Why Procrastinating Doesn’t Make Law School Applicants Happy (and Why It Doesn’t Stop): Part One, the Problem

Jim Surowiecki has a fine summary of the burgeoning literature on procrastination in behavioral economics in a recent New Yorker.  A few points salient for all those who delay preparing for the LSAT and putting their law school applications together:

Procrastinating generally doesn’t make us happy.  Most people would prefer to avoid delays and do the work they’re supposed to do on time, they just don’t.  Indeed, the more you delay, the more it weighs and the less happy about the delay you become.  So, why do most of us procrastinate anyway?

It’s not just ignorance (we know better) or a failure of will.  The problem, as St. Paul said in a different context, is that we have multiple wills, and sometimes the wrong one wins, partly because the benefit of procrastination is near-term and the benefit of completing the task longer-term.  In addition, people usually underestimate the impact of the most predictable of things—unpredictable interruptions—and fail to budget enough “insurance time” to account for it.

The literature also suggests that a significant reason for procrastination is the fear of failure; it’s better not to complete a task, or to provide an “out” for not doing it as well as possible, because of a fear that one might not succeed as well as one had hoped.

The fear of failure is, I think, an especially important explanation in the universe of pre-law students.  They’re used to being at the top of the academic heap, and yet, here’s a process in which only a few of them will obtain a terrific LSAT score or gain admission to a first-rate law school.  And competitive people may prefer not to find out whether they’re in those groups on a less prestigious group.

But that’s damaging not only to your law school prospects but also to your career as a legal professional.  We’re not talking here about eliminating procrastination but making it manageable and not damaging.  When you’re a legal professional, clients and supervising lawyers will give short-, medium- and long-term deadlines and will expect you to meet them.  If you wait too long to start (and your client or supervisor, assuming you’re self-directed, often won’t monitor your progress regularly), your work product will suffer and your clients and supervisors will be unhappy.  The “out” won’t matter to your long-term prospects.  And if you’re a professional, you won’t be that happy with yourself, either.

So, how does one solve the procrastination problem?  More to the point, how does a person who wants to prepare for the LSAT or put the pieces in place for her or his law school application (but is inclined, as most of us are, to put it off) solve that problem so that her or his best LSAT score and law school options can be obtained?  That’s the topic of our next blog post (am I just procrastinating?).

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on October 12, 2010.

2 Responses to “Why Procrastinating Doesn’t Make Law School Applicants Happy (and Why It Doesn’t Stop): Part One, the Problem”

  1. […] yesterday’s post, I talked about a terrific summary of behavioral economics literature on procrastination by James […]

  2. […] you’re trading your time at the beginning for more time at the end.  I’ve talked about why procrastinating doesn’t make people happy before, and this is another reason—if you’re sacrificing sleep because you put something off, […]

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