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A formula for procrastination took 10 years to complete. Could it have been done sooner?

Procrastination – that nagging productivity problem that just won’t do one. The word is from the Latin ‘pro’, which means ‘forward’, and ‘crastinus’ meaning ‘tomorrow’. One for the pub quizzers.

For anyone struggling with this modern-day nasty, there’s hope. A bright spark called Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary, spent 10 years creating a formula for procrastination. ‘The Temporal Motivation Theory’ calculates dilly dallying: Procrastination = Utility = E x V / (Gamma) x D.

Let’s make that you and I speak: The formula is Task Completion = Self Confidence x Task Value / Task Urgency x Surrounding Distractions. This means your ability to get a task done is divided into two broad parts: self confidence, which is how good you think you are at the task, and task value, which is how much worth the task adds to your life/work. They are multiplied together.

Meanwhile, the ability to put off the task – how far away the deadline is – and distractions are also multiplied together. Then the above two broad parts are divided by each other.

As an example, I have a presentation to write for a Tesco buyer in two weeks. It’s a big pitch, but my self confidence is OK, and the value of the task is huge. So, I am motivated to get it done. Yet, the urgency is not there. I’ll procrastinate.

Changing the example to ‘I have a presentation to write for a Tesco buyer tomorrow’. All the above are the same, yet the immediacy factor has changed. So, I get it done. The challenge is, how do you get it done when it is not immediate?

That’s where we need to look at the other three factors: self confidence, task value and surrounding distractions. Self confidence comes with experience and you can change little here. Task value is what it is, too. It’s in door number three that we can really make the difference – surrounding distractions.

If you want to improve your chances of getting a task done, do this:

  • Set Outlook to offline.
  • Turn your phone to silent.
  • Book a meeting with yourself.
  • Set your instant messages system to off/busy.
  • Do the task and nothing else for 20 minutes.
  • At the end of the 20 minutes reward yourself with a small break and get a coffee.