Strategy & Execution

Using “Temptation Bundling” to Accomplish Tasks without Procrastinating

Professor Katy Milkman, University of Pennsylvania, truly wanted to exercise more.  But she left her job each day feeling exhausted and drained.  By the time she arrived at home, all she wanted to do was curl up on the sofa and read a book or watch television.

“I struggle at the end of a long day to get myself to the gym even though I know that I should go. And at the end of a long day, I also struggle with the desire to watch my favorite TV shows instead of getting work done.  And so I actually realized that those two temptations, those two struggles I faced, could be combined to solve both problems,” said Professor Milkman.

Participants in Beyond Insurance programs frequently state that procrastinating is a significant problem.   In our hectic business world, the need to focus on high ROI projects without being distracted is a universal challenge, and “temptation bundling” may provide a solution.

Milkman’s strategy addresses just that – you can become more efficient by performing a behavior that is good for you in the long run by combining it with a behavior that feels good in the short-term.  It is what Milkman calls “temptation bundling.”  Essentially, you bundle behaviors you are tempted to do with behaviors that you should do but often neglect.

To test temptation bundling as behavior modification, Milkman designed a study, and discovered that people who use temptation bundling were up to 51% more likely to exercise when compared to the control group.

Overall, they learned that healthy behaviors, returning a high ROI, could be increased while guilt and wasted time from indulgent behaviors could decrease through “temptation bundling.”  This method of overcoming procrastination was particularly effective because it makes an unappealing activity more tempting and appealing while squandering time and resources on an indulgent activity minimized, if not eliminated.

How to Create Your Temptation Bundle

To figure out your own temptation bundling strategy, start by creating a two-column list:

  1. In column one, write down the pleasurable tasks you enjoy and are tempted to do during a typical workday.
  2. In column two, write down the tasks and behaviors you should be doing, but often procrastinate throughout the week.

Take your time and write down as many behaviors as possible. Then, browse your list and see if you can link one of your instantly gratifying “want” behaviors with something you “should” be doing.

Here are a few common examples of temptation bundling:

  • Only read blogs or business books, or listen to podcasts after you’ve made 10 prospecting calls.
  • Eat a snack after processing overdue work emails.
  • Make five appointments with key prospects and clients, then go for a walk for 30 minutes.
  • Work on your highest priority activities for one hour each morning, then have lunch at your favorite restaurant.
  • Relax for 15 minutes and enjoy a mocha Frappuccino after conducting your monthly meeting with a difficult colleague.

When you begin bundling tasks that are important with rewards, you’ll discover that you can consistently accomplish them.  This behavior change often separates top performers from mediocre ones.

Temptation bundling offers a simple way to accomplish tasks that are important but are often put off. By giving yourself a reward for doing them, you make it easier to follow through on more difficult habits that pay off in the long-run.

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