Ming the Mechanic:
More time later?

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 More time later?2005-02-16 14:53
13 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

Some psychologists are studying how people's perception of available time changes when it is in the future. Article in New Scientist:
The best time to ask someone for a favour is at least several weeks in advance, a new study suggests. The research finds that people consistently over-commit because they expect to have more time in the future than they do right now.

Previous studies have shown that people generally "value things less in the future than now", says Gal Zauberman, a consumer-behaviour researcher at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, US. For example, many people prefer to pay for something in a week's time rather than today - even if it costs slightly more.

Now, Zauberman and colleague John Lynch at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, have found that this tendency is even stronger for time than for money.

"When asked to do something far in the future, we usually say 'yes'. Sure, I'll be happy to help you write a paper or move apartments," Zauberman told New Scientist. "People always like to delay things, but they are more optimistic about changes in time than in money."

So, they did experiments and asked a bunch of people questions, elliciting how much time and money they felt they had available now, and at various future times. For both, most people will act as if they'll have more of them in the future. But more so with time than with money. And the further it is into the future, the more likely it is we think we have the time, and the more likely it is we'll say yes to activities we couldn't possibly say yes to right now.

How can we be so wrong? I do that too, of course. But if I really look at it, I'm terribly busy right now, and I only seem to get busier. Whether I'll have money or not, I can't say, but it certainly seems I get more and more to do per unit of time. So, in the moment I struggle to focus on the most important things, and I say no to lots of things. But ask me to help you later, in a few weeks, with something ridiculously time consuming and open-ended which I don't really feel like doing, and I might say yes. Maybe mainly to be nice, but it somehow feels safe to promise it "later", even if it is idiotic, and sooner or later that time comes, and I'll regret it.

I'm sure that time organization in many ways is a key to success and peace of mind in life. Particularly that little thing on whether you fill up your future with lots of work intensive junk you've promised to do, or whether you do the opposite: arranging things now so that your future will be uncommitted and open.


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13 comments

16 Feb 2005 @ 17:56 by astrid : This, right here,
"...Particularly that little thing on whether you fill up your future with lots of work intensive junk you've promised to do, or whether you do the opposite: arranging things now SO THAT YOUR FUTURE WILL BE UNCOMMITTD AND OPEN" is the SECRET why we should take heed of the message in your article, Ming! THANK YOU!!!  


17 Feb 2005 @ 00:24 by Ge Zi @24.126.199.23 : perspective
it's all a matter of perspective. a day in the distance of one year looks very small, a whole day tomorrow look relatively much bigger. That's I guess how it works. Same as thinking of going to war to fight the terrorists, when the 'terrorists' are 10000 miles away is not so bad, but if he is standing right in front of you that is a different story.  


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