December 08, 2017
How many times has it happened? You’re up all night sweating over a project that’s due soon. The deadline is looming, and you are way behind in your work.
On the morning commute, your anxiety increases. Yet when you finally get into the office and sit down at the computer, you waste several hours reading news sites or browsing your Facebook feed.
Thinking back on all that wasted time is frustrating. How much more could you have achieved if you could just figure out a way force your brain out of neutral and into first gear?
The good news is, researchers might have finally discovered one trick that will jolt you out of your lethargy and into action.
It may sound strange, but it all comes down to having a little empathy for your future self.
Consider the Future You
A psychologist and marketing professor at UCLA recently came across an intriguing fact: despite an increase in life expectancy, most people don’t plan properly for retirement.
That professor, Hal Hershfield, wanted to know the reason why. So, he conducted a study. What he found was very odd: many people view their future selves as a completely different person.
When given a choice of saving money so that their future self could have a comfortable retirement, or receiving money right away, most people chose the latter.
However, Hershfield and his team found that when a subject felt a strong connection to their future self, they were more likely to allocate money, time, and energy into planning for retirement.
Similarly, when we procrastinate, we ignore the stress and suffering of our future self, as if that person were different from us. One way to overcome this is to think about the stress and pain our future self will experience if we do not complete our work.
By conceiving our future self as a part of us, we can more easily motivate ourselves to make sacrifices in the present, like we would for a friend or family member.
Visualize Your Success Step by Step
To really beat procrastination, it takes a little more than imagining the pain we might experience if we don’t complete our work (or the joy and relief if we do).
Srini Pillay, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Tinker Dabble Doodle Try, has built on this idea to develop a technique to beat procrastination.
Pillay advises spending 15 minutes per day visualizing yourself working through the tasks that you want to complete. Simply imagining the completed project won’t work—you’ll need to imagine every step of the task in your mind, creating a scenario that is as specific and realistic as possible.
By imagining each step of the process, the details of the task will come into focus, and the reasons behind your procrastination will become clear, allowing you to move forward with the task more easily.
If this sounds complicated, there is another way. If you have a subscription to Focus@Will, another trick that you can use to overcome procrastination is simply putting on your headphones and listen to one of our playlists that are scientifically proven to increase your productivity!