Do you know the feeling?
You have a big goal you’re trying to achieve but, for some reason, you just can’t get yourself to take action.
Maybe you’re getting disappointed looks from the people who depend on you — or from the person you see in the mirror.
Perhaps you’re tired of you ever-expanding to do-list, the clutter that’s filling your house, or a passion project you never seem to get off the ground.
If so, you’re not alone. Some research suggests that one-fifth of adults and half of all students procrastinate 1.
And along with it comes decreased performance, worsened mental and physical health, and increased stress, anxiety, and guilt2.
Luckily, there’s a simple tool you can use to stop procrastinating, build a strong sense of motivation, and start getting things done.
The Procrastination Equation
Piers Steel is one of the world’s leading researchers in the science of motivation and procrastination.
In his book, The Procrastination Equation3, he outlines a formula that makes it super easy to understand why we put things off:
Steel put together the procrastination equation after analyzing hundreds of studies on motivation. In his own words, it is: ”inspired by the common elements that determine when we procrastinate and crafted together from the most deeply researched elements of social sciences’ strongest motivation theories. The Procrastination Equation accounts for every major finding for procrastination.”
It’s a bit abstract when you first see it, so let’s unpack it a bit.
If you’re not a math wizard, the first thing you need to notice is that if you want a big Motivation, you have to have a big numerator (above the line), and small denominator (below the line).
In other words, you want to have a high Expectancy and Value, and a low Impulsivity and Delay. So what do those words mean?
Do you expect to achieve your goal? If you’re going to have a strong motivation, you have to be confident that you make it happen.
If the expectancy is low, you can increase it by starting small and then increase the effort as your momentum grows.
Do you value the outcome you’re going after? If you don’t, you’re going to have a tough time doing the work necessary to get there.
If the value is low, you can turn it up by aligning it with your ”why.” Establish your personal vision, and consistently remind yourself about how your daily work moves you closer to it.
Does your impulsivity steal your focus away from the work that has to be done? Are you constantly interrupted by push notifications and email alerts?
If the impulsivity is high, you can decrease it by removing distractions and optimizing your environment for deep work.
Does your goal allow you to delay your efforts? In other words, is your deadline far away in the future? If so, you’re likely to put it off.
If the delay is high, you can turn it down by chunking it up. Create daily, weekly, and monthly targets to give you a consistent boost of small wins.
How to Stop Putting Things Off, Quick Summary
Whenever you feel unmotivated, use the Procrastination Equation.
Find ways to make the numerator as big as possible. Make sure you expect to achieve the goal, and that doing it is truly important to you.
Then, find ways to make the denominator as small as possible. Remove distractions from your environment and reduce the time to your deadlines.
To make it as easy as possible for you, I’ve created a Procrastination Equation Cheat Sheet you can print out and put to use whenever your motivation is waning.
Don’t procrastinate on this. 😉
PS. If you’re already a newsletter subscriber, you can grab your cheat sheet in the members’ section.
- Understanding and Treating Procrastination: A Review of a Common Self-Regulatory Failure
- Longitudinal Study of Procrastination, Performance, Stress, and Health: The Costs and Benefits of Dawdling
- The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done
Hat tip to Brian Johnson for the inspiration to this article.