Fascinating research by a Cornell professor reveals that our brains are wired to procrastinate. Since the study is written in academic speak, I’m going to tell you about the study, then how you can apply it. Yes, it’s doable. You can overcome procrastination after all.
Groups of people were informed that they had to volunteer a day of their time doing manual labor in the following month. They were told that they could complete their volunteer work in 7 hours on the 1st day of the month, or that they could put it off until the 15th day of the month when they’d have to work 8 hours.
When asked when they planned to do the volunteer work, the vast majority picked the 7 hours of labor on the 1st. Then the 1st day of the month came. On that day they were asked, “Do you still want to do the work today, or would you rather do 8 hours on the 15th?” Guess what happened? Most people decided to put off the unpleasant task today, just to have to do more of it in the future!
But that all changed when... an instant reward was offered. When people were told, “Hey, we decided to show our thanks by giving each volunteer a $100 bill as soon as they finish,” they wanted to do the volunteer work on the 1st again!
Here’s what we learn: we are wired to avoid work that we can put off, unless there is a reward. In the study, they learned that there are “sophisticated thinkers” and “naïve thinkers” when it comes to procrastination. Trust me, if you are reading this blog, you are sophisticated. We have a big advantage over the naïve who put things off forever—until it catches up and bites them in the butt. But, we still procrastinate, so here is what you can do about it this week:
1. See the reward. What? Did you say reward? The study proved that your brain will switch gears when you get a reward. So take 30 seconds and imagine what life will be like when the task is completed. Ahhhh! No more nagging feeling, no more guilt, only good feelings and a positive outcome. Envision that time! (Try this—it’s cool what happens to your mood.)
2. Get started by planning to start. No, this isn’t more procrastination! But when you realize that there are multiple steps to completing your task, your job becomes easier. To do this, walk away from your computer and phone for 5 minutes and find a quiet spot. Now break your project down into manageable chunks. Chunks? Yes—keep it simple!
3. Gather resources. Get every phone number and address you will need. Make certain any needed supplies are on hand. Create a simple checklist. Basically, take away every excuse as to why you haven’t started. Then be specific: pick an exact time and an exact place when you will start. When that time comes, put your phone in a drawer and close your internet browser. Ready? Begin.
4. Reward yourself. When I was leading a medical foundation, I presented a continuing medical education (CME) talk to physicians. The title was Self-Leadership for Growing Docs. I prepared by reading Mastering of Self-Leadership. Guess what? Doctors love rewards as much as the rest of us. They hate catching up on charts, but they love a fruit smoothie when they do! For you it might be a Jamba Juice when a report is finished or making a delayed purchase at The Apple Store after a big project. Figure out how to reward you, then do it.
THE BOTTOM LINE: You put off doing things because you can, but you never feel better about yourself when you do. Certainly, prioritization is needed and so is planned neglect. But most times... you’re just procrastinating. Now you know what to do. It will take you a total of about 10 minutes. You can say, “Those are good ideas” or you can put them into action. Your choice—just don’t procrastinate!
What are some helpful actions you’ve taken to stop procrastinating.
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