long-term goals!! How about my New Year's resolution to go to the gym and lose a little weight? Hey, I did go last night... 

Steel believes that "most people make New Year's resolutions in vain. In scientific terms, a person's intention alone is not enough to see anything through—a condition called 'preference reversal.' That means that unless an individual has some knowledge of his or her motivational weaknesses and can create a plan to counteract them, those promises of losing weight or writing a novel will fall to the wayside." 

So, what's this formula all about? "Steel's formula, called the Temporal Motivation Theory, calculates procrastination like Albert Einstein's equation for energy, E=MC2. It factors the person's expectancy for succeeding at a given task (E) or self-confidence; the value of completing the task (V); its immediacy or availability (Gamma); and the person's sensitivity to delay (D) to come up with the desirability of the task (Utility).

"The equation reads: Utility = E x V / (Gamma) x D."

Great. All I needed was a little multiplication and division to muddle my understanding of something that I thought I had down pat! I'll have to read up on this... later... when I have more time. :-) 

About Sonja Thompson

Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.

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