When is investment procrastination?

I suggested recently that the link between procrastination and perfectionism has to do with construal level theory:

When you picture getting started straight away the close temporal distance puts you in near mode, where you see all the detailed impediments to doing a perfect job. When you think of doing the task in the future some time, trade-offs and barriers vanish and the glorious final goal becomes more vivid. So it always seems like you will do a great job in the future, whereas right now progress is depressingly slow and complicated.

This set of thoughts reminds me of those generally present when I consider the likely outcomes of getting further qualifications vs. employment, and of giving my altruistically intended savings to the best cause I can find now vs. accruing interest and spending them later. In general the effect could apply to any question of how long to prepare for something before you go out and do it. Do procrastinators invest more?


6 responses to “When is investment procrastination?

  1. Why would procrastinators invest more? They could just procrastinate and leave their money in cash, which also avoids the fearful prospect of losses…

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  2. Yeah, my guess is they spend less but don’t necessarily invest more.

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  3. In general, procrastination is about doing stuff we like to do instead of doing stuff we don’t like to do (or like less) in order to postpone incurring the (relative) disutility of the disliked activity. Consumption now is more pleasant than consumption in the future, and the higher the rate of time preference, the more relatively pleasant it seems to us. Procrastinators have high discount rates, and in most economic models (that makes sense) that means they are likely to have a lower savings rate, which again means that they are also likely to invest less.

    I also think that it would be quite easy to write a passage like the one quoted in the post explaining how it’s not optimal to invest your money now, because the return is perceived as much more uncertain now than in the future (because you know a lot of the elements which make up the relevant investment uncertainty now, you don’t know which are likely to apply in 10 years).

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  4. Incidentally, there’s a great piece on Procrastination in The New Yorker. Perhaps you would be interested in reading it: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2010/10/11/101011crbo_books_surowiecki

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  5. Mitchell Porter

    “giving my altruistically intended savings to the best cause I can find now”

    For the foreseeable future, it is very unlikely that any of your savings should be spent on anything but yourself. You – you specifically, not people in general – make a difference by thinking, saying, and doing things that are unique and worthwhile, and you have a long way to go in amplifying your individuality, and giving it a stable economic base, before diminishing returns set in. If it is nonetheless worthwhile for you to give money away, it can only be for idiosyncratic reasons that somehow involve you. You are not an anonymous generator of capital to be utilized by some subset of existing charitable purposes; you yourself are a “cause” or a meta-cause worthy of support.

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  6. ditto…“giving my altruistically intended savings…”…how the heck would anyone ever know anything about “best cause!?”….unless it’s a mating fitness signal in which case…”right on!”…but otherwise it’s a silli conceit….

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