February 28, 2005

Time Is Short!

The last two weeks of term are always hectic, with enough tests and coursework deadlines to keep anyone busy. Research published by the American Psychological Association suggests that we often overestimate the amount of time we’ll have available in the future to complete a given task; perhaps a reason for never ending procrastination.

If your appointment book runneth over, it could mean one of two things: Either you are enviably popular or you make the same faulty assumptions about the future as everyone else. Psychological research points to the latter explanation. Research by two business-school professors reveals that people over-commit because we expect to have more time in the future than we have in the present. Of course, when tomorrow turns into today, we discover that we are too busy to do everything we promised.
Gal Zauberman, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and John Lynch Jr., PhD, of Duke University, also learned from paper-and-pencil questionnaires that that this expectation of more time “slack,” a surplus of a given resource available to complete a task, is more pronounced for time than money.
The authors suspect that’s because every day’s a little different: The nature of time fools us and we “forget” about how things fill our days. Money is more “fungible,” freely exchanged for something of like kind — such as four quarters for a dollar bill. Write Zauberman and Lynch, “Barring some change in employment or family status, supply and demand of money are relatively constant over time, and people are aware of that. Compared with demands on one’s time, money needs in the future are relatively predictable from money needs today.”
Zauberman and Lynch continue, “People are consistently surprised to be so busy today. Lacking knowledge of what specific tasks will compete for their time in the future, they act as if new demands will not inevitably arise that are as pressing as those faced today.”

Full article here

Of course the moral of the story is that it’s better to get important things done now, given that you’re unlikely to have a huge surplus of spare time in the near future. You’re no more likely to be ‘in the mood’ for work a week from now, plus you can avoid much stress and pressure. It sounds so logical, yet so hard to actually do!


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