For Your Future Self’s Sake, Don’t Procrastinate

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Last month, we explored the weird concept of our future selves and our brains’ inability to recognize them as us. According to research led by Hal Hershfield of the University of California at Los Angeles, we tend to think of our future selves the same way we would a stranger. This helps explain why it’s so hard to get some of our most pressing problems under control, like failing to save enough for retirement or eating too much junk — it’s just hard to mentally connect the decisions we’re making now to the consequences they could lead to down the line. A recent article in Inc. by Leigh Buchanan points to this same research to explain another annoying issue many people struggle with: procrastinating at work.

At its core, procrastination represents shoddy treatment of the one person who should matter most to you: the future you,” writes Buchanan, who then quotes Timothy Pychyl, a psychologist at Carleton University who studies procrastination:

Resolving not to do some odious task today makes procrastinators feel good, Pychyl said. Then they predict they’ll feel just as good tomorrow, which will make the task easier. Of course, the next day they feel worse, which makes the task harder and the stress greater. … That same disregard for their future selves often leads people to cram their calendars with appointments. This allows them to take the neurochemical hit of pleasure that comes from scheduling something today — and to suffer the consequences of five back-to-back meetings next month. 

Think of it as splitting the workload fairly between now-you and future-you. Future-you will thank you for it.