5 Keys That Can Predict and Prevent Procrastination

There has been a lot said about procrastination but today you’ll hear something completely different.

Today we look at 5 keys that can trigger procrastination. By understanding and manipulating these keys, you can predict and prevent procrastination. That means you can prevent all the lost opportunity and pain of regret that comes with procrastination.

In an earlier article, we uncovered research that proved that procrastination is not caused by lack of willpower, lack of intelligence or even laziness. That article reveals how we fall into and are even tricked into procrastination. Today’s article is different because it looks at how we cause it ourselves (without even realizing it) and simple steps to prevent it.

Many of today’s insights come from Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin in his book; the Organized Mind. He piggybacked on the work of Professor Piers Morgan of the University of Calgary who created a Procrastination Equation. The Procrastination Equation predicts if and when procrastination will occur. It identifies 4 keys but Dr. Levitin improved the procrastination equation by adding a 5th key.

Let’s start by listening to Professor Morgan:

“Humans have a low tolerance for frustration. Moment by moment, when choosing what tasks to undertake or activities to pursue, we tend to choose not the most rewarding action but the easiest. This means that unpleasant or difficult things get put off.”

Professor Morgan points out that we tend to choose not the most rewarding but the easiest action. Let’s be honest. Most worthy goals are NOT easy. They take work and, often, they’re frustrating because they require you to leave your comfort zone. But, the rewards are more than worth the effort. So it’s logical to choose the tough yet rewarding goal NOT the easy one.

 "The problem is that your emotional system is
MORE powerful than your willpower. Why?"

Unfortunately, the embarrassing truth is that, very often, we’re not driven by logic but instead by emotion. The problem is that your emotional system is more powerful than your willpower. Why?

First, your emotional system is part of your incredibly powerful unconscious system. It’s the same system that automatically digests your food, runs your immune system and keeps your heart beating -even while you sleep. But that’s not the only reason.

In his book The Emotional Brain, Dr. LeDoux revealed that, “Connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems are stronger than connections from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems.”

Because of the strong physical connections from your emotions to the thinking part of your brain, your emotions heavily influence decisions and even drive your behavior.

Let’s be honest. Nobody likes to say that they’re an emotional person. Yet, based on how your brain is wired to work, we are all emotional people. In fact, there are medical patients who had severe damage to the emotional parts of the brain. They effectively have no emotion. Without emotions, did they make Spock-like logically superior decisions?

Absolutely not. They were often stuck in an endless loop of weighing pros and cons. They had a very hard time making even simple decisions. One patient got stuck endlessly debating (with himself) whether Fruit Loops or Lucky Charms was the better breakfast cereal (Everybody knows Lucky Charms is way better!). Just kidding about the specific cereal but it’s absolutely true that without emotion it’s extremely difficult to make decisions. Very often emotion triggers decisions and ignites action.

The decision to procrastinate is not logical. It’s almost purely emotional and because of the persistent strength of emotion, the danger of procrastination should not be taken for granted.

2 quick points. Professor Morgan said, “we tend to choose not the most rewarding but the easiest action”. So what does it take to choose the ‘most rewarding action instead of the easiest? Willpower. Right?

Of course, but leading willpower scientists report that willpower degrades as the day wears on. This brings us to one more part of Professor Morgan’s statement. He said, “Moment by moment when choosing what tasks to undertake or activities to pursue”.

The critical fact is that your emotional system is incredibly persistent and efficient. It’s ALWAYS looking to take the easy path. It’s repeatedly asking you, even urging you to take the easy action. Only your willpower prevents that subpar choice. But because your willpower naturally wears down, it’s just a matter of time before the easy way wins. Unfortunately, procrastination is the easy choice. At least, it is until the pain of regret sets in (but, by then, it’s already too late).

By now you see why procrastination is such a persistent problem for so many folks. You should not feel shame or guilt for occasionally losing a procrastination battle. You’re out-gunned and overpowered. They key is to learn from them. In fact, the Procrastination Crusher Kit gives you worksheets and 7 core keys that reveal how to prevent procrastination traps. To get the Procrastination Crusher kit Click Here.

But, now that we’ve laid the foundation for procrastination. You know how powerful and persistent it is but, as they say in TV infomercials… WAIT THERE’S MORE!

On top of the powerful persistent pull for procrastination that you’ve already heard about, there are also 5 factors that can open the door to procrastination. These factors are often overlooked which is why you need to know them. They are part of the Procrastination Equation.

5 Factors of the Procrastination Equation

  1. Time to complete task – the longer a task takes to complete the more likely you’ll procrastinate
  2. Task-Value – The less valuable a task is the more likely you’ll procrastinate
  3. Feedback-Delay – If feedback is delayed or far away then you can feel lost and procrastinate
  4. Self-confidence – When your self-confidence is LOWER, the chances for procrastination are HIGHER.
  5. Distractibility – Easy access to distractions leads to procrastination

Planning Your Day:

When you write your to-do list or goals, you might not think that the ‘time to complete task’ can actually trigger procrastination. But that’s what procrastination expert Professor Morgan said.

The longer it takes to complete your task the more disinterested your brain becomes. Remember, your brain craves instant gratification.

This also explains why task-value is time sensitive. You see, often, a task’s value will not pay off until some future date. Long-term goals don’t pay off quickly. But, as we said, the brain craves instant gratification.

To make matters worse, your brain has a built-in mechanism that lowers the value of future rewards. It’s called Hyperbolic discounting. And it simply means that the farther a reward is into the future the LESS value your brain will assign to the reward. So, a reward of $1,000 in 10 years will get very little attention from your brain.

So even though task-value could be very high in the future, hyperbolic discounting considers far-off task-value low and makes procrastination even more likely.

In general, the lower the task-value the LESS your brain will want to do it and the MORE likely procrastination will occur. And that’s a problem.

Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin added another key that’s also time-related. He said the longer it takes to get feedback the greater the likelihood of procrastination.

In the book Good To Great, author Jim Collins said, to perform at peak levels, we need to have BHAG goals. BHAG stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Yet, very often, those kinds of goals negatively impact 4 of our procrastination triggers: Time-to-complete-task, Task-Value (they pay off at a future date), feedback-delay and self-confidence.

You might have also head the advice that ‘you should select goals that are so big that they scare you”. Well, this triggers the 4th procrastination tripwire self-confidence.

Here’s what Professor Levitin said about self-confidence in his book “The Organized Mind”:  “We tend to evaluate our self-worth in terms of our achievements. Whether we lack self-confidence in general—or confidence that this particular project will turn out well—we procrastinate because that allows us to delay putting our reputations on the line until later. (This is what psychologists call an ego-protective maneuver.)

The less confident you are about achieving your goal, the more likely you are to procrastinate. So you can see how easily procrastination is triggered.

The last key is distractibility. The easier it is for you to be distracted the greater the chance of procrastination.

Now let’s look at how to prevent procrastination by avoiding these triggers.

We’re going to make a single change that’ll
protect you from 4 procrastination triggers.

But first, let me admit that this advice is not new yet it is VITAL. You see, most of the time we know what to do but we rush or we simply let our guards down. That’s when little details get missed. The tragedy is that those little details make a BIG difference.

You might not have given much thought to ‘Time-To-Complete-Task, Task-value or even feedback-delay. But they are all part of the procrastination equation and they can trigger procrastination. But if you haven’t taken the time to even find out how they’re set, then you can end up feeling the painful sting of regret.

So what’s the one change that’ll handle all four? If you simply break the task into small, manageable parts then you’d solve many problems.

Let’s start by procrastination-proofing the first key: Time to complete task: to satisfy this key, cut your goals into small pieces. Instead of setting the goal to write a book, just make the goal outline the book. Or better yet, set a goal to outline each chapter. When you cut the goal down, you avoid the time-to-complete-task trigger.

Fortunately, that strategy also helps with the 2nd key– Task-Value. The problem arises when task-value is either very low or very far off in the future. If your goal is to write a book or complete college, then the value is way off in the future. But if you set smaller goals then you’re rewarded with the feeling of achievement.

And, that strategy kills 4 birds with one stone because it also solves the feedback-delay problem. By breaking the goal into smaller pieces, you get feedback sooner.

Self-confidence – If your self-confidence is LOWER, the chances for procrastination goes HIGH. As you cut your goals down, your confidence should shoot up and procrastination goes down.

Distractibility – This key is not really related to a specific goal but it applies to ALL goals.

How important is it to reduce your distractions?

Well, you’ll find that many top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and executives who say that their most productive time is when they’re on a long airplane flight. It gives them uninterrupted time to get work done. Obviously, you can’t take a plane flight to get work done but you can protect your work environment. What would it take to make your workplace distraction-free?

To get results like top entrepreneurs, are you willing to cut off all chances of distractions? No cellphone, TV, internet or kids.

Remember, as Dr. Piers said ‘moment-by-moment’ your brain is looking for the easy way out. When you cut off any chance of distraction then your brain gives up.  Want proof?

Consider this. Most smokers, especially chain smokers, will get physically sick if they don’t smoke within their regular smoke times. That’s true except when they’re on airplanes. Studies have shown that on airplanes, the physical sickness stops with many cigarette smokers. If there’s a dead-end between them and their habit then the brain stops reacting. But as soon as their plane lands, they’re back to smoking again.

If you make Facebook, Twitter, your cellphone, and other distractions dead-ends then your brain will know they’re not an option. That’s when your brain becomes free to focus on what’s truly important.

Well, we’ve come a long way. As sure as water rolls downhill, your brain will repeatedly look and try to take the easy way. Simply investing 2 minutes answering 4 simple questions can prevent procrastination.

For each task you plan to do answer these questions:

  • How long will it take to complete?
  • What is this task worth? Is the payoff immediate or in the future?
  • How long will it take to get feedback?
  • How confident that I can complete this?

Do I have a distraction-free environment?

The pain of regret is much larger than the small effort it’d take to cover these keys. So make sure to ask and answer these questions for every task you plan on doing.

Ok, we’ve come a long ways. The next step is to get the Procrastination Crusher Kit. It gives you worksheets and 7 core keys that reveal how to prevent procrastination traps. To get the Procrastination Crusher kit Click Here.