Procrastination

The Thief of Time reviewed at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Mark D. White

This week, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews published a review by Nomy Arpaly (Brown University) of The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination:

This book addresses the dearth of philosophical treatments of procrastination. It consists of fifteen articles, some by philosophers and some by psychologists, economists, and others. There are three parts to the book: one concerned with analyzing procrastination and finding out its sources, one that explores the connection between procrastination and imprudence and vice, and one which deals with ways in which procrastination can be overcome. Since the book's subtitle is "Philosophical Essays on Procrastination," a warning might be in order: strictly speaking, some of the essays are not philosophical, and some appear to sit on the borderline between moral psychology and just plain psychology or economics. Some articles even dabble in (scientifically savvy) self-help.

After going through the book part by part and chapter by chapter (and spending a long paragraph offering valuable praise and criticism of my chapter), she concludes:

All in all, this collection is good reading for anyone who would like to do philosophy on the subject of procrastination or who seeks to procrastinate her work by reading interesting things.

All in all, a thorough, fair, and overall positive review!


UPDATED: Procrastination featured on "To the Best of Our Knowledge"

Mark D. White

[UPDATED with the link to the actual podcast]

Two contributors to The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination, Jennifer A. Baker and (co-editor) Chrisoula Andreou, will be featured on the national Peabody Award-winning radio show “To the Best of Our Knowledge” on January 23, 2011. Air times for the Public Radio International/Wisconsin Public Radio show vary by station, but a podcast is available here. Baker, in particular, will discuss whether procrastination is a vice in the virtue-theoretical sense of the term, as she does in her Thief of Time chapter. (See here for more details on the show.)


Discipline and Paternalism in Parenting – Are these Virtues?

Jonathan B. Wight

Amy Chua’s fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal last week has been causing shock waves of cultural angst.

 “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” argues that American-style parents are failing to teach their children proper discipline that is needed for success and self esteem.  Instead, American-style parents mistakenly promote a self esteem of low expectations, which becomes a vicious cycle downwards.

In addition, Chua (who is a professor at Yale Law School) also argues that parents MUST be strictly paternalistic toward their children, and substitute their own preferences for those of the prevailing culture of self indulgence.

For a counter-story to this, see this follow-up in the New York Times yesterday, “Retreat of the ‘Tiger Mother’”.

The bottom line is:  Virtues are good.  But virtue taken to the extreme becomes a … vice!


Procrastination featured on CBC's The Current Tuesday, December 28

Mark D. White

I'll be appearing on CBC's The Current program Tuesday morning, December 28, discussing procrastination alongside Piers Steel, prominent procrastination researcher and author of The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done. I'll post a link to the online version/podcast as soon as I get it.

UPDATE: Here's the podcast.

 


Pychyl on procrastination and future selves

Mark D. White

Continuing his series of Psychology Today blog posts on The Thief of Time, Tim Pychyl most recently examined Christine Tappolet's chapter "Procrastination and Personal Identity." In her chapter, Tappolet argues that, if procrastination is interpreted as burdening one's "future self" with the foregone tasks of today, it reveals a lack of concern for future selves that plays into debates over psychological continuity account of personal identity.

Pychyl is more concerned with the claim that procrastination always burdens future selves (which, as he acknowledges, Tappolet herself qualifies). He augments her account, offering alternative interpretations of procrastination, such as this one:

I agree that it is tempting to conclude this if we frame it as an overriding concern for present self, but what if it is that one lacks the courage or the will to act in a way that would be best for future self. Most broadly, yes, future self is still losing to present self, but it's not so clear that it's lack of concern. It's not so clear that it's a kind of assault on the future self, the deliberate imposition of a burden on future self due to a lack of concern. It is possible that concern isn't what is lacking, but courage or will.

Alternatively, it is feasible to see future self as continuous with present self but not identical to future self. For example, future self is not as tired as present self is now. Future self will have more energy to face the dishes tomorrow. More energy means more willpower, something that present self lacks now. In short, present self doesn't see this as an imposition on future self, at least certainly not as much as it is on the exhausted present self.

So, on the one hand, our procrastination may reflect a moral failing of present self in relation to future self (a lack of courage), and on the other hand it may reflect an optimistic (and perhaps a naïve) hope that future self will have attributes that present self lacks (e.g., energy). In neither case do we have to assume a lack of special concern for future self.

For example, if I put off grading exams tonight because I'm too tired, and I expect my tomorrow-self to have more energy and focus, and therefore to do a better job, then I am merely taking advantage of the differential resources of my different time-selves by putting off grading until tomorrow. But then again, if this motivation is sincere, it might not count as procrastination, since it is neither against my better judgment nor would I regret it later (unless my tomorrow-self turned out to be in worse shape than my tonight-self!). In such a case, my better judgment recommends that I put off grading--unless that is a mere rationalization, in which case it would more likely count as procrastination, but also as an abuse of future selves rather than strategic, purposeful time-shifting. [UPDATE: Tim incorporated this into his original post as a comment.]

But I think the issue here is not so much with procrastination per se, but how we rely on, or take advantage of, our future selves, and what that tells us about both our concern for our future selves, our self-respect (across time), and our theories of personal identity. Pychyl has expanded our understanding of procrastination (yet again) by offering an alternative account of the relationship between procrastination and future selves, adding to Tappolet's seminal work in this area.


Timothy Pychyl on "Resisting Procrastination" at Psychology Today

Mark D. White

Timothy Pychyl, one of the most prominent researchers, writers, and educators on procrastination, features my chapter from The Thief of Time, "Resisting Procrastination: Kantian Autonomy and the Role of the Will," in his latest post on his Don't Delay blog at Psychology Today:

If I lock the refrigerator to block my late-night snacking, I might have made a useful predecision to protect myself against my seemingly uncontrollable urges, but there's another route. I could try harder and exert my will. The "will" is an old notion, often forgotten and even denied, but it has resurfaced in an important way in recent writing about how we can resist procrastination.

Fellow blogger, Mark White, is also the co-editor of one of my favorite books about procrastination, The thief of time: Philosophical essays on procrastination (2010, Oxford University Press). Mark's own contribution to this collection of essays is, I think, the most important in the volume. Why? Because he provides an articulate and balanced critique of the behavioral-economic model of procrastination.

He also highlighted my co-editor Chrisoula Andreou's Thief of Time chapter, "Coping with Procrastination," in his last previous post, and decicated podcast to her chapter and mine this past summer. Thanks, Tim!

(And make sure to check out Tim's new book, The Procrastinator's Digest!)


2011 ASSA Meetings: Rationality, preferences, self-control, and choice

Mark D. White

Continuing through the preliminary program for the upcoming Allied Social Science Association meetings in Denver in early January, I present below the fold several sessions that touch on rationality, preferences, self-control, and choice (as before, I've omitted the names of chairs and discussants, which can found on the program):

Continue reading "2011 ASSA Meetings: Rationality, preferences, self-control, and choice" »


Procrastination, divided selves, and class action suits

Mark D. White

At Prawfsblawg, Sergio Campos (University of Miami School of Law) picks up on a theme explored in The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination (as discussed in the New Yorker review) about divided selves and applies it to mandatory class action suits. From the post:

[M]ass torts are rife with internal conflicts.  For example, in asbestos litigation, the "presents" want to recovery as quickly and as much as possible, but the "futures" want to make sure that there are funds available for them should they manifest injury.  But how does the mandatory class action resolve this conflict?  In fact, by forcing individual plaintiffs to litigate collectively when they would be better off going alone, isn't the mandatory class action only making things worse, by, in effect, forcing the "high" value claims to subsidize the "low" value claims?   As I argue in my draft "Mass Torts and Due Process," focusing on conflicts among class members obscures a more fundamental conflict.  Like procrastination, mass torts primarily involve an intertemporal conflict within each class member.

Read the rest at Prawfsblawg...


Review of The Thief of Time in The New Yorker [UPDATED]

Mark D. White

WARNING: More indulgent self-promotion ahead...

TOT My book, The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination, edited with Chrisoula Andreou for Oxford University Press, has been reviewed by James Surowiecki for The New Yorker (UPDATED: with a follow-up Q&A with me and Chrisoula here).

From the review:

Academics, who work for long periods in a self-directed fashion, may be especially prone to putting things off: surveys suggest that the vast majority of college students procrastinate, and articles in the literature of procrastination often allude to the author’s own problems with finishing the piece. (This article will be no exception.) But the academic buzz around the subject isn’t just a case of eggheads rationalizing their slothfulness. As various scholars argue in “The Thief of Time,” edited by Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White (Oxford; $65)—a collection of essays on procrastination, ranging from the resolutely theoretical to the surprisingly practical—the tendency raises fundamental philosophical and psychological issues. You may have thought, the last time you blew off work on a presentation to watch “How I Met Your Mother,” that you were just slacking. But from another angle you were actually engaging in a practice that illuminates the fluidity of human identity and the complicated relationship human beings have to time. Indeed, one essay, by the economist George Ainslie, a central figure in the study of procrastination, argues that dragging our heels is “as fundamental as the shape of time and could well be called the basic impulse.”