Erika e‑mailed me and gave me a tip about an episode of Timothy A. Pychyl’s podcast iProcrastinate where a PhD-student describes how she in a fun and efficient way gets things done with greater ease. Her method inspired me and I want to share my version of it with you.
If you are reading my book “Super Structured: How to overcome chaos and win back time”, you know that I emphasize the importance of rewarding ourselves when we practice the structured working method we have the intention of establish as a habit. If we start giving ourselves rewards early in the process and reward ourselves often, it will become easier to maintain the motivation for however long we need in order for the habit to be considered ”established”.
The PhD-student in the podcast told the listeners about research conducted by Petry, Martin, Cooney and Kranzler whom had also determined that we become more motivated if we do not know what the reward is from one time to another. When a group of people addicted to drugs got to draw ”lots” every time they passed a drug test and where the winnings varied between $1 and $100, almost four times as many people passed the entire rehab program compared to how many completed the standard treatment without the rewards. I assume that knowing a surprise is waiting for us sparks our curiosity more than a reward which we are previously aware of.
When you reward yourself for having accomplished something during practicing your structural habits (such as managed to gather all your to-do-lists into a single list, emptied your inbox, set a limit for the maximum number of meetings you attend in a day or have done any one of the 31 exercises in the book, for that matter), surprise yourself in order to make it easier to establish the structured habit in your work and life.
You could for instance do this
- Decide what you want to get better at or improve. It could for example be closing the office door for a few hours every week, performing a morning-routine every morning, prioritize more consciously, or something else.
- Think of what you need to do before receiving a reward. Is it to do something for a full week? Three in a row? Ten times (even if not consecutively)?
- Now set a goal for how many times you want to have succeeded doing this something before you can consider yourself ”done” with practicing the habit. Let us say that you want to get in the habit of doing a morning-routine every morning, that you receive a reward (for being successful) every time you have done the routine for five consecutive mornings, and that you consider the habit established when you have done this twenty times.
- Cut out twenty small notes and write a reward on each one. Write a really big, juicy reward which is worth a lot to you on one of the notes. Write big, but still smaller than the first, rewards on three notes. On five notes you write medium-sized rewards and smaller (but still tempting) rewards on the rest of the notes.
- Crumple them up and put them in a bowl.
- Every time you do what you want to practice doing (such as the morning-routine in our example), make note somewhere so that you keep track of how many you have done. If you have decided that doing the morning-routine for five consecutive mornings is the criteria for receiving a reward, then you can for instance let a PostIt represent a week, and on it you write the first letter of every day you manage to do the routine. Or, use the Notes-app on your phone if you want to keep track digitally.
- When you have passed the level for receiving a reward (for instance five mornings in a row), draw a note from the bowl and give yourself the reward written on the note.
- When the bowl is empty and you have received all the rewards, the habit can be considered established (assuming that you estimated the time it would take to form the habit accurately).
An exciting carrot
If you add a surprise to how you reward yourself for working in structured ways, the habits will become easier to establish. It will also be much more fun and exciting to practice.
If you are even remotely like myself, you will feel eager to read what is on the next note pulled from the bowl and this feeling of curiosity will be crucial to if you choose to prioritize practicing your new method or doing something else which also somehow tempts and attracts you.
What is your method?
What did you write on your notes and what kind of bowl are you using? Tell me.