September 17, 2012

How to Ensure You’ll Do Anything

If there’s something you need to do, but you keep putting it off—or if there’s something you’d like to do but don’t seem able to push through, there’s at least one easy way to fix it.

The solution begins with understanding why we procrastinate. The simple answer is: because we can. To solve the problem, therefore, we need to eliminate the ability to defer.

If the task is short but dreaded (a phone call you don’t want to make, for example), you can simply decide not to leave the room until it’s complete. No going to the bathroom, no walking outside—you can sit there and procrastinate all you want, but you don’t move until the task is done.

If the task relates to the completion of a bigger project, with many required steps, create a firm deadline. A deadline that’s moveable will always move. Make it a real deadline by telling the world: “Hey world, this thing is happening at this certain time.”

Buy a non-refundable plane ticket to the other side of the world—that departs on the day after your deadline. Announce a celebration party and invite all your friends—you can’t have them all show up with the project incomplete, right?

By removing the opportunities to defer, we create a path of forced success. Raise the stakes, remove the “outs,” embrace the deadline.

These steps will ensure one of the following:

a) A big success, or

b) A clear failure

You may be worried about failure. In fact, the fear of failure may be one of the reasons why you’ve been putting off the task for so long.

But at a certain point, failure is preferable to the repeated deferral of an important task. Things that you have to do will continue to occupy space in your brain. Things that you want to do will continue to bother you.

Therefore, raise the stakes to get to the next stage.

You have to win the war on procrastination! And you can. You just have to change the rules of the game to accommodate your natural desire to put things off.

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*Related: I liked a post by Julien about how to wear down customer service reps on the phone. I’ve used this same strategy many times, always with success.

Image: Donkey