Dealing with Procrastination: Finish Up that UFO Today!

July 25, 2015

The Procrastination Blues

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?

Temptation Bundling

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: (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.




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  • Reply Helen July 25, 2015 at 2:54 am

    Procrastination . Love that word . Would make it my word of the day – but I’ll never get round to it !
    I am trying to get round to finishing off a few ufo , some very very old indeed

  • Reply T July 25, 2015 at 5:29 am

    Brilliant! Love that you’re eating cookie dough ice cream as you write this post!!! Your blog is an inspiration!
    Thank you!

  • Reply thebiasedge July 25, 2015 at 6:03 am

    Hi Stephanie. Your post is so timely. I just read a devotional by Proverbs 31 on procrastination. How true. Many of us procrastinate, me definitely included. I must put your 10 minute rule to work. I think I can get a lot done with that 10 minutes. LOL

  • Reply Lisa Markham July 25, 2015 at 7:09 am

    Love the idea of pairing up activities and I might do the 10 min rule today for pulling weeds in the garden. I often use quilting as a reward for working on something I don’t really want to do.

  • Reply magistra13 July 25, 2015 at 7:48 am

    Thank you! I really like this post! We shall see how well it might work with me, but I certainly want to try it! We have moved out of Texas and so I might not to get to see Austin again. Enjoy it for me! Perhaps eat some Amy’s ice cream as you give your extremely adorable dog a generous belly rub. Merely a suggestion 🙂

  • Reply Yvonne @Quilting Jetgirl July 25, 2015 at 9:18 am

    I might be weird, but I am not much of a procrastinator. There are definitely times when things sneak up on me, but if I have a choice I would much rather be done earlier than later. I don’t know what wires got crossed up in my head, but there you go. Until I have to vacuum the house. Vacuuming is my nemesis. I *always* temptation bundle with vacuuming! 🙂

  • Reply Sue @ Sewing Furniture July 25, 2015 at 10:32 am

    You can also try the Pomodoro method, which breaks the work into 25 minute intervals. Small enough to sneak some work in, but large enough to actually get something done.

  • Reply Margo July 25, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    I have quite a few quilt tops that I did for class samples. They need to be quilted. I have been procrastinated for some time now. Thanks for your tips, I might be able to get them done.

  • Reply Anonymous July 25, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    I knew it wasn’t my fault!! LOL Now off to to get a bowl of ice cream so I can write my blog post.

  • Reply Jayne July 26, 2015 at 8:24 am

    I procrastinate more and more each year! If I would just puull those weed 10 min. a day, it wouldn’t be so bad! What a great post, I should put the ten minute rule in to effect…maybe later?! Just kidding, I love the idea and I think I’ll try it out!

  • Reply Colleen July 26, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    I love your take on procrastination and the 10 minute rule- I used that specific ( technique) when I quit smoking 20 years ago! I would think I wanted a cigarette… I would look at the clock & tell myself (” I can wait 10 minutes”) then I would find something to do- often 30-60-90 minutes would go by without even thinking about that ( want) then I would tell myself- you went an hour ( or whatever) you can wait 10 more minutes! It works! Quit smoking in 1995 after 20 years of smoking with the desire & the 10 minute rule. 🙂

    • Stephanie Palmer
      Reply Stephanie Palmer July 28, 2015 at 8:39 am

      I hope a smoker out there reads your comment, Colleen, and gives your method of quitting a try!

  • Reply Paula B Quilts July 26, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    But how do you reward yourself for NOT eating that peppermint Klondike bar? I can’t think of anything as satisfying to pair it with.

    • Stephanie Palmer
      Reply Stephanie Palmer July 28, 2015 at 8:38 am

      You’ve totally got me there, Paula. You can tell that restricting my calories is not my personal forte. Let me know if you figure out how to do this!

  • Reply Diana @ Red Delicious Life July 26, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    These are both great techniques to help with procrastination. The 10 minute rule – easy to implement. Coming up with a reward to do while tackling something I’ve been putting off, not so easy.

  • Reply RuthB July 27, 2015 at 7:00 am

    Great advice – i love the idea of pairing a chore with a reward – especially the working out one watching a favourite TV programme!

  • Reply MotorMonkey July 27, 2015 at 9:02 am

    Great write up and advice. I love the part where you tell us that it is not all my fault that I procrastinate. 🙂

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