Mar 2, 2023 | Productivity
"That was a problem for future me, and now I am future me, and this sucks."
A new email lands in my inbox.
“Sign up for lunch tomorrow.”
I click on it and look at the options.
Several delicious choices pop up on the screen: hamburgers, tacos, nachos… or a salad.
I really want a burger, but I’m trying to stick to a certain diet, and the only thing that matches it is the salad.
I choose the salad, submit my order, and say a quick apology to my future self.
If I was sitting down for lunch right then, and you gave me the same choice between a burger and salad, I would choose the burger 9/10 times. The only reason I was able to choose a salad for my lunch the next day is because it wasn’t an immediate problem. Salads are boring and lame, but that’s a problem for tomorrow, so I’m not worried about it.
This is a common pitfall of people who succumb to procrastination. You say “I’ll do my work tomorrow!” and then the next day you say “I’ll do my work tomorrow!” and then tomorrow comes and you say “I’ll do my work tomorrow!”
Your work always seems to move another day away. Tomorrow is always a good time to finally get to work.
But maybe we can take this procrastination problem and flip it on its head.
If you’re naturally undisturbed by putting work on your future self, then maybe you should do that more often.
Maybe that would make it easier to do hard things.
But I don’t mean just delaying your work to the next day. I mean actually committing to it. Locking yourself into the hard activity in advance. In the same way I committed to a healthy lunch in the future. Make plans to go to the gym in four days with your friends. Buy healthy snacks on Sunday that you can eat for the rest of the week. Sign up for a cooking class that starts in two months. That’s so far away that you won’t worry about it today, and when the time comes, you’ll be forced to do something good for yourself. You’ll curse your past self for what they signed you up for, but in the end, it will benefit you.
Like the plotline of a weird Christopher Nolan movie, you need to be your future self’s worst enemy.
A long time between decision and action makes it easier to take hard actions because your brain doesn't fear things that are far away. I am more likely to order a salad if it's for tomorrow instead of today. I'm more likely to say yes to plans that I don't really want to go to if they’re 6 months away.
When in doubt, just do it tomorrow.