I would love to meet the person who can honestly say that she never procrastinates. Procrastination is an integral part of humanity; it’s the down-side of being a highly evolved creature.
We are programmed to live in the here and now. We need food now. We need shelter immediately.
We need to go to the gym….. well, that’s really not an immediate need, is it? It turns out that nature doesn’t always care about our long-term plans to lose 10 lbs or to finish that quilting project on time.
Yes, you heard me. I am saying that we are biologically programmed to procrastinate. Don’t you feel better now that I’ve told you it’s not your fault?!
For many of us, quilting is a respite, the thing that we want to do instead of the thing we have to do. In that case, procrastination is blighted, and has no interest in us. But what about when we reach that last stage of the quilt… the last few hours of work before it will finally be completed? Or what about the times we have a deadline looming; the project that must be completed in time to give it as a gift, the blog post that has to be written. I have found that whenever the words have to or must enter into the equation, even if it’s something I typically love, procrastination is there, lurking in the corner, beckoning me.
So what can we do? How can we fight this illusive beast?
Recent works by Milkman, Minson and Volpp (2013) and Ariely (2015), have shown that a specific type of reward system can be the answer to our procrastination problems. It’s called temptation bundling. Milkman and her colleagues say that temptation bundling is:
“a method for simultaneously tackling two types of self-control problems by harnessing consumption complementaries.”
What are consumption complementaries? Essentially you pair a undesirable activity with a pleasurable one. Let me give you a few examples.
You love a good chick-flick, or worse yet, the guilty pleasure of The Bachelor? Well, what if you only allow yourself to watch when you’re on the treadmill? Win-Win!
You love a spa pedicure, but feel like you shouldn’t waste time or money on it. Well, you can get that pedicure if you bring your notepad with you and draft the blog post you’ve been putting off writing. Win-Win!
You crave a Starbucks latte but know you should cut back. Aha! You can only drink a latte while you finish sewing up the project that has been sitting in your UFO pile for months. Win-Win!
Sometimes you have to be creative to come up with two things you can actually do at the same time. Yet when you do, it really works! I’m sitting here right now eating Cookie Dough ice cream straight out of the container while I write this post. If that’s not evidence, I don’t know what is.
Apart from the ice cream, my favorite part of this technique is that it encourages better life-balance. We all need a little more of that.
The 10 Minute Rule
I have one more technique that I personally use every day for fighting procrastination. It’s my 10 minute rule. Now, this is not a highly researched theory that I learned about in grad school. This is just my personal observation.
When I have a long, complex, arduous task ahead of me, one that I know is likely to take several hours, I make a deal with myself. I only have to do it for 10 minutes. That’s it! 10 minutes then I’m done!
And typically, an amazing thing happens. Once I start, and see my progress, I usually just want to work on it a little bit longer. After a few more minutes, I find myself begging my family not to interrupt me until I’m done.
It’s a small mind game, but it works wonders when you need to clean out the mini-van.
For more information on the topic of temptation bundling:
http://bigthink.com/videos/the-secret-to-kicking-procrastination-reward-yourself (Video featuring Dan Ariely)
Milkman, Minson & Volpp (Nov. 6, 2013). Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling. Management Science. Vol. 60 (2), 283-299.