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Just Do It (...Later) - Who Stole My Brain - Final!

The final topic in this series about how our hormones affect our daily functioning is ironically – Task Initiation. This is basically the opposite of procrastination Yes, I did put this topic off until the end, because, in the words of Tim Urban in his legendary Ted Talk Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator , “Everybody is procrastinating on something.” We can all identify with the urge to put off tasks we like least, and we all do it.

Causes of Procrastination

In his book, The Procrastination Equation, Piers Steel identifies 3 causes of procrastination:

1. Low Expectancy (of success): If the task is difficult or complex and we don’t know how to start or proceed, we procrastinate it.

2. Low Value: If the task isn’t that important to us, or if we don’t see its inherent value, we procrastinate it.

3. Low Reward: If the reward for doing the task will be gained later than the more immediate gratification of distractions, we procrastinate the task. For example, the reward for exercising is long-term health or weight loss. The reward for staying on the couch to scroll on Facebook is more immediate. (The reward is a dopamine hit every time you see that little red notification dot when someone likes or comments on your post. And dopamine feels good!) Distractions with more immediate gratification can also lead to what is known as “productive procrastination”. This is when you do something useful, but not what you should be doing.

What We can Do About It

1. Low Expectancy (of success): How do you eat an elephant?...One bite at time! It’s easier to start if you know you can get through it quickly, than if you feel it’s just the beginning of a long, drawn-out process. Therefore, break it up into the tiniest steps, so small you won’t feel like putting off that step. What’s first? Sit in your office chair. Next? Turn on the laptop. Next? Write a sentence. Usually, by step four or five you’re into it.

2. Low Value: Use the “10 Minute Rule” – who says you have to wait until you want to do it, or be in the mood or feel inspired, before starting? Just start and tell yourself you can give up after 10 minutes. More often than not, you won’t give up then, because it’s the starting that is the hardest. As author and entrepreneur, James Clear, recommends: “Start before you are ready!” Another trick is to try to dig deeper to find value in what you are doing. Don’t feel like cleaning the kitchen? Ask yourself, if I clean the kitchen, what will that give me? A sense of order? And what will that sense of order give me? Peace of mind? And what will peace of mind give me? It will allow me to do everything else better. And when I do everything else better, what will that give me? Satisfaction? Fulfillment? Keep digging until you get to a core value.

3. Low Reward: If the reward for doing the task will be gained later than the instant gratification of distractions; figure out what you can do to introduce smaller rewards along the way? How can you reward yourself for getting off the couch to go for a walk? You can also set yourself up for success by building in buffers between your distractions and your task. You don’t need to get off the couch right now, but at least put your phone out of reach for a few minutes. Stare out the window, read a chapter in a book, do something to aid the transition. Next, close your eyes and preempt how you will feel when the task is done. How energetic or calm will you feel after that walk? Put up reminders of the long-term reward – like a picture of skinny-you on the fridge. Or put a picture of a vacation destination up as your screensaver on your work computer, to remind you of the long-term rewards of getting the work done.

Sweeten the Deal

For all 3 causes of procrastination above, you can also try sweetening the deal by using one of these brain hacks:

  • Accountability Can you do a menial task with someone? Can you tell someone you’re going to do a task? There's a concept called "Correspondence Training". (According to well-documented research) when we make a verbal/written commitment to do something at a specific time, this increases the likelihood that it will happen.

  • Challenge How can you add some excitement? Get it done in 10 minutes? Sign up for a race?

  • Novelty How can you change it up? Take a new walking route? Work in a different place?

  • Interest How can you make the task more interesting? Can you listen to music or a podcast?

Discover your Personal Procrastination Personality

If you go to The Procrastination Equation website, you can measure your own procrastination tendency: If you buy the book, you can identify which cause of procrastination most trips you up, and then get great tips and tool on how to overcome your procrastination tendencies.

Or you could just do it later, because you might still have some procrastinating to do from yesterday :)

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