Stop Procrastinating Today With Behavioral Science

Behavioral science is a field that combines psychology, neuroscience and economics to study how people make decisions. These academic disciplines are helping us build smarter systems for everything from personal finance to business decision making in order to live happier lives.

The “art of manliness focus” is a blog that discusses the importance of self-improvement. It provides tips on how to stop procrastinating and start living life to the fullest.

Every day and night, a huge suction nozzle swings over your head. This vacuum, designed by Some Day Incorporated, is fueled by procrastination and stands ready (and the key word is ready) to suck up nice things from every aspect of your life.

Procrastination drains your bank account. Consider all of the additional fees you’ve incurred as a result of your failure to pay your invoices on time. Or all the financial profits you’ve lost out on thanks to compound interest since you never started your retirement account. Or the automotive issue that might have been handled much more inexpensively if you had addressed it when you first heard that strange little noise, rather than when your engine ultimately died.

Procrastination robs you of your chances. You could have passed the class if you had spent a little more time preparing for that exam instead of cramming the night before. You might have gotten that wonderful internship if you had only submitted your application on time. If you had asked out the lady you were pining on before graduation (who, a decade later, you’ll find out was crushing on you back), she may have been your life’s great love.

Your health is held prisoner by procrastination. Perhaps you wouldn’t be facing diabetes today if you had begun that fitness and nutrition regimen sooner. Maybe if you’d gone to your doctor straight away about that nagging ache, you’d be facing a Stage 2 cancer diagnosis instead of a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis.

Finally, procrastination costs you a feeling of serenity and pleasure in progress, which is likely the least noticeable but the most burdensome since it weighs on your mind every.single.day. It’s difficult not to feel disheartened when you glance around and see the laundry still piled up on the sofa unfolded, hear the drip-drip-drip of a still unfixed faucet at night, and realize for the 18th, and yet unacted upon time, that you need to call to arrange a dentist appointment. 

Fortunately, although procrastination is a pain, the solution is as straightforward as the problem: an equation devised by a researcher who has done more than contemplate its allure and provide anecdotal methods for overcoming it, but has rigorously analyzed all of its stealing sides.

The Formula for Procrastination

Why is it that we humans nearly universally suffer with procrastination? It’s because we’re built to choose short-term pleasure to short-term annoyance/effort, even if the latter provides more long-term benefits. We like doing whatever seems pleasant at the time.

The key to combating procrastination is to boost your motivation for completing a job, making you more likely to do it now rather than later.

Dr. Piers Steel, the world’s leading procrastination researcher, came to this conclusion. Steel states in his book The Procrastination Equation that our degree of motivation for anything is governed by four elements that interact in the formula:

 

Expectancy x Value / Impulsiveness x Delay = Motivation

Let’s examine the impact that each of these factors plays in making us more or less driven (Expectancy and Value) (Impulsiveness and Delay).

Multipliers of Motivation

Expectancy: How confident you are in your ability to complete a job. Expectancy is influenced by a number of factors. Steel’s study demonstrates that those with a greater sense of personal agency — that is, confidence in their capacity to get things done — have higher levels of Expectancy than others who suffer from learned helplessness, or the conviction that they have no influence over their surroundings. 

The task’s complexity is another aspect that might impact Expectancy. This comes from the book Tiny Habits by behavioral expert BJ Fogg. If you establish a goal to “drop 100 pounds by the end of the year,” the overwhelming magnitude of the job will certainly undermine your confidence in your ability to do it, leading to you giving up before you even begin. A goal like “walk for 10 minutes every day” is considerably simpler to achieve, which raises your Expectancy quotient, boosting your Motivation and improving your odds of staying with it.

Value: How much you like executing a job and how much you’ll appreciate the reward for finishing it (or how much you’ll despise the penalty if you don’t). Value, like Expectancy, is influenced by a variety of things. Your personal preferences have a big influence on how much you value a task and how likely you are to complete it. If you want to start exercising but despise running, yet make a goal of running every day, you are unlikely to succeed. If you like rucking and instead make it a goal to ruck every day, you’ll be far more likely to stick to your plan. 

Value is influenced by how much you will enjoy/appreciate not just the act of doing a job, but also the final result. If achieving an A+ on your research paper is really essential to you, you will most likely work diligently on your report and not procrastinate. If achieving an A+ isn’t important to you and you’d be content with a C+, you’ll be less driven to start writing your paper. 

Fogg adds on Steel’s theory of task value by taking into account the consequences of not completing a job on time. The greater the penalty, the more you’ll value completing the work to avoid it. 

Take, for example, paying taxes. Most people despise filing them, but failing to submit a tax return or pay your taxes may have serious financial and legal ramifications. So, although the reward of filing your taxes isn’t very appealing, you’ll treasure the opportunity to avoid the terrible repercussions of failing to do so.

(Listen to my podcast with John Tierney for additional information on how negative consequences may influence behavior.)

 

Motivation saboteurs

The degree to which you become distracted vs keeping focused is referred to as impulsiveness. In the Procrastination Equation, Steel claims that Impulsiveness is a significant divider of Motivation. 

While genetics may cause some individuals to be more impulsive than others, we all have to deal with impulsivity to some degree. Of course, in the present day, when our smartphones and other gadgets beg for our attention, this is more true than ever. When you’re reading War and Peace on your phone, you can swipe over to Instagram to check what’s new in the feed as soon as you get a niggling of boredom. 

If you’ve been using the internet regularly for the past couple decades, you’ve probably noticed a decline in your ability to concentrate — particularly when it comes to deep reading and reflective thinking, but also in simply being able to hold a conversation or clean the kitchen without stopping to check your phone, as Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, discussed on the podcast. These little inspections might quickly add up, causing you to procrastinate on finishing the work at hand. 

Delay: The closer the deadline for completing a job gets, the less motivated you will be to work on it right now. The sooner you have to do anything, the more motivated you will be to complete it. A sense of urgency motivates us to act, but a lack of urgency motivates us to remain complacent. 

At some time in our lives, we’ve all encountered this scenario. When you were in college and had a research paper due in two months, you thought you had plenty of time to work on it and continued putting it off. Then, the night before the deadline, you finally got started because you had no choice.

According to Steel, increasing the parameters in the numerator of the Procrastination Equation (Expectancy and Value) while decreasing the elements in the denominator will enhance motivation (Impulsiveness and Delay). 

That’s all there is to it. 

The problem is finding out how to accomplish it in a practical manner.

Steel, thankfully, gives some excellent advice in The Procrastination Equation. I’ve highlighted the parts of his advice that I’ve found most valuable. I’ve also included some of my own ideas based on Fogg’s motivation studies.

Ways to Raise Expectations

Use Vicarious Victory to your advantage.

Steel recommends preparing yourself with the belief that you can achieve your goals by reading the experiences of other successful individuals. Read stories of famous men who overcame adversity, or watch an inspirational movie or motivational video on YouTube.

While bingeing on motivational memes is often chastised, it really works if you use it as a prod to action rather than a replacement. I know that after seeing The Men Who Built America, for example, I’m more motivated to go to work!

 

Make use of mental contrasts

Most motivational books advise you to see your desired end result in great detail and concentrate only on it. However, research suggests that even visualizing a pleasant conclusion might raise your odds of failing to complete the activity. 

Steel advocates doing “mental contrasting” instead. This asks you to consider your ideal outcome and then compare it to your existing less-than-perfect situation. By drawing a contrast between your present reality and your ideal future reality, you may frame the former as a challenge to conquer, which can boost motivation. 

Overcome a Sense of Helplessness You’ve Acquired

Changing your mental scripts is necessary for overcoming learned helplessness. Rather of telling yourself, “I’m a huge procrastinator in every part of my life, and I always will be!” you question that negative self-talk. 

Is it true that you procrastinate in every element of your life? No. Your job tasks are completed on schedule, and your payments are paid on time. You’re simply having problems getting started on that huge backyard project. By challenging your negative thoughts, you may demonstrate to yourself that you are more competent than you believe, increasing your feeling of Expectancy.  

(We completed a series on how to overcome learned helplessness and become more resilient.) Make sure to have a look.)

Make the job as simple as possible.

According to the Fogg Behavior Model, the simpler the activity, the more likely you are to finish it; the tougher the task, the less likely you are to complete it. That’s only basic sense, but it’s easy to disregard common sense.

Whether you’re delaying on a job, investigate if there’s a way to raise expectation by making it simple. It’s really simple. This is primarily due to focusing on the next step you need to perform — being more particular rather than generic — and splitting larger/longer activities into smaller/shorter ones. In fact, Fogg would advise making your goal’s steps not just modest, but miniscule.

If you’re attempting to get into the flossing habit, Fogg recommends setting the aim of “flossing one tooth per night” rather than “flossing every night.” It’s simple to become inspired to floss only one tooth, so you’ll do it. Once you’ve established a habit of flossing one tooth every night, you’ll naturally want to floss more of them (while maintaining the Expectancy-boosting “floss one tooth per night” aim).

Instead of setting a goal for yourself to “Write the first draft of my research paper by the end of the week,” tell yourself, “I will work on the introduction for five minutes.” Writing a whole first draft is tough, so you’ll put it off as long as possible; but, writing for five minutes is simple, so you’ll do it. You may want to write more after you’ve gotten started, but even if you don’t, you’ve at least begun the endeavor. Next, create a goal for yourself: “Work on the paper’s body for five minutes.”

 

Make your assignment, “Email HR about auto investing from paycheck,” rather than “Save $1 million for retirement.” 

Make your job, “Weed garden bed for five minutes,” rather than “Clean up the whole backyard.”

You get my drift.

Make use of Success Spirals.

Taking little steps not only gets you started on completing a large work, but it also produces a “success spiral,” which feeds the Expectancy factor and motivates you to do even more.

When you achieve one minor objective after another, you create a success spiral. When you see yourself accomplish minor objectives, you get confidence in your capacity to complete them, which enhances your feeling of Expectancy and Motivation to do even more. Like a snowball sliding downhill, a success spiral develops momentum.

Use the boost of energy and confidence you get from crossing something off your to-do list to tackle the next item on the list. 

Methods for Increasing Value

Choose tasks that you will like.

There are many ways to skin a cat and accomplish a goal. Perhaps you’d want to begin exercising. Rather of attempting to force yourself to complete a workout you despise, discover a sort of exercise that has tremendous value for you and that you actually like. You may believe you despise all forms of exercise, but the truth is that you’ve probably only tried four or five, with hundreds more to try. Try swimming if you don’t like jogging; tennis if you don’t like jiu-jitsu; boxing if you don’t like bicycling. Alternatively, forego all “formal” types of exercise and just become a committed walker. Experiment with different activities until you discover something you like.

Let’s imagine you’d want to increase your book reading. Choose a genre that makes it difficult for you to put a book down, rather than pushing yourself to read high-brow literature you’re “supposed” to appreciate but find difficult to keep picking up.

There are frequently several paths to the same objective; choose one that gives you lots of spontaneous but long-lasting motivation. 

Make the job pleasurable.

Of course, there are certain things in life for which there is no fun-flavored choice; there is only one way in, and it is arduous. Even in such scenario, you may boost your motivation by making a tedious, time-consuming work, if not joyful, at least more fun than it would be otherwise.

As an example, as previously said, completing your taxes is not really enjoyable. However, by listening to a favorite jazz record while drinking your favorite beverage, you may make the experience more enjoyable. Similarly, as every laundry-folder knows, the task goes faster if you listen to a podcast while doing it. 

Injecting some sociality into a work is a terrific approach to make it more fun. Writer Elizabeth Emens takes a deep dive into the unfun chores we have to do to keep our daily lives running — submitting taxes, filling out enrollment paperwork, arranging parties, scheduling appointments, and so on — in her book Life Admin. This is the kind of thing we procrastinate over. 

 

Create “Admin Study Halls,” according to Emens, to make “life admin” a little more pleasurable. Basically, you invite all of your pals over to your house and work on all of your different life admin responsibilities together. Working with others brings some responsibility, but the biggest benefit is that sharing the pain makes the task easier to endure.

Self-care is important. 

Then there are certain chores that, no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to make more joyful. 

Consider a colonoscopy. Colon cancer is one of the most deadly kinds of cancer, yet it may frequently be prevented if caught early. This early detection is made possible via colonoscopies. Doctors suggest that you start receiving them when you reach the age of 50 (or 40 if you have a family history of the illness), but most people put it off since it’s a painful process. 

You can’t do much to make having a camera pushed up your buttocks more pleasurable. If you can’t provide value to the process itself, you may relate it to the ultimate outcome by establishing an incentive for prioritizing it. 

“If I get a colonoscopy, I’ll purchase that new [fill in the blank] I’ve been eyeing,” tell yourself. Then reward yourself after you’ve completed the task.

The more painful or difficult the work, the greater the incentive will have to be to drive you to do it. 

The reward for finishing those tiny activities doesn’t have to be as large if you’ve done the effort of breaking your tasks down into smaller, easier-to-complete phases. For instance, if one of your tasks is to “work on report outline for 25 minutes,” your reward could be to “surf the web for 10 minutes.” Do a celebratory fist pump if you successfully flossed one tooth; I like to mouth the beginning guitar riff to AC/”Back DC’s in Black” every time I floss.

A reward/celebration for completing a task/habit, according to Fogg, may take any shape. It just needs to be 1) instantaneous, and 2) make you feel wonderful. The positive feedback created by the after-action glow increases the perceived value of getting things done and makes you feel more driven to keep up your to-do killing effectiveness.

You Must Punish Yourself

As previously said, attaching a consequence for not finishing a job is a paradoxical approach to add Value to it. You value the work more as the penalty grows because you want to avoid the punishment. Don’t underestimate the stick’s might! 

Using a service called StickK, I’ve given value to chores by raising the penalty for deferring them. You may use StickK to make “Commitment Contracts” with yourself. You tell the site what you want to do and when you want to do it, and then you set a cash penalty for yourself if you don’t do the work in that period. You may even make it such that if you don’t keep your word, the money goes to a charity that promotes principles you oppose. 

 

To avoid gaming StickK and claiming that you accomplished the assignment when you didn’t, choose an accountability partner who will be tasked with determining whether or not the task was performed according to the contract’s requirements. If your spouse says no, the money you agreed to is promptly debited from your credit card.  

The more difficult the activity to begin, the greater the penalty must be to give adequate motivation for finishing the task sooner rather than later. 

Connect Tasks to a Greater Purpose

Connecting a work to your values and the larger meaningful goal you have for your life is a simple method to boost its worth. 

Setting up a 529 plan for your child is tedious and time-consuming. However, ensuring that your kid has a decent education may be quite important to you. If it does, remind yourself of it to increase the task’s value and, as a result, your drive to do it. 

If you have duties at work that you’ve been putting off, consider how doing them will, even in tiny ways, enhance the lives of your clients, as well as the fact that your hard work helps you to support your family. Consider how you can protect them from the threat of financial ruin. It’ll work for you if it worked for Homer Simpson.

How Can I Reduce My Impulsivity?

Distractions should be avoided at all costs.

Lessen the triggers that encourage you to be impulsive in the first place if you want to reduce impulsivity. Pay attention to the items that draw your focus away from your main task. The internet and smartphones are the major diversions for most individuals in the twenty-first century. Rather of relying on sheer willpower to keep those digital temptations at bay, get rid of them entirely. 

Set up a system on your computer and smartphone to block distracting websites completely or for certain periods of time. In the following articles, we go through how to achieve precisely that:

  • How to Stop Wasting Time on the Internet and Start Doing Things
  • The Complete Guide to Getting Rid of Your Smartphone Addiction

Boost Your Concentration Skills

While eliminating or limiting distractions is the greatest way to reduce impulsivity, improving your willpower and capacity to concentrate may also assist. 

In the following sections, we go into techniques to improve your willpower and focus abilities:

  • Your Attention Training Program: 11 Exercises to Improve Your Concentration
  • How to Boost Your Self-Control
  • From 1918, 12 Concentration Exercises

How to Shorten the Time It Takes to Get Things Done

Make a series of mini-deadlines out of a final deadline.

As previously said, the closer a task’s deadline approaches, the more difficult it is to stay motivated to complete it. 

It may seem that the best answer is to set your own, more urgent deadline for the assignment. In reality, however, this is ineffective; if a work is large and complex (with low Expectancy and Value), an artificial deadline will not create enough urgency to overcome these motivational snags. That instance, thinking that the deadline for writing a paper is October 15 rather than November 15 will not motivate you to complete it.

 

Breaking the project down into smaller parts and establishing a succession of mini deadlines that lead to the final due date is a better approach for reducing delay than shifting the ultimate deadline for a work. As previously stated, this action raises Expectancy and consequently Motivation. 

As I juggled writing and revising law review articles while preparing for exams in law school, I developed this talent. I’d sit down and lay out my assault strategy for any major endeavor before starting it. I’d start with the ultimate, final deadline. Going backwards, I’d set deadlines for finishing smaller portions of the larger endeavor. I’d move backwards in time, establishing deadlines until I reached the period when I was planning my endeavor. 

When I write articles for AoM, I still follow this strategy. Here’s the plan I came up with for this one:

The article will be published on September 29th. September 24: Finalize and edit the manuscript; submit to Kate for edits and editing. Tuesday, September 22nd: Finish the first draft. September 18: Create an outline for the article; September 16: Gather and examine all notes Review materials and take notes on September 14th.

I can reduce the impression of delay by splitting the work down into smaller portions and establishing tighter deadlines, which helps me avoid procrastinating. Furthermore, completing each stage in the timeline results in Success Spirals, which may boost Expectancy even higher.

Procrastination Strategy

Flipping the switch on the procrastination vacuum becomes a snap if you grasp the Procrastination Equation and the ways you may adjust its variables to increase your Motivation and take more quick action. Reduce Impulsivity and Delay by increasing Value and Expectancy.

Here’s a proposed assault strategy for anytime you find yourself delaying to make it even simpler for you. Consider it a to-do list to prevent you from procrastinating:

  1. Recognize that you’re putting off something important. 
  2. “What is prompting me to put this work off?” ask yourself. Examine the many components of the Procrastination Equation:
    • Is there any way I can make this job more Expectant?
      1. Is it possible for me to get a taste of vicarious success?
      2. Is it possible to create a Success Spiral?
      3. Is it possible for me to make this process easier?
    • Is there any way I can make this assignment more valuable?
      1. Is it possible for me to accomplish it in a fun way?
      2. Is there any way I can make this chore more enjoyable?
      3. Is it possible for me to give myself a reward for completing this task?
      4. Is it possible for me to punish myself for failing to complete the task?
      5. Is it possible to connect the work to a larger meaning?
    • Is there a way for me to reduce my impulsivity?
      1. Is it possible to get rid of all distractions?
      2. Is it possible for me to increase my willpower?
    • Is it possible to reduce Delay?
      1. Is it possible to divide this project into smaller jobs with shorter deadlines for each?
  3. Make a move.

That is all there is to it. 

As previously said, I just touched on a handful of Steel’s motivation-boosting strategies in his book. To learn more, I suggest picking up a copy of The Procrastination Equation.

This set of essays on how to utilize BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model to quit procrastinating is another great resource I’ve lately discovered. There are a number of wonderful ideas there that can be paired with Steel’s Procrastination Equation to produce a synergistic procrastination-killing bullet, in my opinion.

 

Finally, I recommend listening to the Steel and Fogg podcast episodes:

 

 

Live each day as though it were your last.

 

 

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