How To Use Rewards Against Procrastination

The problem with the lives of many of us is that we are granting ourselves full decadence. We eat what pleases us, as often as we wish for. We drink fizzy drinks, and alcoholic beverages without really counting. And we watch Netflix as often as we wish to and as many episodes as our social life and work commitments allow us to.

If we were smarter, we would be a bit harder to ourselves and use the same strategies that our parents used on us when we were children. The carrot and the stick. Well, maybe not the stick so much. More like: the carrot only approach. 

Based on this, we strip ourselves from our guilty pleasures and those things that we would usually consider as not related to achieving our personal goals. And then we use them as a treat for behaviour that is compliant to our plans. 

Let me illustrate my thought. When it came to writing this book, I started with a plan. But not just any plan. It had to be a plan that takes the phenomenon of small steps into account. And one that would fuel my motivation rather than burden me with stress and work without any reward. The plan was simple. Based on my experience, I knew that I would be able to write at least a thousand words per day. The total goal of the book were 50.000 words in total. With thousand words in a day, I would be finished with writing the first draft within fifty days. That is not too bad, considering that many people never get the motivation to write a book and finish it, or that it takes them several years to do so. On the other hand, if I would write three thousand words per day, I would have the first draft ready in a mere seventeen days. Now that sounded especially enticing. As we already discussed, it is important to finish your first drafts as quick as possible. So three-thousand words per day would have been definitely fantastic. However, I was also writing content for my blog on a daily basis and aimed at producing one video for YouTube per week. So there was quite a lot to do. 

Now obviously I am not this natural-born working machine you might think I am. In fact, my lazy-me likes to start things and then procrastinate – or never finishing them at all. So I fought this possible obstruction head on. See, I am a big wine lover. Not to the extent that you will find me in the mornings sitting in front of a mall and having my liquid breakfast, but certainly in the way that there are chances we’d meet at a tasting in a wine-cellar. I would estimate that I drink usually one bottle of wine per week. And when the autumn leaves are falling or a cold winter storm is raging outside, very likely also two bottles of wine per week in front of a lit fireplace. Now obviously wine is not something that you have to be into, if you want to use this tactic. You might rather be a fan of streaming movies on Netflix. Or eating candy. Or going to the sauna. The tactic I used, works for everyone who has a guilty (or non-guilty) pleasure. 

As one reasons for procrastination comes from missing rewards and no immediate gratification, I made a simple plan. I gave one thousand words the value of 100ml (that is 3.38 fl oz). So if I would be able to write one thousand words, I would qualify for the indulgence of 100ml of wine. And if I would be able to finish three thousand words, I would qualify for 300 ml of the nectar of Gods. So if I would finish my least weekly word count of seven thousand words, I would get the reward of one bottle of wine per week. Should I, however, be able to reach my highest word count of three thousand words per day,  I would get three bottles of wine per week.

Now that is quite the motivator. Something that my brain could understand. If I was working, I didn’t do it for free, I worked for a reward. A bonus that I would not have, if I would procrastinate. Of course I was able to save the wine to drink it on a special occasion or the weekends. But for every seven thousand words, I would physically get a bottle of good wine. 

Obviously that works for everything. If you are more of a pizza afficionado, you might take that as your reward. So you go on a strict pizza diet. But you are able to earn your pizza by working hard for your goal. The same goes for candy, watching an episode of your favourite Netflix show, or any other interest we have that is not immediately connected with our goals. 

What I recommend is that you check very critically how to divide the thing you do up. I knew that writing three thousand words a day would be very, very hard to do and that I would probably be able to do it on a few days, but not very often. One thousand words per day was already a challenging, and stretching target. So by aiming at one bottle of wine per week, I made sure that the result of my plan was the finishing of this book, rather than being a physically addicted alcoholic. So be very conservative in your planning. If pizza is going to be your reward, set your targets in a way that will enable you to eat one pizza per week if you reach your minimum target each day. And make sure that this minimum goal is already challenging enough that you won’t end up eating 5 pizzas a week without working harder than you could ever imagine.

Let’s say you want to lose weight and your guilty pleasure is chocolate. Then set yourself a challenging and stretching target, along the lines of twenty-five minutes of fast walking and five minutes of jogging each day in week one, will result in a reward of one seventh bar of chocolate. Once you come back from your jogging, you can either eat it straight away or save it for the weekend, where you will be able to eat the full chocolate bar if you reached all your targets. But what if one chocolate bar per week is not enough for you? Easy, then you just do 50 minutes of fast walking and 10 minutes of jogging on the days on which this is possible for you and you will be able to eat two bars of chocolate.