Procrastination and Human Emotions

Procrastination and Human Emotions


Procrastination gets a bad rap: as a demon outside of ourselves, sitting on our extremities, preventing us from picking up a pen, or a broom, or a copy of TurboTax, like we know we’re supposed to. It’s that little imp that has had me up making a total of three separate cups of tea while I attempt to compose the very sentence you are currently reading.

But, as I’ve written in this space before, procrastination is actually linked to deeply set survival mechanisms in the human brain. Previous research has pointed to a battle between your limbic system (“fight or flight”) and prefrontal cortex (the slower, more rational future-planner) as the crux of procrastination. But just because procrastination is a natural response to perceived danger doesn’t mean it’s appropriate all the time. (Like when you spend a week trying to pick up the phone to book a dental cleaning.)

The New York Times has a fascinating deep dive into procrastination-as-self-harm, and how, as such, it’s actually more of an emotional regulation issue rather than a productivity issue. Researchers say it prioritizes a quick repair of bad feelings sourced in self-doubt, boredom, anxiety, etc., over the long-term happiness of successfully completing a task.

“But, of course, this only compounds the negative associations we have with the task, and those feelings will still be there whenever we come back to it, along with increased stress and anxiety, feelings of low self-esteem and self-blame. […]

But the momentary relief we feel when procrastinating is actually what makes the cycle especially vicious. In the immediate present, putting off a task provides relief — ‘you’ve been rewarded for procrastinating,’ [professor of psychology Dr. Fuchsia] Sirois said. And we know from basic behaviorism that when we’re rewarded for something, we tend to do it again. This is precisely why procrastination tends not to be a one-off behavior, but a cycle, one that easily becomes a chronic habit.”

So how do we shake off the demon? Forget Getting Things Done or Pomodoro or any number of productivity-focused techniques — counter-intuitively, they won’t help procrastination.

We have to address the very unpleasant feelings procrastination is trying to help us avoid. According to the researchers in the NYT profile, that means finding a “Bigger, Better Reward” for our brains than putting things off. This can involve dividing a big task up so we get more frequent “hits” of reward. Or forgiving ourselves for the times we do procrastinate, so we’re not compounding our bad feelings by beating ourselves up. In short, recognizing that we’re human — and that it’s not a bad thing — can help us overcome our most human of protective mechanisms.

Computing without Computers

When we first started out, DFC was primarily in the hardware/software business. Since then, we have moved to include networks, security, and bespoke business solutions. I see DFC’s trajectory as a metaphor for the development of computing at large. Time was, you got the unit first (whether out-of-the-box or DIY) and then futzed around figuring things out and building muscle memory. In short, in the chicken or egg metaphor, the egg of hardware came first, before the chicken of skills.
In today’s modern and connected world, having computing skills are taken for granted — but what happens if you’ve never even seen a computer? Ghanaian information and communications technology teacher Richard Appiah Akoto is subverting the binary: successfully teaching his students how to use a computer, without a single computer to practice on.
The mother of Mr Akoto’s invention is the fact that public schools in Ghana lack the significant resources of private schools. His enthusiastic Facebook posts about his work went viral last month, and the BBC has produced a video of his teaching in action. In it, he replicates the standard working screen of Microsoft Word with chalk and a ruler on a blackboard, then guides his students step-by-step through its processes by pointing at each function. He also explains how to use a mouse, and a keyboard, by drawing them too. Watch the video here.
Mr Akoto is dedicated to making sure his students pass the national ICT exam and compete with students in the future workforce from larger cities, and whose schools have computers. His students, like those in a computer-filled lab, still need some wrangling — but mostly due to lack of context for what they’re learning.
“It’s sometimes challenging. You will draw, and expect the student to do the same thing, but you go around to inspect it in their books, and they will be doing a different thing,because they are not familiar with the features.” Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9rtFiZ7unw
“Definitely those in Accra [Ghana’s capital] will pass the exam because you cannot compare someone who is in front of a computer, who knows what he is doing with the mouse to someone who has not had a feel of a computer mouse before.”
Link: https://qz.com/africa/1217879/a-ghana-teacher-shows-microsoft-windows-on-a-blackboard-is-a-viral-sensation/

Upon hearing Mr Akoto’s story, Microsoft pledged to send his class one computer, gratis. Several other donors have since stepped up to fill the need for as many desktops as possible. While the donated computers will take his students far, I think Mr. Akoto’s ingenuity is the greater gift — showing kids that limits can be dissolved by outside the box thinking.

Artisan vs. American: Cheese and the Business Context

processed cheese slices

Out in DFC country, we are definitely spoiled when it comes to quality food — especially dairy. In particular, some of our province’s best (in my opinion) cheeses can be found a stone’s throw 
This cheesy reality got me thinking about how responsiveness to context is deeply necessary for business success. Artisan cheesemaking makes a lot of sense in a marketplace that values that kind of handmade attention — like in our area, where The Frontenac Arch is literally a UNESCO-designated protected environment, and sustainability is a community concern. But in a world where you could have a gorgeous salty squeaky perfect cheese curd, or a slice of blue so delicately aged you’ll want to put it in a museum, why would you “waste” your time with a floppy square of American cheese or hunk of Velveeta?
I didn’t pick the much-maligned Kraft Single or its melty cousin for effect: one of my favourite newsletters outlines the history of processed-cheese, and, friend — It’s all about context. American cheese was actually invented by a Canadian, James R. Kraft. It being 1916, the American military was in search of a cheese-like product that would remain edible after shipping to troops then engaged on the battlefields of World War 1. When the soldiers’ context changed after the end of hostilities, their taste for the orange squares did not, and American cheese entered the civilian palate.
The invention of Velveeta was economy-conscious as well:
“Emil Frey, the Swiss-born inventor of Velveeta, honed in on another problem that processed cheese could solve — waste. While working for the Monroe Cheese Factory in New York state, he developed a way to melt and combine scraps from imperfect wheels into a new cheese using whey as an emulsifying agent. Et voila, Velveeta. Kraft quickly purchased the brand. As the American appetite for uniform, pre-packaged food grew, the company rolled out innovation after innovation: Pre-sliced cheese in 1950 was followed by individually wrapped Kraft Singles in 1965 and Velveeta Shells and Cheese in 1978.”
So the presence of processed-cheese on our shelves is not necessarily a sign of cultural stagnation but of cultural — and business! — adaptation. As an American by birth, I can respect the opinion that a Kraft Single might make the best grilled cheese, or Velveeta the most nostalgic mid-century cheeseball. But as a Canadian by choice… A gooey slice of some local Madawaska wins every time!