Wish to Cease Procrastinating in 2021? New Analysis Says Simply Ask Your self the Similar four Questions
While no less a thinker than Adam Grant argues that procrastination can be helpful – one New Year celebrations he decided to postpone more, no less – for many of us, it is not always the best way to take a quick start and a slow finish.
Research shows that chronic procrastinators tend to make less money, have higher levels of anxiety, and even have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Constantly moving around not only means you get less done, it’s also very stressful.
With all the disadvantages, why do so many people hesitate – and by “people” I also mean “I”? It turns out there is math involved.
According to Piers Steel and Cornelius Konig, your motivation for a particular task can be calculated using the following formula (this is the easy version):
Motivation = (Expectation X Value) / (Impulsiveness X Delay)
- Expectation: How likely you are to feel successful
- Value: What you gain from success
- Impulsiveness: Your natural tendency to procrastinate
- Delay: How much time do you need to spend completing the task?
Add it up and boom: the result is your current motivation. The less sure you are, the less exciting the result, the longer you have to do it … the more likely you are to put it off.
But as a deadline approaches, your level of confidence becomes less important and the downsides of not getting the job done become more important. As the developers of temporal motivational theory write: “The perceived benefit of a given activity increases exponentially as the deadline approaches.”
And because of that, you are more likely to get started.
Granted, you didn’t need math to explain the phenomenon of procrastination. Or social psychologists.
But they can help you overcome it.
Ask yourself the same four questions. Frequently.
In a study published in Applied Psychology: An International Review in December, researchers sent students (the kings and queens of procrastination) texts twice a day asking them to ponder four questions:
- “Our analysis suggests that students who do best on this course start early and submit their lab report the day before it is due. To demonstrate that you’ve read the above statement in the box below, please repeat what students do who perform best do: “
- “Imagine the day this job is due and you haven’t started working on it. How are you feeling?”
- “Research has shown that breaking bigger tasks into smaller tasks can add motivation. What’s your next small step?”
- “If there was one thing you could do to make sure you got the lab report ready on time, what would it be?”
Why these questions? The researchers hoped that thinking about the inputs to the motivational equation would increase expectation and value, and decrease impulsivity and lag. Take “What’s Your Next Little Step?” and “If you could do one thing, what would it be?”
Breaking up a large project into smaller steps can feel less daunting. So it’s about doing one thing rather than going on a journey to achieve the whole thing.
At the end of two weeks, students who received the four questions were likely to start their assignments significantly earlier than those who didn’t.
But there was a catch: the effect wasn’t immediate. As with advertising, repeated exposure was key. It took most of them at least a few texts – at least a few moments of thought – before they stopped waiting and started doing.
And strangely enough, the students didn’t mind the repetitive reminders, probably because those repetitive reminders ultimately made a difference.
Try it. The next time you have a project – or rather, set a goal – you know you’ll likely postpone the start, use a version of the four questions. Basically they could look like this:
- “How would successful people accomplish this goal?”
- “How will I feel if I don’t do the job? Or run out of time to do it great?”
- “What can I do to make sure I’m ready on time?”
- “What’s the first (or next) thing I have to do?”
Then paste the prompts on your calendar. Send it to yourself twice a day. And, most importantly, take a few minutes to ponder the answers to each question.
While it may take a day or two, the drop effect will eventually start to work. Self-reflection begins to pay off.
And the deferral math will work in your favor.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.