I’m typically the queen of procrastination. If something doesn’t have to be done until next week, then I’m more than likely not going to start it until the day before it needs to get done, regardless of whether or not I have plenty of time to complete it between now and then. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better with the whole procrastination thing, but it’s still a problem. Now researchers think they have found have a solution: visualising your successful future self.
The idea is that everyone kind of sucks at thinking about the future, but if you think about how what you do now will effect you in the future, you’re more likely to make a smart decision that will positively benefit yourself down the line.
For instance, if I imagine myself giving a killer presentation at work because I prepared a week in advance and had the time to fine-tune what I was going to say, I might be inclined to do that rather than setting myself up to fumble through a presentation I’m ill prepared for because I didn’t start planning until the night before after a few Happy Hour cocktails.
Hal Hershfield, a professor of marketing at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and one of the people behind the idea, studies how our perception of time can determine how we make decisions. In his experiments, he had people interact via virtual reality with their future self. People that interacted with themselves in the future were much more likely to put money in a (fake, experiment-based) retirement account and be concerned about the future version of themselves as well as the one in the present.
The BBC detailed his work this week, as well as the work of several other researchers performing similar studies. The biggest takeaway from everyone is that considering your future self when you make decisions, specifically how your current decisions will impact your life in the future, can help combat procrastination and get you back to work sooner.
Visualise what the task will look like completed, and the tasks you need to perform to get you to that finish line. If you’re still not inclined to start, think about which one of those tasks is holding you up.
For me, when I write longer reported studies I tend to put them off because I absolutely loathe transcribing interviews. I love doing the interview and can write a wonderful story really quickly once I get that transcription done, but the need to transcribe a 20-minute interview will make me put off writing a story for weeks.
Once I discovered that, I found a few people who transcribe for a living (and seem to enjoy it) and started hiring them to do it for me. I removed a speed bump that was dramatically slowing me down and made myself tremendously more efficient in the process.
So, before putting off that next big task, think about future you. You’ll thank yourself later.