The Procrastination Equation

Everything you wanted to know about procrastination but put off finding out.

It's Fight Procrastination Day: Here's Some Ammo

Fight procrastination the easy way with software

With September 6th (though often delayed until the 7th) being Fight Procrastination Day, we continue the ongoing story of one person's struggle to stop procrastination. Today, Erin P. tries out the strongest of all anti-procrastination techniques: precommitment. Written up in the post Bondage and Procrastination, precommitment is acting now to prevent yourself from acting otherwise later. For example, we throw sweets and treats into the trash when dieting to prevent later bingeing and we put our alarm clocks on the other side of the room to prevent hitting the snooze button in the morning and sleeping-in. Having acted earlier (e.g., thrown away that chocolate), we can't easily eat it or hit it.

Writers typically hate writing and have used almost all forms of precommitment to help them at their craft, including Victor Hugo and James Riley. These two wrote naked so as to prevent themselves from sneaking off to drink with friends at the local pub. While a fun example, nudism isn't practical for most of us, especially when we are at the office. Really, don't try it. Besides, the major temptation most of succumb to isn't at the pub but at our finger tips.

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Consider that you are reading this post at an Internet enabled computer. Aside from letting you read this post, the computer is also a portal to a virtual strip club, casino and games room. It is hard to work when it is so easy to do otherwise. To precommit against these temptations, here's a modern application from the Sci-Fi author Robert Sawyer. Sawyer technologically precommits using software:  Internet Access Controller. He also had his wife change his password to the program, preventing him from changing his mind.

To evaluate its effectiveness, I've had our extreme procrastinator Erin P. give it a test drive. So far, she says this is a keeper. Here's her perspective:

Overview of Internet Access Controller

 Internet Access Controller is a filter program that you download and install on your computer. When you enable the software, it will block the Internet according to the rules that you set up. If you try to access a blocked site, it will simply tell you that the site is not available. It costs $15 USD for a single permanent license, with different pricing options for families and businesses with multiple computers.

A few of the features:

  • Different filtering styles: You can define your filters based on a list of allowed or blocked sites, as well as setting which programs, services or IP addresses can access the Internet. So if you only want to block Facebook, then that's possible; or if you only want to allow Gmail, then that's also possible.
  • Applies to all user accounts: The software is automatically available for all user accounts, and you can personalize the filters for each user. So you can set up a "fun" user and a "work" user on the same computer, with different Internet filters applied to each profile. 
  • Groups subdomains together: The filters can be set-up to block all subdomains of a given site. For example, you can block ALL the videos, TV show pages, and news items just by blocking CTV's main address.
  • Password protection: You need to enter a password in order to enable/disable the software, or to make changes to the filters. So it's harder to turn off the filters and access something that you don't want to access.
  • Scheduling: The filters can be applied according to a schedule, so that you have certain hours that access is controlled, and other hours where it is freely available. So you can allow yourself time for distractions, while still blocking certain sites when you're trying to get work done.

What I like about it...

It's always on, automatically.
In my battle against procrastination, one of the hardest things to do each day is just to get started. If I had to turn on my Internet filter each day before I could start work, I think I would just keep delaying that action. But when it turns itself on (according to my schedule), it triggers me to open up a work file and get something done. This doesn't take up any of my energy, which leaves me to focus my energy on my work.

Very easy to use.
Learning to use the software is fast and simple, the screens have short explanations when needed without needing to use the help files. I was able to set up the filters that I wanted in less than 20 minutes.

What I dislike about it...

Sometimes it's finicky for blocking subdomains.
Occasionally a site can sneak through the filters. I don't know why, maybe the site has a different type of structure? Anyways, you just need to try different ways of listing the site's address in the filters until you find one (or two) ways that work. This isn't a big flaw, just something that can take a bit of trial and error. Also, it didn't happen very often, and I was always successful in blocking the sites that I wanted to block.

You can't include different filters in a single schedule.
This is my biggest disappointment. I would love to block my email access, but to allow myself email "breaks" when email is accessible but all my distracting sites are not. However, this isn't possible with the schedule function. You can create a work-around solution where email is allowed on one user profile, but not allowed on another - so you have to sign into a different user account to then access your email. I didn't think it was worth the effort for me, but it is a possible way to solve the problem.

A note on social networks

I've read that social networks are addictive because they are unpredictable in terms of when they will give you a "reward." The fact that you never know when there will be new content means that you're likely to check the network often.

For me, this is entirely true: I have a couple of social networks that I check constantly! And I was surprised how much it had become a reflex. Once Internet access controller was enabled, I knew that the link would only lead me to a "this webpage is not available" screen, and yet I would still click the links to my networks. It took a number of days before my body seemed to realize that clicking the link wasn't fun anymore. This experience was both interesting and embarrassing all at the same time.

Bottom Line

This is an excellent piece of software.

highly recommend it for anyone looking to prevent themselves from wasting hours on useless sites.

And Back To Me

I'm giving this my professional stamp of approval. From a psychological point of view, Internet Access Controller has several features that make it effective. First, the program runs automatically. It isn't a precommitment device if you have to enable it when you already being tempted. And it isn't a very good precommitment device if you can get around it too easily. That is, it runs in all your log-ons and is password protected, means no easy work-arounds. To make that password thing work for you, either make it obscenely long or have a friend change the password for you. The first gives you some flexibility but the second is harder to subvert.

In addition, a lot of our behaviors are cued by the environment. There are cues for checking your email or your social network status but fewer cues for getting back to work. Erin found that when Internet Access Controller turned on, aside from stopping her from surfing, also cued her to work, effortlessly. Now that's exactly what we want, for motivation just to come upon us without all the drama or struggle. As I say, "Let the environment do all your motivational heavy lifting."

As you can see from Erin's review, the software isn't yet perfect. We are in the early days of developing this form of self-control assistance. But don't worry. I'm working on it.

Have a detailed procrastination assessment either online or with this complementary The Procrastination Quotient iPhone app.

Looking for a fun book that informs? Take a peek at The Procrastination Equation. It is the perfect gift for the birthday you missed or anniversary you overlooked. Order your copy. Check out the reviews.

Piers Steel has a Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and is a student of life and a professor of procrastination. more...

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