Recently, I wrote here about a common excuse people report for why they procrastinate: They say our lives today are much busier than in the past. It seems that we have so much more around us competing for our attention and our behaviors. But that is a myth—a fraudulent excuse, if you will. There have been 168 hours in a week for centuries and life has progressed within that time frame. We can’t manage time; we manage ourselves.
Another common fraudulent excuse I‘ve heard often over the past 30-plus years of research on procrastination—and it too is a myth—is that today’s technology makes it easier to procrastinate. Our “tech toys” seem to “suck” all the time we have to do other things and these devices and programs hinder more than help us live satisfactory lives.
There is some truth to this myth; most myths have some small level of truth, which is why they spread and are believed: They make sense, and we can relate. Clearly, there are some people who experience a feeling akin to “internet addition” from using technology so often. It is a serious and seemingly growing concern, and treatment is recommended. (See Ferrari, 2010, for extended details on chronic procrastination).
Still, the question remains: Do technology tools today promote procrastination by making it easier to procrastinate than in the past?
My answer: No.
Let me respond by telling a short story from a media interview I did a number of years ago. In 2006 a reporter from a Connecticut paper phoned me asking my opinion about snooze buttons on alarm clocks. Alarm clocks? Snooze buttons? Why ask me? What did I know about them? (Does anyone still have those buttons—or those clocks? I do!)
The reporter continued, sharing that in 1956 snooze buttons were first made available for consumer use on alarm clocks, and it had now been 50 years since their first availability on the market. Moreover, he claimed that snooze buttons were the “first technology that allowed us to procrastinate.”
How clever! How interesting!
You see, pressing the snooze button on the clock gains another 8 or 9 minutes of “sleep” before the alarm goes off again. It permits a person to procrastinate from getting up in the morning.
But also, how false. While the snooze button does let one sleep longer, it was not the first technology used to help us procrastinate.
I did a little investigating after that interview and learned that in 1885, Benz Motors created the first gas-powered “automobile.” Now, instead of taking time to pull the horses to one’s cab, set up the reins for the carriage, expending a great deal of effort and time, with the new “horseless carriage” a person could wait until they were ready and just drive down the road for miles to see their friend. The auto industry let people procrastinate.
In 1879, Alexander Bell created a thing we call the “telephone.” Before that technology, a person who wanted to contact others had to write a letter, place it in the postal service, and maybe wait a couple of weeks before getting a reply. Now, with this new tool, you could crank up your telephone, reach a person called an “operator,” and they could connect you in minutes to your friend or family member. Bell Labs made procrastination easier.
Do not blame the tech toys of today for your procrastinating. That is a myth. There has always been technology that made it easier to live. Those tools are not the issue; it’s how we use or abuse the technology that promotes procrastination.
Ask yourself, does your smartphone, your instant messaging, and your Snap chats, make you more productive? I suspect not. Those who know me know I still use and prefer my old-fashioned daily planner as a calendar. I find (and I laugh when it happens) that I can flip to a date on my schedule faster than others using electronic calendars. Is the calendar tech helpful? Sure, it can be. But by depending on so much tech we can spend our time focused on a tech toy rather than living life.
My friend,s step away from the tech toys. Do not use them as your fraudulent excuse for not getting things done. Instead, focus on others, on relationships, on community. Make the world a better place, not a virtual space. It is said we have 70, 80 years if we are strong. So, ask yourself, how will you leave a legacy that lasts for the betterment of the world?
Ferrari, J.R. (2010). Still procrastinating? The no regrets guide to getting it done. New York: John Wiley & Sons.