Raise your hand if you have ever procrastinated. Chances are that's all of you.
There are a plethora of reasons why people may procrastinate. The current research on the matter by social scientists has found that the more common reasons why average people procrastinate are due to undefined/unclear goals, too much of a delay in reward and therefore a lack of motivation and a fear of failing at the task. Think back to a time that you procrastinated, I bet at least one of the aforementioned reasons were at the root of the problem.
So now that we have identified some common reasons for procrastination, how do we solve all those issues so that we no longer fall prey to procrastination? What if I told you there was a method that could solve all three issues instantly, every time? Allow me to introduce you to the One Percent Rule (OPR).
What is the One Percent Rule?
Not to be confused with the concept from the book “The 1% Rule” by Tommy Baker on being 1% better each day, the OPR is in one sentence changing your mindset to remind yourself that doing 1% is better than 0% of a task.
When you feel like procrastinating it is probable that the task you are trying to complete is overwhelming, and you think you must complete 100% of it in one go. What ends up happening, in reality, is that you complete 0% because you are more likely to put it off until you eventually “feel like it” usually because the due date is tomorrow. Here is why the OPR works, logically speaking, doing 1% of something is way less intimidating than 100% of something, so setting a goal of only accomplishing 1% of a task is more likely to work when negotiating with your mind than doing the whole thing.
So for example, say you have an essay due in one week, but you need to complete it earlier because you have a lot of other things to take care of as well. On the first day it is assigned to you, instead of trying to write the whole thing up, how about you just create the document, write your name, and title on the top, then close your laptop. Next time you open up the document, maybe one hour later, write one sentence and if that feels like a lot, then stop and close your laptop. However, if you find that now that you have started, you want to write another sentence or two, soon that 1% becomes 10% and you have a paragraph now. Eventually, you will get to 100% completion of the task and it will feel almost effortless.
Now let’s go into why this method is so effective, and how it indirectly hits all the reasons for procrastination that were mentioned in the beginning.
Setting undefined goals when taking on a task is usually a guarantee for failure. This will be further explored in the second point, but essentially your brain needs to feel a sense of reward for completing a task to stay motivated. So not having clear, defined goals to start will make it hard for your brain to feel rewarded for doing the work. The OPR solves this problem because by setting a goal of only completing 1% of the task, your brain knows that this is achievable and will be more likely to begin the task, and receive its reward when the small task is completed.
It is imperative especially as you are training your mind to be more tolerant of discomfort that you complete tasks taking the path of least resistance. In the long run, it pays off because eventually over time you can be more ambiguous with your goals and still hit them with less resistance. But when beginning, the 1% rule will definitely make things more digestible especially when confronting big tasks.
Delay in Reward + Lack of Motivation
As touched on in the previous point, the brain needs to feel rewarded in order to stay motivated to do something. Essentially, motivation is the byproduct of a certain chemical messenger that gets released in the brain called dopamine. In modern society, most people are overdosing on dopamine because it is always readily available on your smartphone, via social media and games. Too much dopamine in the wrong area of your brain can actually make you lazier and less likely to do work. It all depends on which area of the brain the dopamine goes to. According to a study conducted by Vanderbilt University, having higher levels of dopamine in specifically the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, tended to make people work harder and feel more motivated as opposed to people who had more dopamine in the anterior insula, which made people lazier.
Why am I telling you all this in great specificity? Well, apparently setting small goals and achieving them incrementally, which is a core principle of the OPR, is one way to release more dopamine in the areas of the brain that are responsible for reward and motivation, which is thus why this method is so effective.
Fear of Failure
Last but not least, people often procrastinate on tasks because they fear not being able to complete them. When you set a goal that is too ambitious such as learning french from scratch in one week. Even if you feel incredibly motivated on day one, the minute you detect signs that you are not going to hit that goal, you are going to want to quit, and convincing yourself to push on becomes harder each time you do not hit your goals. Remember, you want to feel rewarded as often as possible for doing work. So by setting relatively easy goals that your brain knows it can achieve, like “writing your name, date, and title on a new document” instead of “write 5 paragraphs in one hour,” you are essentially eradicating your fear of failure, which in turn will help you achieve the task.
I mean it just makes sense, doesn’t it?
Now there are other methods out there such as the “5-Minute Rule” where you plan to do a task for only five minutes and then stop, or the “2-Minute Rule” for doing smaller tasks like making your bed, often preached by productivity Youtubers, however, in my personal experience, the “One Percent Rule” is the most effective. People who understand compound interest will understand its power because the two concepts are quite related. So the next time you feel like a task is too overwhelming, try completing just one percent, the other ninety-nine will get their turn later.