11 ways to stop procrastinating—for good
We're all guilty of it, but there are ways to curb your procrastination and be more productive.
TIM FERRISS: Alright. Procrastination. Let's talk about it. It's a big topic. And by the way we all face it. It is an ever-present, evergreen issue for a reason and even the people you see on magazine covers, most of them – there are a few mutants, but they all have things they put off and there are a few different tactics, approaches that I found very helpful that I borrowed from whether it's guests on the Tim Ferriss Show or people I interviewed for "Tools of Titans," my newest book. Here we go, so down the list.
DAN ARIELY: So the first I think mistake is that we pursue momentary happiness rather than longer term happiness. We do the things that will make us laugh out loud today kind of, not always laugh out loud but kind of like that. And we don't do the things that are difficult and complex and challenging but give us a very different sense of happiness. Think about something like running a marathon. You don't see anybody happy. If you came as an alien and you imaged people's brains and you looked at their facial expressions as they're running a marathon you would say somebody's punishing them. They are paying for something terrible they've done and this is how they're paying their debt to society. It is kind of miserable, but it's also meaningful and creates a sense of achievement and so on. So we're pursuing momentary pleasure rather than truly understanding the depth of what happiness is or what meaning is.
FERRISS: Prolific music producers like Rick Rubin who's legendary and it all comes down to tiny homework assignments. So Rick, if he has a stuck artist for instance he will say can you get me one word or one line that you might like for this song that you're working on by tomorrow. Is that possible. Mini, mini homework assignments. So with a creative project in the beginning that's one. It's related to a piece of advice that I got from Neil Strauss and that is lower your standards. So he doesn't believe in writer's block. He says your standards are just too high. You're creating performance anxiety for yourself. So the advice that I got from another writer which matches with that is two crappy pages per day. So a lot of people are like I'm going to kill it. I need an ambitious goal. Let me do 1,500 words, 2,000 words per day for this book I'm working on. Well, there's a very high probability that you're going to fall short of that and then you will get demoralized. Then you'll get intimidated by the task and then you will start procrastinating. So make the hurdle. Make the success threshold really, really low. That's what I've done for my last three books is two crappy pages per day. That's all I need. If I don't end up using them that's fine. I just need to get out two crappy pages. If you're going to exercise and you're making a New Year's resolution, don't make it an hour a day, four times a week. No, no, no, no, no. Five to ten minutes at the gym three times a week, plenty. And in all those cases you will feel successful because you've checked your box for success. And then very often you'll exceed that for extra credit. You'll be well, I'm already at the gym. I'll go for an extra ten minutes. Well, I'm already flossing my teeth. We'll do an extra four. Well, I've already hit my two pages but I'm feeling great and I'm in the flow. Maybe I'll do ten. Maybe I'll do 20. But it prevents you from feeling like a failure. This is very, very important. That is what derails a lot of people.
JILLIAN MICHAELS: First we have to appreciate that there's a very big difference between inspiration and motivation. And inspiration is great. Inspiration is a source of, a catalyst if you will of change that comes from outside of you. So it could be an episode of Big Think that you watched. It could be a song you heard, a book you read, a memoir that you saw on who knows, some episode of television. And you say you know what? I'm inspired. If they can do it, I can do it and it gives you the little jumpstart on the engine. The car gets going and then in a month, maybe two, all of a sudden you kind of peter out and the battery dies again. And that's because you need motivation to stay in motion. And motivation is that why that comes from inside of you.
FERRISS: So you could use technique, for instance, like the Pomodoro Technique and people have interpreted this in different ways, but it effectively means sprints of say 20 to 25. Some people do 23 minutes where you are like all right, I know I'm not going to get this done, but I'm going to sprint for 20 minutes, 25 minutes and then take a five minute break. Once you have these positive constraints which, by the way, for a creative person very important to have positive constraints. Being able to do anything you want all the time is a recipe for disaster and paralysis and procrastination.
BARBARA OAKLEY: So I teach a course, Learning How To Learn, that's actually the world's largest massive open online course. We have something like two million people. And the Pomodoro Technique is the most popular technique. I hear from literally thousands of people and it's so simple. All you have to do is turn off all distractions so no little ringy dingies on your cell phone or anything like that. On your computer you want to turn off any kind of messages that might arise, set a timer for 25 minutes and then just focus as intently as you can for those 25 minutes. And this is a key thing when you're done you reward yourself and you reward yourself by relaxing a little bit and doing something completely different.
CHARLES DUHIGG: You can't find some work reward that's going to take the place of procrastination. If the reward of procrastination is that you get to spend five minutes distracted by Facebook and sort of see these updates of your friends. You have to allow yourself to do that. That has to be part of your workday. If you need five minutes every hour to look at tweets or to just surf the internet, you need to schedule that into your schedule. Allow yourself to do that because when people start procrastinating what they've done is they've tried to ignore that urge. They've tried to deny themselves time on Facebook or time surfing the web. And then all of a sudden it erupts and they go and they say I'm just going to check for five minutes and 45 minutes later they've lost all of this time. It's because they haven't accommodated that need. Once a habit exists you can't just quelch it. You can't pretend it's not there. You have to sort of accommodate this need in your life. And so the answer is to give yourself five minutes every hour. In fact you can set an alarm. At the end of every hour give yourself five minutes to surf the web. Because if you allow yourself five minutes every hour it won't explode into 45 minutes because you've been trying to suppress it.
ARIELY: The literature there's a term for this. It's called structured procrastination where you basically do lots of little things that give you the sense that you're making progress without actually making any progress. It's very easy to get ourselves to do lots of little tasks that gives us momentary slight joy. Oh, I erased another email. Oh, I responded to that email and so on. Without thinking long term.
MICHAELS: There should always be a look towards the future. We are always growing and evolving and progressing. There is no finish line in life ultimately and I think that's tough for some to accept because we think okay, I crossed the finish line, now what. You're not dead. There's more work to do. Look at that.
ARIELY: In long term thinking it's really what causes real joy. And it's not easy, right. It's not easy. I get about 300 emails a day. I wake up, I open my laptop. It's always a moment of slight depression. Oh, my goodness. I have to deal with all of this. And I could spend my whole day doing email. And email here's an analogy. There's an analogy for all the things that you have to do but they're not giving you a true sense of accomplishment. And the real challenge – and it's not easy is to carve time to do the things that you would say at the end of three months, six months, a year and so on will give me a sense that I'm actually contributing doing something useful. So personally I do this with writing. It's very easy to spend a whole day responding to email. I try to protect some time and say I'm going to write. I'm going to actually stop. I'm going to think. It will take me awhile. Sometimes I'll write something I said the whole time was useless. I didn't really progress enough but from time to time there is progress and over time it creates a body of knowledge that you say this is actually a very useful thing.
FERRISS: The next way that you can apply positive constraint is by building in incentives and consequences. All this means is make yourself socially accountable. Having someone else to hold your feet to the fire and keep you accountable for whatever goal you've set for yourself. That could be a check in via phone. It could be a bet so a financial component which is very effective. And I think in part not because of the money you will win but the money you will lose. People work a lot harder to counteract loss aversion it turns out.
ARIELY: The beauty of human nature is that lots of things motivate us and sense of accomplishment and achievement. Our title, our connection to work. Our connection to people at work. Competing with other people. All of those things motivate us. When we write a motivation equation we would write motivation equals yes, money is important but so is achievement, sense of progress, competition, dah, dah, dah, dah. And the question is how do we use all of them. How do we use all of them to create motivation.
DUHIGG: Why are some people so much better at maintaining their focus and not reacting and not getting distracted by all these things. It's because ahead of time they've envisioned what they expect to see. They've envisioned what they expect to occur. So on the subway when they're riding to work they think about what is this day going to be like. I know that I'm going to this meeting. What do I expect to occur at that meeting. And so when they walk in and they're boss asks them some unexpected question their brain almost subconsciously says I didn't expect that question to occur. This isn't matching the picture in my brain of what I anticipated so I need to put that question off. I need to say can we take that offline and I'll answer that later. Or they have a picture in their brain of what it's going to be like to deal with the kids and to make dinner. There's some type of expectation and so as a result when their pocket buzzes and an email comes in they can say I can't handle this right now. I need to give myself five minutes and I'll deal with this later.
MICHAELS: Remove negative impacts in your environment and that's one of the things that's so good about actual things is that if you change them they stay changed. There's no fighting back. But do some deep self-reflection and consider getting into some counseling to look at those things and get the tools to turn them around.
FERRISS: So those are a few things that you could utilize and I'll give you one kind of wacky one that is from Mike Birbiglia whose one of the most successful comedians on the planet. When he was procrastinating working on his screenplay, his latest screenplay, he noticed that when he was accountable to someone else, he had a meeting, he was never late. He was always early. But when he had a commitment to himself to write he might put it off for hours. So he took a post it and he put it next to his bed – and this sounds ludicrous, but it said Mike – and I think it was three exclamation points. You have a meeting with yourself at 7:00 a.m. at Café whatever it was where he tended to work. And that actually for whatever weird quirk of human psychology got him to stay on track for his meeting with himself to write his screenplay. So that's another Jedi mind trick that you might try on yourself. There are many tools in the toolkit but keep it small, keep it defined, rig it so you can win and when in doubt figure out a way to create a loss or shame if you don't actually tackle your task and achieve some type of measurable goal by a specific point in time.
- Most of us feel guilty or lazy when we put things off until a later date or time, but procrastination is normal and happens to everyone. The key is not to eliminate the word from your vocabulary, but to find ways to work and rest smarter so that tasks get done.
- In this video, investor Tim Ferriss, behavioral economist Dan Ariely, health and wellness expert Jillian Michaels, and others share 11 tips for mastering procrastination including focusing on long-term happiness, understanding the differences between inspiration and motivation, trying the Pomodoro technique, and removing the things that are distracting you from the project at hand.
- One interesting tip shared by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg is to build procrastination into your workflow as a reward. "If you need five minutes every hour to look at tweets or to just surf the internet, you need to schedule that into your schedule." According to Duhigg, it's when we try to ignore that urge completely that things fall apart.
- The Surprising Reasons You're Procrastinating, And How Fight It ›
- Pay Your Future Self Forward, Stop Procrastinating - Big Think ›
- Break Your Procrastination Habit in 9 Easy Steps - Big Think ›
- How to stop procrastinating with your online work - Big Think ›
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The way you speak might reveal a lot about you, such as your willingness to engage in casual sex.
- A new study finds a deeper voice is associated with self-reported extraversion, dominance, and casual sex.
- It was the first study on the topic to objectively measure voice pitch.
- The authors suggest that hormones like testosterone might explain their findings.
We make snap decisions about other people based on information that we can gather quickly. One of the many ways that we do this is by making bold conclusions about other people's personalities based on their voices alone. Various studies demonstrate that people associate a deep voice with dominance, but those with higher pitched voices are perceived as nervous or neurotic. Popular culture seems to agree with and reinforce these stereotypes.
Are these perceptions accurate? Maybe. A new study by an international team of researchers with the goal of more accurately determining what our voices reveal about us has demonstrated that there is some connection between how we sound and who we think we are.
The voice-personality connection
Lead author Dr. Julia Stern of the University of Göttingen explained:
"Even if we just hear someone's voice without any visual clues — for instance on the phone — we know pretty soon whether we're talking to a man, a woman, a child, or an older person. We can pick up on whether the person sounds interested, friendly, sad, nervous, or whether they have an attractive voice. We also start to make assumptions about trust and dominance. The first step was to investigate whether voices are, indeed, related to people's personality."
The study included data from 2,000 people from four countries involved in eleven previous independent studies focused on other questions. Each of these studies involved some kind of self-reporting of personality traits and vocal recordings. The recordings were analyzed with Praat, software that determined the frequencies of the participants' speaking voices.
The study is the largest ever conducted on the topic and the first to use an objective measure of pitch rather than subjective rankings such as "high pitched" or "deep." Each participant's vocal pitch was then compared to the self-reported personality data they provided.
The findings associated self-reported levels of dominant tendencies, extroversion, and increased interest in and acceptance of sociosexuality (casual sex or sex outside of a relationship) with a lower pitched voice. This was true for men and women of any age. The findings were in line with the previous, less robust studies on the subject.
Other stereotypes, like if a higher pitched voice hints at neuroticism, openness to new experiences, or agreeableness, were impossible to determine with the data at hand.
Voice isn't everything
It should be remembered that the personality traits that this study associates with vocal pitch are self-reported, so there are some serious limitations. For instance, it is entirely possible that vocal pitch is associated with thinking you're extroverted when you actually aren't. Furthermore, all four countries in the study are WEIRD, so the findings probably cannot be universalized.
Additionally, there are plenty of examples of people for whom the voice-personality link doesn't apply. For example, Teddy Roosevelt, an extremely extroverted, dominating man, had a fairly high pitched voice.
The authors do speculate that there could be a connection between testosterone levels in men, their vocal pitch, and their perceived level of dominance that would be supported by previous studies. However, they have no hypothesis explaining why that same relationship exists for women.
The authors suggest that further studies in this area could focus on finding a possible physical connection between these traits and vocal pitch and to determine if they hold for traits which are not self-reported.
Who needs steroids when you have the placebo effect?
- A study suggests that the effectiveness of sports drinks may depend in part on their color.
- Runners who rinsed with a pink liquid ran better than those who consumed the same but colorless drink.
- Improvement in their performance is likely due to a placebo effect.
The "placebo effect" is real. It's the name for a strange phenomenon that most notably occurs during clinical trials. People who are given an inactive substance, like a sugar pill, often experience the same therapeutic benefit as those who are given actual medicine. It's not their imagination — it really happens. (Even better, recent research suggests that therapeutic benefits occur even when the person knows that they were given a placebo.)
Now, a new study from the University of Westminster (UOW) Centre for Nutraceuticals in London and published in Frontiers in Nutrition suggests that the placebo effect may explain yet another phenomenon: Athletic performance.
The research showed that treadmill runners who rinsed their mouths with a pink liquid increased their performance over runners who swished with exactly the same liquid but without the coloring. Why pink? The color is generally linked to sweetness, and the researchers wondered if that association would subconsciously trick the runners into an expectation of more carbohydrates and thus energy.
Author Sanjoy Deb explains:
"The influence of color on athletic performance has received interest previously, from its effect on a sportsperson's kit to its impact on testosterone and muscular power. Similarly, the role of color in gastronomy has received widespread interest, with research published on how visual cues or color can affect subsequent flavor perception when eating and drinking."
Running for science
Credit: Ryan De Hamer / Unsplash
For the study, the researchers recruited ten healthy adults — six men, four women. All were regular exercisers, with an average age of 30. The participants were told that they would be testing the relative benefits of two commercial sports drinks after watching a brief video explaining the value of such beverages. Previous research found that mid-exercise rinsing with such drinks can reduce the perceived intensity of exercise.
The drinks consisted of 0.12 grams of sucralose dissolved in 500 mL of plain water — an artificially sweetened rinse low in calories. The liquids contained no other additives common to sports drinks such as caffeine. The pink version had non-caloric coloring added but was otherwise identical.
After a 12-minute warmup phase of jogging followed by running, the athletes ran at a difficult pace for 30 minutes, rinsing with their drinks as they ran. Following a brief cool-down, they were interviewed to capture their impressions of the exercise session. (Each runner tested both drinks.)
The researchers found that when the volunteers used the pink rinse, they ran an average of 212 meters farther and 4.4 percent faster. They also enjoyed the exercise more.
Deb said, "The findings from our study combine the art of gastronomy with performance nutrition, as adding a pink colorant to an artificially sweetened solution not only enhanced the perception of sweetness, but also enhanced feelings of pleasure, self-selected running speed, and distance covered during a run."
The researchers also plan to dig deeper into the phenomenon by investigating the possibility that the pinkness of the beverage is somehow directly activating the brain's reward areas.
Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.
- Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
- The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
- The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Airspeeder, the world's newest motorsport, is set to debut its first race in 2021.
What can you expect to see? Something like a mix between Red Bull's air racing and the pod-racing scenes from "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" — manned electric cars flying close together in the desert at 120 mph, nose-diving off cliffs, and racing over lakes, all while hopefully avoiding collisions.
Airspeeder calls its vehicles flying electric cars, but it's probably easier to think of the wheelless multicopters as car-sized drones. Powered by electric batteries, the carbon-fiber craft use eight propellers to fly, and the tiltable motors are designed to allow pilots to navigate through the course's pylons at high speeds.
To prevent crashes, Airspeeder is working with the companies Acronis and Teknov8 to develop "high-speed collision avoidance" systems for its Speeders.
"As they compete, Speeders will utilise cutting-edge LiDAR and Machine Vision technology to ensure close but safe racing, with defined and digitally governed no-fly areas surrounding spectators and officials," Airspeeder wrote in a blog post.
Beyond motorsports, Airspeeder hopes to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector. This sector is where companies like Uber, Hyundai, and Airbus are working to develop air taxis, which could someday take the ridesharing industry into the skies. By 2040, the autonomous urban aircraft industry could be worth $1.5 trillion, according to a 2019 report from Morgan Stanley.
Still, many technical and regulatory hurdles remain. Matt Pearson, Airspeeder's founder and CEO, thinks the futuristic motorsport will help to not only speed up that process, but also pave the way for self-driving cars.
"Even with autonomous vehicles on the ground, it's a difficult thing to get right because computers have to make decisions very fast," Airspeeder's founder and CEO, Matt Pearson, told GQ." But in a racing environment, you have a pretty controlled course and you have the ability to make all the vehicles cooperate with each other. You have a whole load of vehicles talking to each other, so if there's an incident or a pilot slows down or there's a traffic jam on the course they're all aware of each other. This is something we think will revolutionise autonomous vehicles on the ground. It's technology that will make flying cars a reality in our cities in the future."
Airspeeder has yet to announce a date for the first race, but Pearson said he hopes to put on three races over the first season. The company is developing two courses: one in California's Mojave Desert, and one near Coober Pedy in South Australia.
Like autism, ADHD lies on a spectrum, and some children should not be treated.
- ADHD is an extremely contentious disorder in terms of diagnosis and treatment.
- A research team examined 334 studies on ADHD published between 1979 and 2020.
- The team concluded that ADHD is being overdiagnosed and overtreated in children with milder symptoms.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has long been a controversial topic. While the term "mental restlessness" dates back to 1798, English pediatrician George Still described the disorder in front of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1902. The condition is attributed to both nature and nurture, with a recent study suggesting the disorder is 75 percent genetic.
According to DSM-IV criteria, ADHD affects five to seven percent of children; but according to ICD-10, only between one and two percent are afflicted. Global estimates state that nearly 85 million people suffer from ADHD, which, like autism, exists on a spectrum.
Treatment is perhaps the most contentious issue. While a holistic approach includes counseling, lifestyle changes, and medication, due to insurance requirements and other factors, many children only receive the latter. And now a new systematic scoping review published in the journal JAMA Network Open that investigated 334 studies conducted between 1979 and 2020 found that ADHD is being both overdiagnosed and overtreated in children and adolescents.
ADHD: An epidemic of overdiagnosis
Researchers from the University of Sydney and the Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare in Australia initially retrieved 12,267 relevant studies before using a set of criteria that whittled the list down to 334. Only five studies critically investigated the costs and benefits of treating milder cases of ADHD, prompting the team to focus on knowledge gaps in side effects.
The team writes that public scrutiny has increased along with the increase in diagnoses. The numbers are startling: between 1997 and 2016, the number of children reported to be suffering from ADHD doubled. While the symptoms of ADHD include fidgeting, inattention, and impulsivity, Dr. Stephen Hinshaw compared this disorder to depression, as neither condition has "unequivocal biological markers." He continues, "It's probably not a true epidemic of ADHD. It might be an epidemic of diagnosing it."
The Australian researchers write that ambiguous or mild symptoms might contribute to diagnostic inflation and the subsequent rise in the prevalence of ADHD. They compare this to cancer, a field that has established protocols for overdiagnosis. ADHD is still understudied in this regard.
Photo: fizkes / Adobe Stock
Overdiagnosis is harmful
This has contributed to an increase in potential harm, not just to children's health (such as the long-term pharmacological impact on developing brains) but to parents' finances. As of 2018, ADHD is a $16.4 billion global industry, with continued revenue growth predicted — ensured by future ADHD diagnoses.
The costs and benefits of ADHD treatment are mixed. The authors write:
"We found evidence of benefits for academic outcomes, injuries, hospital admissions, criminal behavior, and quality of life. In addition, harmful outcomes were evident for heart rate and cardiovascular events, growth and weight, risk for psychosis and tics, and stimulant misuse or poisoning."
For most of these studies, the benefits outweighed the risks in children suffering from more severe ADHD. But this is not true for children with milder symptoms.
Across the studies, the team noticed that four themes emerged. The first two were positive, and the second two were negative:
- For some people, an ADHD diagnosis was shown to create a sense of empowerment because a biological explanation provided a sense of legitimacy.
- Feelings of empowerment enabled help-seeking behavior.
- For others, a biomedical explanation led to disempowerment because it served as an excuse and provided a way to shirk responsibility.
- An ADHD diagnosis was linked to stigmatization and social isolation.
The unfortunate reality is that ADHD is a real condition that should be treated in some children. But for many, the harm of treatment outweighs the benefits.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."