Psychologists have figured out a ridiculously easy trick to combat your tendency to put things off: Break them up into smaller pieces.
The idea is that you’ll get a thrill out of checking those individual items off your to-do list and, before you know it, you’ll have completed the whole project.
The strategy is based on a study out of Pennsylvania State University. Researchers asked participants to pick up one of two buckets and carry it to the end of a walkway, expecting that people would choose the bucket closer to the endpoint.
To their surprise, many people selected the bucket closer to the starting point. When asked why, most explained that they “wanted to get the task done as soon as possible” — even though that wouldn’t actually get the task done sooner.
The researchers never figured out exactly why so many people chose the bucket closer to the starting point. But they suspect that it has to do with “pre-crastination,” or the tendency to complete tasks quickly just for the sake of getting them done sooner rather than later.
In other words, even just picking up the bucket and getting that task out of the way was psychologically rewarding.
“The discovery of pre-crastination may suggest a way to counter the ills of procrastination,” one of the study authors writes in Scientific American. “Break larger tasks into smaller ones. Such smaller tasks, when completed, will promote a sense of accomplishment, will bring one closer to the final goal.”
In other words, if you’ve been putting off cleaning your apartment for the last six months, try breaking down the task into super-simple steps: buy cleaning supplies one day, sweep the living room floor the next day, clean the kitchen counters the third day, etc. You’ll be more likely to tackle the cleaning project this way than if you expect you’ll do the whole thing in a single afternoon.
It might seem silly to pat yourself on the back for purchasing Windex, but if procrastination is really a problem for you, harnessing the thrill of task completion may be the motivation you need to start getting things done.
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