Have you ever said that you are going to do something, wrote it down in our to-do list, but then despite all of your good intentions, somehow you didn’t do it?
These uncompleted tasks suck our energy, make us feel guilty and don’t let us relax for one second, and yet we continue to postpone them!
Why do we do it?
Psychologists say that it is because we are genetically coded to be “avoidance machines”! We are hard wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. And when I say pain, I actually mean any task that: a) sounds boring or not urgent, b) requires certain amount of effort, c) doesn’t inspire or motivate us. 80% of the tasks fall under all three categories.
As it turns out the most effective way to avoid procrastination is NOT applying inhuman mental effort and force yourself into doing something. Nor it is waiting till the last moment when the task appears into “Urgent! Must be done today! Seriously, it can’t wait!” category and then complete it in 15 minutes. The smartest and easiest way to overcome procrastination is use your weaknesses to your own benefit.
How to make procrastination work for you?
Usual motivational techniques teach you to think of all the benefits that you will achieve after completing the task. This method does work, but for most of us promise of future reward is not nearly as stimulating as a threat of punishment.
Professional self-help coaches know about it and are actively using this information to “motivate” their clients into following through with their goals.
What they do is ask their clients Three Little Questions:
1. The first question is about your goal. You are asked to state what it is that you would like to achieve and figure out step-by-step plan of how you can do it.
2. The second question sounds somewhat strange, “Can I hold you accountable for this goal?” At this point your mind goes, “Hold on a minute…accountable? Me?!” and you start to suspect that it is not going to be pretty, but you summon up your courage and say, “sure! You can hold me accountable!”
3. Third question is asked in a sweet little voice, but it makes the room suddenly feel smaller and your chair much hotter. It sounds something like this, “In case you will not follow through with your goal, what would be the appropriate punishment for your inaction?” And that is where you get REALLY uncomfortable, because you realize that you have just been skillfully tricked into following through with your overly optimistic action plan… And you do it! (mad at your coach, but amazed by your own productivity and determination!)
You don’t have to hire professional self-help coach and spend a lot of money to make this great motivational technique work.
All you have to do to achieve your goals and overcome procrastination is establish two main conditions:
1. A clear statement of your intention. Most of us do it automatically, when we make to-do lists, set goals or share our plans with other people.
2. A consequence for non-performance. Do you remember that we talked that people tend to avoid the task with highest level of perceived pain and discomfort? Well, your consequences for non-performance should be perceived as “the greater of two evils”.
For example, let’s say that your goal is to run a marathon. To do that you need to practice by running 2 miles every day. Running is automatically associated with pain and discomfort, “It is hard”, “Muscles will hurt the next day”, “It takes a lot of energy”, “It takes time”, “If you do it in the morning- it means getting up early. If you do it at night – it means running after work, when you already feel tired.” Wherever you look, you will see pain and discomfort…
Even if you really want to achieve that goal, your motivation will not last for more than 5 days. Now let’s say that you attach a consequence to your commitment (like paying a fine of $100 to a person that you don’t like or making a donation to a charity that you do not support). You will instantly feel more motivated to stick with your initial action plan!
As strange as it may sound, but the ability to negatively motivate yourself is the easiest and most efficient way to improve your productivity, overcome procrastination and follow through with your goals.
Now, let me ask you one question – Can I hold you accountable that you will try this technique right now?
Great! Then go ahead and take a look at the tasks on your to-do list. Find one that stands the highest chance of being ignored. Then think of the adequate consequence of your non-performance, “What will I have to give up if I won’t do it today?” $20? An hour of cleaning the floor? 3 days without chocolate? A week without your favorite TV show?
Try it and I promise you that“Someday” will stop being your favorite day of the week!