Today's Tidbit: Know Your Limitations

Know Your Limitations

Dianne Tice and Roy Baumeister gave a bunch of college students a questionnaire in which the students answered questions about their work habits. In a class which she taught, Tice also assigned a paper with a deadline which she said could be extended and observed which students availed themselves of the option to extend.

Based on this information and the results of the questionnaire, Tice and Baumeister classified students as to whether or not they were procrastinators. Tice and Baumeister then observed how the students did academically over the course of the semester.

Procrastinators claim they procrastinate because they are perfectionists. But it's all nonsense, for as Tice and Baumeister found "the procrastinators did worse by every academic measure."

They also asked the students to keep a record of their health and found that the procrastinators were sicker, particularly at the end of the semester, than the non-procrastinators.

In a related study, Roy Buehler found that students took twice as long to write their honors theses as they predicted it would take them. And more than half of the students he studied took longer than they predicted it would take them in the worst case scenarios.

Evidently, however, students were significantly more accurate in predicting how long it would take other students to finish. It is as if we are able to assess the abilities of others more accurately than we can assess our own abilities.

But of course, to some extent that is true. In order to deceive others, we deceive ourselves with regard to our own abilities. We think we can put things off because we overestimate our ability to get things done.

So, the next time you're writing an honors thesis, best to heed to words of Harry Callahan, "A man's got to know his limitations."


  • "Willpower", 2011 book by R. F. Baumeister & J. Tierney, page 238-51
  • "Longitudinal Study of Procrastination, Performance, Stress, and Health: The Costs and Benefits of Dawdling", 1997 article by Diane Tice and Roy Baumeister in Psychological Science 8, pages 454-58
  • "Exploring the 'Planning Fallacy': Why People Underestimate Their Task Completion Times", by R. Buehler, D. Griffin, and M. Ross in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67 (1994), pages 366-81
  • "The Nature of Procrastination: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review of Quintessential Self-Regulatory Failure", by Piers Steel, in Psychological Bulletin 133, No. 1 (January 2007): 67
  • "Magnum Force", 1973 movie

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