When it takes 30 min to find the right pen

Procrastination is avoiding doing something.
Procrastination is not being able to get started.
It’s reading a book;
It’s colour coordinating your shelves;
It’s sharpening your pencil;
Procrastination is taking 30 minutes looking for the right pen.

This blog is about procrastination, and is inspired by new research that seem to have found the final trick to combat it.

We are all familiar with procrastination. On Google the word returns me 11,200,000 hits, including: "Beating Procrastination," "Structured procrastination," "The procrastination doom loop —and how to break it."

Some are more sensitive than others to it. But we definitely all know what it is and how it feels. A few years ago, a student of the Royal Academy of Art at the Hague, made this amazing short movie that perfectly expresses the concept.

Why do we Procrastinate?

When scientists have studied procrastination, they've typically focused on how people are miserable at weighing costs and benefits across time.

For example, everybody recognises —in the abstract— that it's important to go to send that one important e-mail, or to go to the dentist every few months. The pain is upfront and obvious —dental work is torture— and the rewards are often remote, so we allow ourselves to "forget" or to find excuses.

The emotions of Procrastination

In the last few years, however, scientists have begun to think that procrastination might have less to do with time than emotion. Procrastination "really has nothing to do with time-management,” Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, told Psychological Science. “To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”

Instead, Ferrari and others think procrastination happens for two basic reasons:

  1. We delay action because we feel like we're in the wrong mood to complete a task, and
  2. We assume that our mood will change in the near future.

The tricks: #1

This is why people have often come up with a “5-minutes” trick to cheat your brain into getting things done. Like washing the dishes. If you tell yourself: “I will just do it for 5 minutes,” your brain cannot argue against 5 minutes….

The Tricks: #2

Just a few days ago, however, I came across an article stating that A Wharton professor discovered an even more clever psychological trick that will help you stop procrastinating.

This professor is named Katy Milkman and here’s the basics of what she found out:

Like many people, Katy Milkman knew she should be exercising more. But each day she left her job as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania feeling exhausted and drained.

By the time she made it home, all she wanted to do was curl up on the couch and read a book or turn on her favorite TV show. On this particular day, she wanted to read The Hunger Games.

That’s when she had an idea.

What if she created a rule for herself? What if she was only allowed to read The Hunger Games when she went to the gym?

Exactly: what if we set up a reward system for ourselves?

They call this “Temptation Bundling.” Basically, it means to make it easier to perform a behavior that is good for you in the long-run by combining it with a behavior that feels good in the short-run.

Katy Milkman also gives us a simple exercise to start drawing your perfect bundling strategy:

  1. Create a two column list:
  2. In column one, write down the things you enjoy
  3. In column two, write down the tasks and behaviors you should be doing, but often procrastinate on.

Take your time and write down as many behaviors as possible. Then, browse your list and see if you can link one of your instantly gratifying “want” behaviors with something you “should” be doing.

  • Only listen to audiobooks or podcasts you love while exercising.
  • Only get a pedicure while processing overdue work emails.
  • Only watch your favorite show while ironing or doing household chores.
  • Only eat at your favorite restaurant when conducting your monthly meeting with a difficult colleague.

Et voilá: you are ready for a productive day!