João Freitas

The following articles talks about the ultimate measure to fix procrastination: putting yourself at the shame of others.

Post image for Atomic Accountability

Post image for Atomic Accountability

People who know they’re serious procrastinators should always have a “nuclear option” at their disposal.

By that I mean a button, a switch, a no-turning-back phone call that will put into motion an unstoppable force capable of smashing through your usual hesitations when nothing else works. You definitely want one of these buttons, and it’s easy enough to set up.

If I can’t bring myself to get around to an important task, such as filing a tax thing or making a doctor’s appointment, I invoke my nuclear option: I give my best friend three hundred dollars in cash and tell her to spend it if I don’t prove to her that I’ve done the thing by a certain date and time.

This sets into motion several unstoppable forces that make the outcome inevitable:

Essentially, my nuclear option traps me in a box, where the only side with any viable way through is the one where I do the task. Being in this box is uncomfortable, but it guarantees the thing will soon be behind me.

When you’re not in such a tightly constructed box, there are too many options that are more appealing than doing the thing, at least in the short term.

Normal situation

Normal situation

This is the procrastinator’s natural habitat. You should be doing X, but alas, more attractive options abound right now. Why do the thing when you could just get a muffin and do it later?

With the nuclear option invoked, the wheels are in motion, and the usually-infinite supply of “later” is now quickly running out:

Nuclear option invoked

Nuclear option invoked

In my head I’ve referred to this sort of move as “atomic accountability,” because it feels like I’m invoking some sort of immense, forbidden power that makes things suddenly much more serious, but which can move mountains if need be. (The nuclear bomb analogy ends there — don’t take it too far.)

We already know “accountability” is helpful for getting yourself to do things you’ve been avoiding. You’re supposed to involve other people in your promises to yourself, so that you’re not only letting yourself down. Accountability is a broad concept, however, and a career procrastinator can always get around its weaker forms. Implementing “accountability” could mean anything from offhandedly telling someone you intend to start working out this fall — which they will never remember and would never get on your case about it anyway — to hiring a hitman who is contract-bound to kill you if you can’t bench 225 lbs by December 31 at midnight.

If you tend to procrastinate on important things, you want some form of the hard stuff available when needed. It doesn’t need to be on-peril-of-your-life hard, but it does need to involve unacceptable consequences for not getting the thing done. Your little box of limited options needs to be constructed such that it traps you between some truly unyielding surfaces, the softest of which is to simply do the damn thing.

Dares you to say “later” again

Dares you to say “later” again

Only you can decide how much force is needed to get you to act. Losing $300 may not be enough of a threat. You have infinite room to raise the stakes, of course.

You may have heard of an anecdote, popular in self-help books, about a man who was desperate to stop smoking. He rented a billboard advertisement with his picture on it, along with a promise that he will give $10,000 to anyone who catches him smoking.

I have no idea if that story is true, but it is an example of a well-deployed nuclear option. The man needed to force the issue, and so he put himself into a reinforced box whose easiest escape route was to quit smoking.

Essentially, his options were:

The nuclear option for procrastination can take many forms, but giving a friend cash to be returned only under certain conditions has always worked for me. If you don’t have such a trustworthy person available to you, there are online services that do the same thing, called “commitment contract” services. Some of them allow you to pledge a donation to a charity antithetical to your values, to be sent off on a certain date if you don’t verify you did the thing. There was even a service (now defunct) that would post embarrassing pictures of you on Facebook if you didn’t meet your goal.

You get the idea. Once you invoke The Option, you can only avert disaster by doing the thing you know deep down you can do — when you have the right incentives.

If you’re a career procrastinator, you need to set up some atomic accountability. You already know the pain of perpetual avoidance and shame. Imagine having a lever you can pull that can effectively make you get serious and put a long-avoided thing behind you. Give yourself the option.

#reads #david cain #productivity #procrastination #hack