Who Said ‘Don’t Procrastinate’?

Making the Right Decision May Require Some Time

Finally, I have found an authoritative source—no less than Kiplinger—telling me that something I have occasionally done all my life is indeed a good thing.


It comes from a column in this month’s Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, reprinted in last Sunday’s Washington Post. And although it’s about investing, the conclusions can be used to help in other situations as well. It’s all about the choices we have—in this article’s case, stocks and mutual funds. Barry Schwartz, professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, and a “decision-science guru” (wow!) calls the task of choosing between all the available options for where we invest our money “preposterous.”

“Surprisingly,” writes Kiplinger’s Bob Frick, “the most effective way to beat the status-quo bias is to procrastinate a bit. When we are prompted to make a quick decision, human nature nudges us toward a default option; a little delay often helps us pick a better alternative. According to research by psychologist Niels van de Ven, of the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research in the Netherlands, subjects chose the default option 82% of the time when asked to decide immediately but only 56% of the time after some delay.”

The article recommends delaying the decision and getting some sleep. That can be a bit of a cliché, but psychologist Christopher Chabris, co-author of “The Invisible Gorilla … And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us,” says not to underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. Studies have shown that “fatigue has huge negative effects on decision-making—much worse than you would expect.”

Narrowing your choices is also a good thing, the article adds. The next line I can attest to wholeheartedly: “Having too many alternatives is not just confusing, it can actually make you depressed.” This comes again from Schwartz, who is the author of the 2004 book “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.” Give me an assignment with a choice of a couple topics and I will go home, think about it, decide and sleep well. Give me a choice of 10 topics and I will go home, wrestle over them all, throw pillows at the cat and toss and turn in my sleep. (Then it’s full circle and I’m back to the lack of sleep.)

At last June’s Opening Keynote of the SIPA Annual Conference, Joseph Kayne showed one of the now-famous invisible gorilla videos. (Even if you’ve seen this, it might be worth watching again for another couple twists.) Kayne made the point that we don’t look at the periphery of things enough; we concentrate on one part of a process and shut everything else out. “Be counter-intuitive, create collisions,” he advised. Instead of just seeing challenges in your work, see the possibilities. (He offered SIPA the alternative title of the See Infinite Possibilities Association.)

The Kiplinger article mentions the late psychologist Herbert Simon, also a Nobel-prize winning economist, a political scientist and much more. He divided the decision-making task into three steps:
1. The identification and listing of all the alternatives;
2. The determination of all the consequences resulting from each of the alternatives; and
3. The comparison of the accuracy and efficiency of each of these sets of consequences

Of course, we cannot know all the alternatives and consequences, so Simon wrote this: “The human being striving for rationality and restricted within the limits of his knowledge has developed some working procedures that partially overcome these difficulties. These procedures consist in assuming that he can isolate from the rest of the world a closed system containing a limited number of variables and a limited range of consequences.”

Given all that, it’s easy to see where perhaps a bit of procrastination—as long as the time is put to good use—can be a positive step in the decision-making process.


Here’s Something You Should Not Procrastinate on!
(because space is limited)

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