There are 24 hours in a day.

40% of nerds get less than 4 hours of actual work done per day.

On average, adults in the U.S. get between 6 and 7 hours of sleep a night

Where does the rest of the 13-14 hours go every day?

Where the Time Goes

Last week, I had a tremendous amount of work due by Tuesday. Rather than wait for Monday to get started, I came up with a clear, regimented plan to get it all finished on Sunday. I was going to wake up by 9:00 (it was Sunday after all), spend 45 minutes getting dressed, eating breakfast, and checking my daily websites. I was to start working by 9:45. The rest of the day was similarly blocked off so as to maximize my time while still taking some appropriate breaks.

Events did not go as planned.

Instead of getting up at exactly 9:00, I lazed around for a while. Instead of starting work by 9:45, I had only just started eating breakfast. Instead of eating quickly and getting right to work, I decided to watch a TV show while eating, and once I started it I obviously didn’t stop until it was over. Then I realized that I was four episodes behind in the series.

I first picked up my work at 6:00 PM.

Sequences of events with varying degrees of similarity and severity to this one happen every day across the globe. In fact, if you were to go and ask every single person you meet today the question: “Are you currently procrastinating for anything?” I would be willing to bet against you receiving a single “No.” response. The reason for this is what I like to refer to as cascading breakdowns in self control.

The “Foot-in-the-Door” Technique

This is a commonly used technique in persuasive psychology and marketing that consists of getting someone to agree to a minor request so as to make them more likely to agree to a larger one later on. In this article by Dien Rieck at Copyblogger, he explains that the basis for this principle is that we are psychologically driven to remain consistent with our own actions. Once we say “yes” to something, we get into the mindset of saying “yes” and then want to continue doing so. This same technique can be applied to persuading yourself to win the fight against procrastination.

When I woke up on Sunday morning, I was immediately presented with a choice: do I stick with my plan and get out of bed, or do I roll over and doze for a while longer? I chose the latter, and this choice set the theme of the day. At every juncture, every new choice, it became easier and easier to remain consistent with my original bad decision. Were I to have immediately jumped out of bed upon waking up that morning, I am confident that the entire day would have panned out completely differently.

Crunching Time – The Short-Term Solution

These ideas and observations can be easily applied to develop a simple, yet effective procrastination avoidance strategy. As soon as your alarm goes off in the morning, instantly jump out of bed and do 30 crunches. The less time you spend in between waking up and jumping out, and I’m talking seconds here, the easier it will be. This serves the double purpose of both waking you up and of starting your day off with a clear demonstration of willpower. Once you are in a mindset of self-control and getting things done, continuing it, even with harder tasks, becomes much easier. It is amazing how this simple 1-minute activity can affect the entire day’s productivity.


Maximizing the Routine – The Long-Term Solution

Most of the difficult tasks that we must face in life are not of the fleeting variety. Classes have homework due every week. Most jobs have similar types of work every single day. Dieting and going to the gym do nothing if you can’t keep it up. Yet there are those who manage all of these, often at the same time, without seeming to require any extreme exertion of willpower. How do they do it? The answer lies in the power of the routine.

We have already established that once you begin a difficult task, the next task becomes easier to start. This applies doubly so to doing the same task a second time, even with some spacing in between. Human beings are creatures of habit. If you accustom yourself to going to the gym every Tuesday at 2:00 pm, you will find yourself going even on days when you are particularly tired or busy. There will barely even be any real thought to do otherwise. Why? Because that is just what you are accustomed to doing. If you get into the habit of doing homework immediately every day after class, making yourself do it will no longer be such a struggle.

In this excellent article, Harrison Barnes describes how a proper routine is necessary to excel in any field. But even for those with no interest at reaching the very top, developing a proper routine for yourself in as many facets of life as possible will do wonders for your productivity. Used properly, you may even be able to take those four hours of actual work time and double or even triple them.

Does anybody have any examples of how routines have improved their productivity? Or any tricks like the crunches technique to get yourself going?