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Procrastination and Abstract Tasks

There’s an interesting article in the Economist about how people procrastinate less when given concrete tasks, rather than ones which require abstract thinking. This could well be relevant to how we should phrase the tasks we write in Autofocus or Do It Tomorrow (or any other time management system).

As the team report in Psychological Science, in all three studies, those who were presented with concrete tasks and information responded more promptly than did those who were asked to think in an abstract way. Moreover, almost all the students who had been prompted to think in concrete terms completed their tasks by the deadline while up to 56% of students asked to think in abstract terms failed to respond at all.

Reader Comments (6)

Fascinating reading Mark

It just goes to show how valuable rephrasing a task can be!
January 25, 2009 at 15:00 | Unregistered CommenterHannah
Which is why I encourage people to think about rephrasing tasks which get dismissed in Autofocus.
January 25, 2009 at 15:18 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
This is really interesting and very relevant to the way that I personally work, or don't work. If I have broken down a task into small concrete elements I feel that I have a good place to start. Thinking in the abstract and then taking action is a bit difficult for me. This just goes to show that rephrasing a task or breaking it down into smaller elements, maybe with a bit of a deadline, is the way to go.
January 25, 2009 at 19:58 | Unregistered CommenterSandy
I think it depends, sometimes having too specific a thing on your to-do list can create procrastination. Often I find by saying "work/look/think about project X" I get over the resistance to looking at a project because I'm resisting a particular task - I usually find once I'm there in that project's mind space then I'm more likely to do the task or chip away at it.

But sometimes the resistance is because I don't know what the next task is, then rephrasing instead of dismissing makes me work it out.

What's good about AF is that it is flexible to both situations.
January 25, 2009 at 23:48 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine CS
I would like to see examples of how people structure sentences (tasks) in AF.

In my case, tasks are strongly related to projects, so I use a format something like:

0 (project) (people) (brief task description)

x (project) (people) (brief task description)

How do you structure your tasks in AF list?

January 26, 2009 at 2:51 | Unregistered CommenterHugo
I also would like to see an example of the same task written in abstract and concrete mode. I think I am quite abstract.
January 27, 2009 at 0:24 | Unregistered CommenterSilvia

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