You make goals… but then you procrastinate.
You write a to-do list… but then you don’t follow through.
And this happens again and again and again. Seriously, what’s the problem?
Why are we so good at thinking of what to do but so terrible at actually doing those things?
The problem is you’re skipping an essential step. Here’s what it is…
The Mistake Every Productivity System Makes
Productivity systems rarely take emotions into account. And feelings are a fundamental and unavoidable part of why humans do what they do.
We can’t ignore our emotions. Because of the way our brains are structured, when thought and feelings compete, feelings almost always win.
And we can’t fight our feelings. Research shows this just makes them stronger.
So what does the unavoidable power of feelings mean for motivation?
We need to think to plan but we need to feel to act.
So if you’ve got the thinking part out of the way – how do you rile up those emotions and get things done? Here are three steps:
1) Get Positive
When do we procrastinate the most? When we’re in a bad mood.
What does the military teach recruits in order to mentally toughen them up? No, it’s not hand-to-hand combat.
It’s optimism. So how do you get optimistic if you’re not feeling it?
Monitor the progress you’re making and celebrate it. Harvard’s Teresa Amabile‘s research found that nothing is more motivating than progress.
(More on how to get happier here.)
Okay, so negativity isn’t making you procrastinate and holding you back. But what’s going to drive you forward?
2) Get Rewarded
Rewards feel good. Penalties feel bad. And that’s why they both can work well for motivating you.
Research shows that rewards are responsible for three-quarters of why you do things.
So treat yourself whenever you complete something on your to-do list. (Yes, this is how you train a dog but it will work for you too.)
Having trouble finding a reward awesome enough to get you off your butt? Try a “commitment device” instead:
Give your friend $100. If you get a task done by 5PM, you get your $100 back. If you don’t complete it, you lose the $100.
Your to-do list just got very emotional.
(More on how to stop procrastinating here.)
So you’re feeling positive and there are rewards (or penalties) in place. What else do you need? How about nagging, compliments and guilt?
3) Get Peer Pressure
Research shows peer pressure helps kids more than it hurts them.
(And face it, you’re still a big kid, you just have to pretend to be an adult most of the time — and it’s exhausting.)
Surround yourself with people you want to be and it’s far less taxing to do what you should be doing.
Via Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:
The Longevity Project, which studied over 1000 people from youth to death had this to say:
(More on the science of friendship here.)
So we’ve got all three methods going for us. How do we wrap this all together and get started?
Got today’s to-do list? Great. That means the most rational thing to do now isstop being rational. Get those emotions going:
- Get Positive
- Get Rewarded
- Get Peer Pressure
You can do this. In fact, believing you can do this is actually the first step.
What’s one of the main things that stops people from becoming happier? Happiness isn’t part of how they see themselves so it’s harder to change.
Think of yourself as a motivated, productive person. Research shows how people feel about themselves has a huge effect on success.
Still unsure if you’ll be able to beat the procrastination demon? Then skip right to #3, peer pressure.
Forward this post to at least two friends and start holding each other accountable.
Now you’ve got something outside of yourself that’s watching and motivating you. And everything is easier — and more fun — with friends.
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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.