You are currently browsing articles tagged procrastination. encourages people to procrastinate – which they are already doing anyway – and then congratulates them on the wisdom of their decisions. All while convincing them that procrastinating – ahem, waiting – takes work! Brilliant and hilarious.


1) Jodi Beggs on Greg Mankiw’s NYT column about work and taxes.

2) Behavioral economics and the high-minded movies in your Netflix queue.

3) Social shaming to boost alumni donations. An ill conceived idea, says Dan Greenberg.

4) The power of grammar. Imperfect vs. perfect aspect phrases affect your perception about a politician?

5) Dan Simons has a four-part series on the psychology behind using science as a marketing tool. Part I is here. Buyer beware.

6) Lesson for sustainable corporate social responsibility: Letting customers name their price for a product when half of proceeds go to charity is better for company and charity than when product is marketed with fixed percentage (20 %) of proceeds going to charity.

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1) Richard Thaler on the mental accounting behind a devilish rebate card.

2) Dan Goldstein on the taxonomy of defaults.

3) It takes an average of 66 days to form an (easy) everyday habit.

4) The New Yorker reviews procrastination. A book about it, anyway.

5) Does prospect theory kill the taxpayer receipt idea?

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If so, try having more fun in 2010, says John Tierney.

People who have moved to Chicago, Dallas and London get to fewer local landmarks during their entire first year than the typical tourist visits during a two-week stay, according to a study conducted by Suzanne B. Shu and Ayelet Gneezy, who are professors of marketing at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, San Diego, respectively.

The Chicagoans in the study had visited more landmarks in other cities than in their own, and even their relatively small amount of local sightseeing was done mainly in the course of entertaining out-of-towners. Otherwise, the only time Chicagoans rushed to see the local landmarks was just before they were about to move to another city, when that deadline inspired sudden passions for taking architectural tours and going to the zoo.

If you’re a Chicago resident, bundle up and get yourself down to Millennium Park soon.

Hat tip: Christopher Daggett, Philip Frankenfeld.


Does thinking about big abstract concepts – instead of little concrete facts – lead to procrastination? Psyblog writes about a series of new studies on this question. From one study:

Participants were presented with one of the two pictures below just before they were asked to complete a simple survey. In the first experimental condition participants looked at the full painting of (pointillist Georges-Pierre Seurat’s) La Parade and were told it is a good example of neo-impressionism in which the artist was using order and colour to invoke emotion and harmony.

In the second condition participants just saw (part of) the detail and were told that this demonstrated the pointillist technique of using contrasting points of colour to build up an image.

After this both groups completed the same survey which they were asked to return within three weeks. The survey’s question, however, were essentially irrelevant, the only thing experimenters were interested in was how long participants took to complete and return the questionnaire. This was their measure of procrastination.

The results of this apparently simple manipulation were striking. Those who were thinking about the techniques of pointillism (concrete construal) returned their questionnaires in an average of 12.5 days while those thinking about emotion and harmony (abstract construal) took almost twice as long at an average of 20.5 days.

Reader Jeff Zemla thinks there’s a lesson in here for choice architects trying to design procedures to avoid procrastination. Keep the nudgee’s focus narrow. At least, when you put up a post-it note reminder to workout, it’s better to say, “Burn 500 calories today,” instead of, “Imagine how good you’ll look in that new outfit.”

Addendum: Is daydreaming just an exercise in “abstract construal”? Readers who want to see what La Parade looks like can go here.


Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky first proposed the term “planning fallacy” in their paper “Intuitive Prediction: Biases and corrective procedures” to describe the overoptimistic beliefs and procrastination that prevent people from doing all kinds of things on time like writing reports, filing taxes, or tackling do-it-yourself home projects. Economists Markus Brunnermeier, Filippos Papakonstantinou, and Jonathan Parker develop a theory to explain the planning fallacy in which people make poor predictions and procrastinate because the ex-ante benefit…s of anticipating that a task will be easy to complete are larger than the ex-post costs of planning poorly.

Without an intermediate deadline, two features of the model lead a person to exhibit the planning fallacy. First, the person has anticipatory utility. Thus a person who initially believes that the task will be easy to complete has higher expected utility because he anticipates less work in the future. This fi…rst ingredient provides an ex ante anticipatory benefit of overly optimistic beliefs. Second, the person optimizes given his beliefs. Thus a person with optimistic beliefs does little work in the present and ends up poorly smoothing work over time. This second ingredient implies an ex post cost of optimism on average: optimistic assessments lead to potentially costly delays and/or rushing at the end. Given these two ingredients, it is natural for people to exhibit the planning fallacy because a little optimism has fi…rst-order ex ante anticipatory benefits and, by the envelope theorem, only second-order ex post behavioral costs.

The trio tests their theory with observational data from experiments, and find that “monetary incentives for accurate prediction ameliorate the planning fallacy while incentives for rapid completion aggravate it.”

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Tyler Cowen says a conference he was recently invited to exhibited a behavioral economics inspired pricing scheme.

(T)he price of registration rises by $150 for every week that passes. This encapsulates at least two principles of behavioral economics. First, it combats our natural tendency to procrastinate. Second, if you register early you feel you have won a bargain when in fact it still costs something. This is of course also a planning externality if they know the number and nature of attendees sooner rather than later.

Isn’t this the same basic pricing strategy – charging more the closer it is to the event – that airlines use? One reason why airlines use this pricing strategy is to set aside a block of seats for likely last minute travelers, (ie. business travelers). Other events like concerts and New Year’s Eve parties sometimes use this price strategy, actually. As do night clubs and bars that give discounts if you show up before midnight.


Dan Goldstein digs up three terrific web tools for boosting productivity.

1) Gmail is experimenting with a “Take a Break” option that prevents users from checking their email for 15 minutes and directs them to do something more productive instead.

To use it, you’ll need to manually activate “Gmail Labs” inside Gmail. See the Gmail blog or if you’re impatient, try Settings -> Labs from Gmail. Right now, it’s only enabled in the US and UK.

2) A Windows program prevents users from opening and using any other program. Goldstein says this tool is designed to prevent opening email software or internet browser.

3) An add-on to FireFox called Time Tracker that logs how much time you waste (ahem, spend) on various sites.

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Says Slate.

30 years ago, just 5 percent of Americans were self-described “chronic procrastinators”; today that number is up to 26 percent.

Blame technology (again). Men procrastinate more than women; the young procrastinate more than the old.

And what does all that procrastination get procrastinators? Nothing but trouble.

“Procrastinators tend to be more miserable, less wealthy, and less healthy than those people who don’t dilly-dally,” says psychologist Piers Steel.

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