Jul 31, 2017
It can be hard to get effective work completed, and stick to the GSD model thanks to a little thing called 'procrastination'.
This episode is to give you a guide behind the science on why we procrastinate and to share proven ways to beat it!
Procrastinating is a part of humans and creeps into our lives without really consciously thinking about it. One of the worst parts about procrastinating is that we justify this behaviour as well using some very clever tricks:
Sadly, while these may make us feel better in the short term, all that they do is delay the inevitable pain we will feel.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination has been around for as long as humans have been alive. Socrates and Aristotle wrote about this in Ancient Greece, describing it as a state of acting against your better judgement.
Put a little simpler, it is delaying doing important tasks for less important ones. It is much easier for us to still feel productive by getting through easy non-urgent tasks in preference of doing demanding ones. Also, it is much easier to do something fun compared to something hard. Therefore, if we are given a choice we will often choose the fun thing over the hard thing, even if it will benefit us.
This is the difference between inaction and action which is the way I like to think of it.
Why do we procrastinate?
Behavioural psychologists have a term called ‘time inconsistency’ which helps to explain why we procrastinate. This refers to us as individuals valuing short term rewards more highly than future rewards, even if these may be greater in the future.
All goals and plans are for your future self. So based on this, you sabotage your future self by seeking rewards for your present self, even if it is not really that great a reward.
This internal battle between your future self and present self can be said to be the key cause for procrastinating. The fact that your present self is the one that needs to take action and it can be hard to make your present self take action.
As you cannot rely on long term rewards or consequences to provide motivation, you need to implement strategies to either provide some immediate reward or consequence for procrastinating.
Achieving any tasks comes in two phases as well. The first is procrastinating and then taking action. The longer we delay, the greater the pain we feel from procrastinating. However, the longer the time is away until we absolutely must take action, the less pain we feel delaying. It is funny however, as generally as soon as you go over the breakeven point you will see that taking action isn’t that painful at all.
Have you ever had a small task to complete, delay it for a few weeks then when you get around to doing it, it only takes you 10 minutes? So the act of delaying causes more mental pain in most cases than just taking action.
How to stop procrastinating?
Option 1 – Make the reward of action immediate through temptation bundling.
The concept behind this option is to only do what you love while doing what you are procrastinating about. The reason this has been proven to be so effective is that you are rewarding your present self for taking action to benefit your future self.
I do this myself. If I am doing house chores, I listen to music or watch something on my tablet while doing it. So figure out what is something that you enjoy doing and add it to your routine. This reward can also be something more tangible, such as giving yourself a treat for completing a task.
Option 2 – Make consequences of procrastination more immediate.
This relies on having a system in place where there are real consequences for not taking action for your present self. This is similar to following through with goals, where having someone or something to keep you accountable drastically increases your chances of succeeding. You can either have a ‘bet’ with someone or with yourself where if you don’t complete what you need to by a certain time, some negative consequence comes in to play. This may be in the form of money or now allowing yourself to do something else you really enjoy.
Option 3 – Follow your action plan without thinking or delaying.
In the last episode, we talked about setting a daily routine, which is exactly what an action plan is. This is a very powerful tool to use as it allows you to get more done through focused work and limits any delays as you don’t have to think about what to do and when every 5 minutes. It sounds fairly easy to just ‘follow the plan’ however it takes some habits to form around this.
How to make this stick?
Once you have your action plan in place, see what works for yourself between implementing rewards or consequences. I am a big fan of all three, as they don’t have to be exclusive. If there is some big project you are putting off, write up an action plan and have tangible rewards and consequences in place to make sure you stick to that plan.
From there, habits need to be formed around this as part of your daily routine. Habits are formed as your brain has a lot to think about, so if we do an activity for a little while, our brain wires it to become a habit so we don’t think about it anymore. However bad things creep in, like procrastination over time.
As habits are in a loop of cue, routine and reward, you can change the cues to change the routines to get more done. However, this is a lot of information so will cover this in the next episode.