[3 minute psychology]
The 10-minute trick for beating procrastination
Ever noticed the hardest part is getting started?
Ever noticed that once you’ve finally started it’s not so bad?
Why it’s so hard getting started
But getting started can be really hard. That’s because there’s a form of inertia (technically known as the extinction burst) to overcome at the start. It takes effort to override the extinction burst, but once you do, you’re away.
Beating procrastination is like trying to push a car. It’s a lot of effort to start it rolling, but relatively little effort to keep it rolling.
Fortunately, there’s a deceptively simple behavior psychology trick for overriding the inertia, or extinction burst, and getting started. And it’s just as useful for the second hardest part – finishing.
We procrastinate on minor tasks as well as incredibly important ones
Sometimes we procrastinate about tasks that are tedious, boring, and complicated. But we also procrastinate on things that are important.
We procrastinate on our study. We procrastinate on writing our novel. We procrastinate on publishing our blog. We procrastinate on asking for a promotion. We procrastinate on applying for the job of our dreams.
I used this 10-minute trick to help me finish writing my Ph.D. thesis. My Ph.D. was incredibly important to me. Yet, at the time, sitting at my computer to work on my thesis felt like walking into execution chamber on death row and strapping myself into the electric chair.
And this trick really helped. I still use it. And I’ve used it to help many other people. It’s really effective and it’s really simple.
3 simple steps to get started and stop procrastinating
- Set your timer for 10 minutes.
- Work on the dreaded task for 10 minutes.
- Stop working when the timer goes off.
I told you it was simple. Even an awful task is bearable for a mere 10 minutes. And once you’ve made a start, if you want, you can set the timer for another 10 minutes or a longer time. The hardest part is over.
The 10-minute trick gets us started by creating mini deadlines.
Most of us stop procrastinating just before the deadline. But often too late to submit our best work. Even if our work is good, it’s an exhausting and stressful way to live. Chronic stress doesn’t end well.
In contrast, rather than one huge terrifying deadline that induces procrastination by paralysis, the 10-minute trick works by creating lots of non-scary – even friendly – mini deadlines.
Make getting started even easier
You can turbocharge the effectiveness of this deceptively simple tactic by rewarding yourself after the 10 minutes.
There are two reasons rewarding even the smallest amount of effort is a powerful procrastination buster:
- As far as your brain is concerned, you haven’t just done 10 minutes on something you’ve been avoiding – you’ve actually done 10 minutes in the ring with a sabretooth tiger. So, reward your courage.
- You should reward your courage because (as any behavior psychologist will tell you) behaviors that get rewarded get repeated. Your reward can range from a Ferrari to a simple mental pat on the back; “Well done me, I just spent 10 minutes working on something I’ve been avoiding.”
Is it possible to make beating procrastination even easier?
If you are feeling really resistant to doing the task – and it can feel like a powerful physical revulsion – then set the timer for even less than 10 minutes. Five minutes, even two, is enough to get you started.
For example, when my stepsister was struggling to finish her master’s thesis, she would start each day by spending five minutes sketching out a mind map. This tiny non-threatening task is easy and fun to do. It overrides the extinction burst and gets our creative juices flowing.
How to get rapid neural re-wiring
Give yourself a HUGE reward – as soon as possible – after your timer goes off.
Rewarding effort immediately helps your brain replace the association between effort and pain (which leads to procrastination), with an association between effort and reward (which leads to achievement).
The bigger, and most importantly – more immediate – the reward, the more quickly this neural re-wiring will occur, i.e. the more quickly our brains develop new, achievement-orientated neural pathways and the more quickly we lose the urge to procrastinate.
How to pick the most motivating rewards is another series of posts, but the main point here is when faced with a large off-putting task, just set your timer for a minuscule, less off-putting amount of time.
What important tasks are you avoiding?
And where is your timer?
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What are your experiences with procrastination? Do you struggle with it? What helps? What makes it worse? Have you tried creating mini-deadlines before? It would be awesome if you joined the conversation below.
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