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  • Zach Beiler

The Key to Eliminating Procrastination

The Key to Eliminating Procrastination


There’s one tool that is powerful in eliminating procrastination and increasing productivity. And while most people use this tool, they are often not using it consciously, or they are using it incorrectly.




If you have ever made a doctor's appointment, scheduled a meeting, or impulsively bought a gym training session, you’ve used this tool. It’s called a Commitment Device.


Simply put, a commitment device is a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future. It immediately locks in your future behavior. Your present self might love the idea of working out and being fit, but your future self may no longer be interested in the work it requires. This is called “time inconsistency,” meaning your brain values long-term benefits when they are in the future, but values immediate gratification when it comes to the present moment.


 


Therefore, we must use this commitment device, consciously. Which is exactly what Victor Hugo did. Perhaps one of the most prolific authors of his time, Victor Hugo was also quite the procrastinator, until he used a seemingly ridiculous commitment device. Let’s back up and look at his turning point from massively procrastinating to being insanely productive.


In 1830, Victor Hugo faced an impossible deadline. Twelve months earlier, the French author had promised his publisher a new book. But instead of writing, he spent that year pursuing other projects, entertaining guests, and delaying his work. As you can imagine, Hugo’s publisher wasn’t pleased. The publisher responded by setting a deadline less than six months away. The book had to be finished by February 1831.


Now facing an impossible deadline, Hugo concocted a strange plan to beat his procrastination by creating his own commitment device. Having collected all his clothes, he asked an assistant to lock them in a large chest. Left with nothing to wear except a large shawl, he remained in his study and wrote furiously during the fall and winter of 1830. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was published two weeks early on January 14, 1831.



Now that is a commitment device! With one action, Hugo locked his future self into a commitment so he couldn’t back out. But why did this work so well? Sure, Hugo took conscious control over this, but he also did something else. Let’s look at the other half of the equation. Because without this, a commitment device doesn't and will not beat procrastination.




 


A commitment device must be placed in motion by a force outside of yourself. That way, NOT following through is more difficult or painful than following through.



 


Now that we are conscious of this, how do we place this outside ourselves? Hugo did it by involving an assistant and giving them control over his wardrobe. You may want to do it by hiring a fitness coach and paying them for each session in advance, or telling the waiter to box half of your meal before they bring it so you aren’t tempted to eat too much. However you are trying to beat procrastination, you need some sort of accountability partner to motivate you to actually follow through with the goals you set. This extra layer of outer motivation will push you past crippling procrastination, and make it actually feasible to attain your goals.


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