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People choose more difficult tasks to get jobs done faster.

Putting off tasks until later, procrastination, is common, but new research suggests that "pre-crastination," hurrying to complete a task as soon as possible, may also be common.

The research suggests that people often opt to begin a task as soon as possible just to get it off their plate, even if they have to expend more physical effort to do so.

While conducting an experiment to explore the trade-off between the weight of a bucket and how far people would carry it, researchers stumbled on a surprising finding: Participants often chose an action that took more physical effort, choosing the near bucket even though that meant they would have to carry it further.

Intrigued by the counterintuitive finding, they conducted nine experiments, each of which had the same general setup: "We asked university students to pick up either of two buckets, one to the left of an alley and one to the right, and to carry the selected bucket to the alley's end," the authors report in their article abstract. "In most trials, one of the buckets was closer to the end point. We emphasized choosing the easier task, expecting participants to prefer the bucket that would be carried a shorter distance."

In the first three experiments, participants showed an overwhelming tendency to choose whichever bucket had the shorter approach distance, which translated to the longer carrying distance.

When the students were asked to explain why they chose the bucket they did, they often said that they "wanted to get the task done as soon as they could."

Picking up a bucket may seem like a trivial task, said the lead author, David Rosenbaum, PhD, of Penn State University's Department of Psychology. But he speculates that it still stood out on participants' mental to-do lists: "By picking up the near bucket, they could check that task off their mental to-do lists more quickly than if they picked up the far bucket," he explains. "Their desire to lighten their mental load was so strong that they were willing to expend quite a bit of extra physical effort to do so."

Interestingly, "Almost all the people we tested pre-crastinated," Rosenbaum said, "so procrastinating and precrastinating may turn out to be two different things."

The researchers also want to examine whether physical ability limitations might play a role in the effect: "If it's a big deal for someone to carry a load a long distance, then he or she may be more judicious in their decision-making," Rosenbaum explains. "Elderly or frail people may therefore have better memory management abilities than more able-bodied individuals."

SOURCE: Association for Psychological Science press release: <http://www. index.php/news/releases/ get-it-over-with-peoplechoose-more-difficult-tasks- to-get-jobs-done-morequickly.html>. Journal abstract: <http://pss.sagepub. com/content/early/2014/05/06/ 0956797614532657.abstract>.

Culled By Kathleen McCarthy,

The Advocate

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Title Annotation:Research Findings
Author:McCarthy, Kathleen
Publication:The Advocate (American Mental Health Counselors Association)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2014
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