“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

Abraham Lincoln

I just finished reading this post by James Clear where he tells the story of Victor Hugo, a French author, who promised his publisher a new book.

But instead of working on his book, Victor Hugo was distracted with entertaining guests and other projects.

When his publisher gave him less than six months to finish his book, he came up with an unusual plan to beat his procrastination.

He gathered all his clothes and asked his assistant to hide them so that he would have no clothes to go outside. All he was left with was a large shawl.

The plan worked! On 14 January 1831, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was published two weeks ahead of deadline.

The story shows that procrastination is not a new concept but one that has existed for many years.

In fact, Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle called this type of behaviour, akrasia — the state of acting against your better judgement.


So, why do we make plans but don’t take action? Why does akrasia rule our lives?

Have you ever gone to bed with plans to go to the gym first thing in the morning and upon wakening, decide not to bother? I have. Too many times.

Part of the reason is due to time inconsistency — our brains value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.

Here are ten reasons outlined by Psychology Today on why we prefer instant gratification over long-term payoff.

Understanding how to resist the pull of instant gratification can help you get to where you want to be.

Three Strategies to Help You Beat Procrastination

1. Design your future actions

When he locked his clothes away, Victor Hugo created a commitment device. A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that controls your future actions.

2. Reduce the friction of starting

The guilt of procrastinating is usually worse than the pain of doing the work — once you get started, the actual work is normally fine. 80% of success is just showing up.

Going back to the gym example, I now have all my clothes laid out in the evening — which removes friction and avoids procrastination in the morning. One less thing to think about!

3. Utilise implementation intentions

An implementation intention is where you state your intention to implement a particular behaviour at a specific time in the future.

For example, “I will exercise for at least 30 minutes on [DATE] in [PLACE] at [TIME].”

By having implementation intentions, you’ll be two or three times more likely to perform a future action, especially if you are specific about the place the behaviour is to take place too.

The Pozen Productivity Test

MIT senior lecturer and productivity guru, Bob Pozen, recently designed and conducted a 21-question productivity test.

He published the findings in the Harvard Business Review. From 19,957 respondents across six contintents, they identified two clear trends.

  • The number of hours worked did not correlate with productivity. It’s about working smarter.
  • Older professionals scored better.

Pozen suggests if you want to become more productive you need to adopt these three habits.

  1. Review your schedule the night before to ensure it’s focused on your top priorities. Also, before writing anything substantive, write an outline to help keep you on track.
  2. Make daily processes like getting dressed or eating breakfast into routines so you don’t waste time thinking about them. Also, establish a habit of checking your screens only once per hour.
  3. Meetings should last no more than 90 minutes. At the end, there should be clear next steps and corresponding responsibilities assigned

Final Thoughts

Procrastination is a habit that can sneak into our lives and is often hard to avoid. Have a commitment device, reduce the friction of starting and utilise implementation intentions.

By applying these three tips to your daily routine, you may help combat procrastination and get where you want to be quicker.

How do you beat akrasia? Let us know in the comments below.

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Related: How to Stop Procrastinating Now!