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Patrik Edblad

How to Get Things Done With ‘Temptation Bundling’

in Habits

I used to have terrible trouble getting myself to do housekeeping chores such as washing the dishes, cleaning and doing the laundry. It just seemed so tedious and boring.

Then I noticed that if I listened to a great audiobook or podcast while doing these chores, suddenly they weren’t such a drag anymore. In fact, I even started to look forward to some of them (true story)!

Temptation Bundling

As it turns out, this strategy of coupling things you need to do with something that you want to do has been given the name ’Temptation bundling’ (1) by Wharton Operations and Information Management Professor, Katherine Milkman.

A few years ago, Professor Milkman was having a hard time getting herself to go to the gym regularly. She then noticed that when she allowed herself to listen to her favourite fiction novel audiobooks only while she was at the gym, her attendance rose dramatically.

The clever thing about temptation bundling is that it achieves two goals at once:

  1. It reduces the time you spend on temptations by limiting the situations in which you allow yourself to engage in them.
  2. It increases the likelihood of you engaging in your desired behaviour.

Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym

That was the name of the article in which Professor Milkman and her colleagues described how they put temptation bundling to the test in a 2013 study (1). What they found was that, the participants who got to bundle ‘enjoying page-turner audiobooks’ with exercise, visited the gym 51% more than the people who did not.

They could also see that the treatment effects declined over time, especially as the participants took some time off for Thanksgiving and presumably forgot about what was going on in their audiobooks.

So this is great news on the one hand, because it suggests that wanting to know what happens next in your novel can make you go to the gym. However, the findings also show that there is more work to be done on how to re-engage people with exercise who have spent time away from the gym. As usual, consistency is the key.

How to Get Things Done With Temptation Bundling

The concept of temptation bundling is intuitive and it is likely that you have put this strategy to use at some point yourself. So all you need to do is be a little more deliberate when it comes to how and when you’ll be using it in the future. Here’s what you do:

Start by creating two lists.

List 1 is your “Want to Do” list. Write down what you love to do, what you love to eat or experiences that you need to limit. These could be, for example, watching TV, over-indulging in certain types of foods or snacks, listening to audiobooks or podcasts, wasting time on social media, etc.

List 2 is your “Should Do” list. Here is where you’ll write down the things you know you should be doing to reach your goals, but which you tend to procrastinate on. Examples include exercise, study, housekeeping chores, work and so forth.

The next step is to take items from List 1 and bundle them with appropriate items from List 2.

The keyword here is ‘appropriate’. All the items on your “Want to Do” list probably won’t match well with everything from your “Should Do” list. For example, you probably shouldn’t combine studying with social media.

If you can’t find a suitable item to bundle with a certain “Should Do”, I suggest you experiment with using a “Want to Do” as a reward instead of bundling it.

I had a coaching client who was a big fan of ‘Game of Thrones’ and he found it very beneficial to use the show as a reward for completing all his daily tasks. It was a big motivator to get things done and he also ended up enjoying the show much more when he could watch it with a sense of achievement rather than as a form of procrastination.

I’d love to hear how you’ll use temptation bundling to get things done! 🙂

Footnotes

  1. Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling