Procrastination is associated with a range of negative outcomes across many different aspects of an individual's domains of life and it occurs when people are faced with tasks that seem aversive, difficult, or displeasing. How can we design a solution that can help combat and alleviate the negative feelings associated with procrastination?
Develop a persuasive application that intervenes an unhealthy habit or behavioral problem. Back up design decisions with psychology research.
Anukriti Kedia, Saloni Sabnis, Bolade Fatade, Margaret Williams
UI/UX, Research, Prototyping, Ideation, Visual Communication, Illustration
Phase 1: Discovery
We examined existing research on the subject of procrastination, including different intervention methods, the role technology plays in intervention, and the associated strategies of persuasion for reducing the anxiety surrounding these aversive tasks.
Here are some more interesting points from our research:
Most people struggle with visualizing their future selves as they do things that will only benefit them in the short term.
Previous work by Daniel Goldstein showed that merely exposing people to visual representations of their future self could alter behavior. For instance, using aging software was adequate to get people to change their investment habits (Goldstein, 2011)
One way to combat procrastination is through reframing; shifting the negative image you have of a task to a positive one.
Fundamentally, changing the perception you have of an activity can help mitigate further procrastination (Evans et al,. 2009). In addition, reflecting too heavily on previous procrastination behavior, could cause anxiety (Lay, 1994, Stainton et al., 2000).
Competitive Analysis on Existing Products
To ensure that our design was informed by as much of the existing work out there, our team additionally performed an analysis of the existing technologies in the field of procrastination and time management. We looked at google calendar, asana, and trello
In particular, Moodnotes was interesting because it aims to help users develop healthier thinking habits by tracking mood and behaviors. This design later informed some of our design.
Moodnotes attempts to:
Increase the user’s self awareness, to reduce the user’s distress and enhance their sense of self and well-being
Bring the user awareness of their habits and a greater sense of their self. This would allow the user to reduce the anxiety surrounding averse tasks and thereby reduce the procrastination tendencies of the user
User Interview and Persona
We interviewed 9 students from ages 20 to 30 and from various disciplines what their procrastination habits were and how they dealt with procrastination. Our target users were self-motivated professionals and students who wanted to increase their productivity level and decrease procrastination.
Many participants defined productivity as putting off tasks until later, engaging in unimportant but enjoyable activities (e.g social media) & thinking they have more time to do something than they actually do.
The most common activities that were procrastinated on were things that required high levels of concentration (e.g research papers, assignments).
If interviewees didn’t find a task intrinsically interesting, they were likely to procrastinate on it as well (e.g finances & taxes)
I found that there were more intervention possibilities at the beginning of procrastination when you have a chance to stop it, as when you’re too far in, it’s already too late to stop it.
Main Themes From Research
After gaining a deeper insight into the research behind the problem of procrastination, we found these 5 main possible themes & solutions that could tackle procrastination. From the user studies, we found it particularly helpful to see what types of problems our users are facing in that field.
For Self Regulation, How might we build a state of self awareness to increase sense of self & connection to their tasks and emotions?
For Visualizing Future Self, How might we build on a more consciousness connection with the future self?
For Emotional Regulation, How might we mitigate negative emotions attached to tasks and procrastination and build a state of emotional regulation?
For Goal Pursuit, How might we use goal pursuit techniques to motivate people to complete tasks?
For Reframing, How might we use reframing techniques to convert negative emotions to positive ones?
Phase 2: Design and Lo-Fi Prototyping
After gathering our findings, we designed three prototypes that tackled 3 methods of combating procrastination through our research. The 3 methods include visualizing the future self, emotional regulation, and a digital buddy that talks through user’s problems and gives self-affirmations. We decided to focus more on tackling the emotional side of procrastination instead of the scheduling route so that people can change their thought processes from the root of the cause of procrastination
Concept 1: Orb
The first concept, Orb, mainly targeted the idea of visualizing the future self to motivate users towards goal pursuit through an abstract representation and constant feedback (phone screen, reminders).
A simple form of a circle as a metaphor for balance and a basic palette of colors to represent goal fulfillment
Users would choose what factors contributed the most to the image they held of their future self. Based on the user’s selection, the app would assign a color to each of the variables and schedule subgoals for corresponding categories
As tasks are completed, the future orb will start filling up with color and serve as motivation towards completing tasks through visualization and reminders
Concept 2: Flowers
This concept integrates a chatbot counselor with an emotional regulation dashboard & progress indicators using a friendly animated flower. During stressful periods, the app provides uses affirmations & counseling using psychological techniques such as the “Four Walls” approach.
Using reframing, the dashboard displays progress on daunting tasks by creating an animated flower that grows visually in direct proportion to progress made
A summary of your emotional timeline throughout the tracked working period. Specific metrics include chat summaries, most & least productive times and tasks as well as information on previous weeks.
A chat bot provides counseling during stressful times and can help persuade users to work using psychological persuasive techniques such as “four walls”
Concept 3: Digital Buddy
The digital buddy was a voice bot scheduling assistant that resides within the app and utilises touch as well as voice inputs, and helps to increase awareness of emotions related to tasks and regulating them as a means of preventing procrastination.
Simple tagging of emojis to reflect user’s mood on tasks
User adds tasks and deadlines using voice for easy input, and plits it into smaller tasks
Used ‘reframing’ as a technique to change negative thoughts towards tasks, and used reframed thoughts as reminders for users for tasks completion
Summary analytics on historical behavior and emotion for awareness of patterns
After getting user feedback from the three concepts and wire frames, we compiled our findings.
Here are some feedback:
For the first concept (orb), users like that they could instantly visualize their performance and thought that abstracting goals was a clever design choice. However, they users found that repeatedly seeing “future self” in the copy was awkward, and was unsettled by constantly seeing their future self displayed, as they weren’t sure how it was being measured (goals? time?)
For the second concept (flowers), participants liked the choosing of personalities for the bot, but they thought that it might be against their best interest if they chose a friendly versus a logical bot. They liked the 4 walls persuasive techniques, but were indifferent to the flower metaphor
For the third concept (digital buddy), users liked the simple interface and auto breakdown of deadlines. They also liked the historical performance and the motivational reminders. However, users were confused about the focus mode/Do Not Disturb mode. Some of the options for rescheduling was too limiting to be effective.
After getting user feedback, we tried combining all the positive features of each prototype and collage them into one final design.
Synthesis and Ideation
When ideating for solutions, we also looked back to our design principle and implication to make sure our design principle fits with the needs of our user
Design should allow people to feel at ease when completing daunting tasks
Design should make it easier for people to plan out their time to avoid procrastination
Design should allow users to reflect back on what causes their procrastination
Allow for an easy and positive user experience when using the app to deter procrastination tendencies
After analyzing user scenarios, we came up with the following main 6 functions of the app that follows the design implications above
final design concept
Features of Bttn
emotional Regulation - Understanding your emotions
When you are faced with an abstract or difficult challenge, Bttn asks you to break it up into smaller tasks. For ease of use, users can swipe “right” for a positive feeling and “left” for a negative feeling about tasks. That way, Bttn can identify the tasks you need help in, intervene, and ask reasons why you’re feeling negatively about the task. After research and testing, we provided 3 reasons (and interventions) for why someone might feel negatively.
3 Reasons for why you don’t want to do a task:
A task is too difficult, Bttn breaks down large tasks into smaller ones.
For fear of failure, Bttn displays self-affirming messages.
If there’s a lack of interest, Bttn asks you to reframe it as either a challenge or an activity with a reward. At the scheduled time, it reminds the user of their personal reasons to complete.
When a there is lack of interest, Bttn asks you to reframe the challenge into a reward. You can transform your negative thinking to a positive one by shuffling through fill-in-the blank sentences that asks you to give reasons why finishing a task can be positive. Here are some examples of the reframing.
Examples of reframing techniques:
Reframe as a Positive Association:
Outline for Research Paper is important to me because _______________________________________
Reframe as a Reward:
If I complete Outline for Research Paper, I can promise myself ______________________________
Reframe as a Challenge:
I challenge myself to complete Outline for Research by _______________________________________
Visualizing Future Self - Rescheduling and Summary
When you need to reschedule, Bttn provides you with a timeline with visual color codes to communicate if the timing is too tight. That way, it helps you time management which is really important for finishing tasks on time and efficiently.
At the end of the tasks, there is a summary. The summary is beneficial because it would allow users to reflect on their progress and procrastination habits.
Summary analytics on historical behavior would:
Create awareness about patterns responsible for their procrastination,
Serve as an emotion regulation mechanism by providing proof that they were able to overcome their negative emotions towards task completion.
Limitations and Further Development
Since Bttn was designed to be integrated with the user’s task scheduler, we were not able to take an embedded approach into its design. To get maximum value from using the app, its self-introspection techniques overly rely on users having a high degree of self-awareness and motivation for change.
We tested with students from CMU itself (9 from the exploratory interviews, 8 from the user interviews). Our brief tests may not accurately represent the behavior & attitudes that were recorded through our testing. We might have benefitted from a long term user study to gain inferences over the designs, since the success of any design in context to behaviour change can only be measured over an extended period of time. Furthermore, we could have chosen students from outside Carnegie Mellon or Pittsburgh/US to see whether there are different cultural norms in those environments.
For future iterations, it would also be interesting to further explore different persona’s for the chatbot, since chatbot design is what’s most lacking in literature. Does an aggressive tone motivate people to work? Or does it achieve the opposite effect by triggering psychological reactance? We could build on Bttn’s (the bot itself) character & expand its features. Although initial concept explorations went into this, we weren’t able to take it through to the design phase.
This research allows us to make progress towards the understanding of how procrastination could be alleviated (or even, preserved) by technology. We see many interesting dynamics emerge, such as the fact that merely changing the way people perceive their procrastination habits could change their feelings & attitudes towards it. Giving people the tools to let them monitor both historical & anticipate future occurrences helps them avoid stressful situations. In summary, application developers need to think more deeply when building productivity tools. It’s no longer enough to have powerful integrations that are directly related to the work, they must also ensure the person doing the work is in the appropriate frame of mind.