in: How To, Podcast, Skills

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #444: How to Use the Procrastination Equation to Start Getting Things Done

Procrastination can be a big stumbling block to our success in life. If you’re a student and you put off studying to the last minute, you might not do as well on a test. If you wait to start saving for retirement until you’re in your 40s, you lose out on the power of compound interest.

We know that we need to do certain things sooner, rather than later, but we don’t. Why?

My guest today is Dr. Piers Steel, and in his work and his book, The Procrastination Equation, he’s distilled all the research out there on procrastination into a kind of formula that explains why we put things off. Piers explains why his approach to procrastination is different from that taken by many psychologists, and what they often get wrong about its root causes. He then digs into the different components of why we procrastinate, as well as actionable advice on how you can mitigate these issues and start getting more stuff done.

Show Highlights

  • Defining procrastination 
  • The problems with assigning psychological causes to procrastination
  • The real reasons people put things off
  • How procrastination really affects your life 
  • The 3 elements of the “procrastination equation” 
  • The ways that expectations (of both reward and consequence) play into our procrastination 
  • Can you ever fully beat procrastination?
  • So, how do we go about mitigating procrastination?
  • Why you actually want your tasks to be a bit challenging
  • What if you have a genetic predisposition to procrastination?

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Book cover page of "The Procrastination Equation" by Piers Steel.

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)







Listen to the episode on a separate page.

Download this episode.

Subscribe to the podcast in the media player of your choice.

Podcast Sponsors

New Mexico Tourism. Explore the landscapes, food, and festivals of New Mexico, including the Hot Air Balloon Festival coming up here in October. Visit

Indochino offers custom, made-to-measure suits at an affordable price. They’re offering any premium suit for just $379. That’s up to 50% off. To claim your discount go to and enter discount code “MANLINESS” at checkout. Plus, shipping is free.

NFL Podcasts. Keep up with all the action on and off the field with NFL podcasts like Around the NFL, the Dave Dameshek Football Program, and Move the Sticks

Click here to see a full list of our podcast sponsors.

Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Procrastination can be a big stumbling block to our success in life. You’re a students you put off studying to the last minute you might not do as well on a test, you would start saving for retirement till you’re in your 40s, you lose out on the power of compound interest. We know that we need to do certain things sooner rather than later. But we don’t, why?

My guest is Dr. Piers Steele and it is work and in his book The Procrastination Equation. He’s distilled all the research out there on procrastination into a kind of formula that explains why we put things off. Piers explains why his approach to procrastination is different from that taken by many psychologists and what those other psychologists often get wrong about its root causes. He then digs into the different components of why we procrastinate as well as actionable advice on how you can mitigate these issues and start getting more stuff done after the show’s over, make sure to check out our show notes at, all one word.

Brett McKay: All right. Piers Steele. Welcome to the show.

Piers Steele: A pleasure to be here.

Brett McKay: You published a book a few years ago called The Procrastination Equation, how to stop putting things off and start getting stuff done. In fact, you are a professor, you’ve got a PhD and you decided to study procrastination. How did you decide that? Were you like a chronic procrastinator your entire life you decide I’m going to get a handle on this by getting a PhD?

Piers Steele: Yeah. That you … I feel so exposed right now by you. You saw through everything. That’s exactly actually what happened? A lot of people say, researches me search, so here my struggling with it, I had enough going on but barely just again to a kind of a PhD program and I had an opportunity to study something that was near and dear to my heart and I found my passion.

Brett McKay: I’m sure how did you do your research? How have you figured out … because unlike a lot of other people who’ve talked about procrastination that tend to get Freudian about it, you get a little more concrete. What’s your approach to procrastination?

Piers Steele: Well, I could … there’s a lot to kind of unpack here. One of the best … actually gathering the raw data was I had a wired classroom, you know those massive open online courses that exist nowadays?

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Piers Steele: This was an early version of them. So it was only about 200 students. But each piece was delivered by a computer. Now, actually back then we had to go to a computer lab. But there was lots of labs around the university, so students can do it at their own pace. Well, this was well known for being a hotbed of procrastination, you know, and you could actually though, and in a very detailed way, determine when people actually did the work, because we had 77 different assignments.

So some people, you know, we’re slow and steady, but most people did it later. And some did, I think about 75% of the course in the last week. So we got a lot of good information from that because it’s kind of hard to measure procrastination over any kind of really meaningful time and sure you can bring somebody into a room and you know, say you have to do this in an hour or half an hour and then see when they do it, but you really the big ones, you want to see how people act over several months and this was perfect for it.

The other technique that I’m really kind of known for something called meta analysis, which is essentially the study of studies. So I’m really good at unpacking the component parts of other people’s research and then reassembling them into a coherent whole. And part of that actually eventually led to a, a single theory and an equation . . . there’s actually a procrastination equation to explain why people do things when they do and why they put stuff off.

Brett McKay: Well, I think that’s interesting because we’ve had other people, psychologists who’ve studied procrastination, that’s their expertise. And they they tend to take an approach where it’s not an equation, right, it’s like, well, you procrastinate because you’re a perfectionist or you’re scared or you know, like I said, it’s kind of Freudian. You you kind of look at like, no, it’s like, it’s not that it’s this specific matrix.

Piers Steele: There is a real problem with that theory.

Brett McKay: Yeah. What is the problem?

Piers Steele: Well, the problem with that one is that you actually go and study people who are perfectionist and see how well they’re associated with procrastination, you find actually perfectionist, this typical one, procrastinate just a little bit less, not more, just a smidgen less. And he is saying, “That can’t be if this is a major cause, right?” But they tend to feel worse about it.

So what you find is, is that people who are perfectionists and they procrastinate, well they’re much more likely to seek clinical help. So these clinicians are seeing a lot of perfectionist procrastinators. But that is that’s that’s just simply selection bias. So they’re basing their own personal experience and also, you know, people are saying, “Oh, yeah, you know when my perfectionist comes around. I put things off.” But there’s a lot of reasons people put things off. I mean, actually the most popular one it simply hasn’t anything to do with perfectionism. It’s it’s, it’s wanting to be with their friends and socialize.

Another weird thing, I mean, 95% of the world procrastinate, so 95% of us are perfectionists? That means like, is there anyone not a perfectionist? They had certain type of intellectual tools and mindsets availed to them, and they use them. When you have a hammer, everything becomes a nail.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about what you’ve found … before we get into like why we procrastinate, let’s talk about why procrastination is bad. And, like, why people go see psychologists and shrinks to be like I’m a procrastinator. My life is terrible. Like, how, how does procrastination affect our quality of life on an individual level?

Piers Steele: I got actually to develop what’s considered the definitive definition of that one too, what is procrastination and there’s been a lot of different attempts over the years but they pretty much all have one thing in common there’s got to be some type of negative aspect. So it’s, and I it was a long version I’ll give you the short one, it’s putting off despite expecting to be worse off. Other people call it the irrational delay.

It’s not scheduling, you wouldn’t say I’m planning to go on a trip today on a lake and there’s a gigantic storm and almost certain death if I go out so I’ll put it after tomorrow and I’m, “So you’re procrastinating?” No, we don’t use it in that way. You need more than just delay, it’s a particular type of delay. It’s a delay that where you think you should do it now, by your standard. You think I should do this now, but you don’t. You look inside your heart and the motivation just isn’t there and sometimes after that we kind of go in, then it can get a little Freudian, where we kind of do defensive mechanisms, where people then justify delay after the fact.

First they decided to delay and then they try and find reasons after already made the decision to retroactively justify that decision. And some people are pretty good at it, pretty good at basically covering their tracks. But there’s ways of kind of fairing it out. But that’s what makes it putting off. So if you think generally, no, no, no, I should do this later, it’d be best to do it later. You might playfully call that procrastination, but it’s not, you would actually have to think to yourself, I should be doing that now. And yet, I don’t.

Brett McKay: Got you. And you give a lot of examples of where this can have pretty dire consequences for people professionally, with their finances, in their relationships, with like their family and loved ones, like, you know, okay, speaking of PhDs, like you talk about people who pretty much do everything they need to do to graduate with a PhD? But they don’t write their dissertation?

Piers Steele: Yeah, the ABDs, they all but dissertation which is BAD, of course, right? And that’s a common example, for I’m from a professor so of course it’s going to come to mind, but it’s …. you can think of anything from your own life where, “Gee, if I didn’t do that now or if I don’t attend to it now or soon, I’m going to be in really really dire straits.”

Well, there’s people who procrastinate that off beyond that, anything, I mean, one of the key examples is health and let’s say here’s a common one, a woman’s doing little self examination, she finds a lump in her breast. Logically what should she do? She should go to the doctor about as soon as possible, but she’s she’s frightened about what she might find out, so she say, “That’s probably nothing.” And there are lots and lots of examples of this. Another one that is super common is colonoscopies, so you really should get one pretty regularly and if you don’t you’re kind of risking cancer. It’s kind of unpleasant, it’s a little bit embarrassing and I say people would rather risk dying of cancer later than have the certainty of dying of embarrassment now and that I killed my my stepmother she she didn’t get it done and she got the cancer and she died, that’s … actually happened.

So that is as bad as procrastination, of course, at the low end it’s kind of funny it’s like somebody still has their Christmas lights and it’s coming up April. They are thinking, “Just a few more months and I’ll be halfway back again.” or the little kind of small things. We procrastinate the small things, and we have small cost for it. And we can procrastinate the big things and have big costs. Dealing with problems in your marriage, dealing with health, dealing with your finances, and anything you thought you should have done now and put up for later later, that’s … the cost of procrastination is only defined by that task that you decide to delay.

But we are so set in a way our minds evolve, that we really have a tremendous time making the future real in the present. It’s just it’s built into our DNA and our brains architecture. So we have to kind of, I say, “To defeat procrastination, you have to act and not as nature intended, we have to act in a way that our brains weren’t really designed to.”

Brett McKay: Well let’s dig into that because it now allow us to flash out this procrastination equation. What is the Procrastination Equation like what are the elements of the formula?

Piers Steele: And this is something that that meta analysis study studies came out, it’s it’s basically you’re bowling down to the literature and just seeing what’s the residue at the end? What’s the what is the final components and all of them came and there was a lot. We studied a lot of stuff. We did study perfectionism. We studied … death anxiety was one of those papers on it, but there’s three factors that came up again and again by easily the biggest predictors of procrastination and it made perfect sense.

One was your self confidence or self efficacy and this has been, “Do you believe you can do the task?” and this goes back to, this is not a new thing it’s a million bucks and you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right. But the truth is if you believe you can’t your motivation goes down less likely to put in the effort so you probably will have less success. That doesn’t trip off the tongue as much but the facts are there. So self confidence. That’s a spike downwards, that’s one.

Two is value or or the excitement of the task, the intrinsic motivation attached to it. so when the … to think of things you’re putting off usually they’re boring, a lot of them are boring and though you think, “I should be doing them.” You don’t really want to. And boredom is nature’s way of saying it’s not important. It’s wrong in a lot of cases because there’s a lot of boring things like doing your taxes which are important but it’s hard to get over that natural impulse. So the more unpleasant or difficult a task is the less likely we’re doing it and this is … there’s a lot of … people screw that one up a lot.

One of the simple things if we can talk about this later is just simply allocating your most difficult tasks when you have the most energy and they’re going to be the least adversive and there’s other ways of making things better but that’s a big contributor. And because we all have different things we dislike you find you have neat things like some people procrastinate cleaning and some people procrastinate by cleaning.

But the third one is the big driver this one makes everything else, kind of worsens often enough in itself and it’s a it’s a personality, trait Impulsiveness. And if you’re impulsive, it means that you’re spontaneous. You know, you’re great at the moment. You might have a great kind of wit, but it’s also means that you have to tremendous difficulty focusing on the future, some people call temporal discounting, you have a high temporal discount rate. So the future kind of is worth far, far less than the present.

So you only really feel motivation until just before deadlines. And you can model all these three variables out into a kind of a procrastination equation. So no expectancy times value divided by a temporal dimension time, which is made worse by impulsiveness. And it works really, really well for accounting almost every element and every intervention and every situation that we see for procrastination.

Brett McKay: Okay, well, there’s a lot to unpack there.

Piers Steele: Yep.

Brett McKay: But let’s do a quick recap. So the procrastination equation determines our motivation to complete a task and the way the factors into that motivation are expectancy times value divided by impulsiveness, times delays, so expectancy I guess, is the perceived chance of us getting that reward or suffering that bad consequence for not doing a task, you multiply that by the value, which is the guess the size of the reward or size of the bad consequence.

So if there’s a good chance that you’re going to get the good consequence or the bad consequences, and the consequence is either really big positive, a really big negative, you’re going to be motivated, more motivated to complete the task. But you have to divide that by these downsides, which is impulsiveness, which is our tendency to get distracted and you multiply impulsiveness times delay, which is the time between now and the task’s completion. So if you’re really impulsive, get distracted easily and the reward or the consequences way out in the future. Well, that’s going to bring down your motivation. So you divide all that by that.

So it sounds like can do different things to tweak your motivation. So you can increase expectancy or you can increase the value of the reward or you can focus on eliminating the downside. sides decreasing impulsivity and decreasing the delay by by having more immediate set deadlines of having a way out in the future. So let’s look at how we can tinker with the procrastination equation to … here’s a question, is it possible to alleviate procrastination 100%? Or is this something that you you at best can just manage by tweaking certain few things?

Piers Steele: I think the latter, it’s too much part of us to really entirely eliminate, it’s almost a perfect storm between who we are and what the world is. And we’ve been tracking this as the societies since … I got the some of the earliest reports from historical records from the early 20th century and it’s just been … and then we started doing some actual proper scientific measures in like the 1970s and just from then to now it’s been about a 500% explosion in the rate of chronic procrastination.

Most people if they start early it’s such an exception. It’s not an occasional thing, it’s all the time thing. Where kind of want to beat it back down to the occasional thing. So it’s yeah I procrastinate a little bit if I had to say it about vices, it’s my ninth or eighth. It’s down there I do it sometimes it’s not a big concern you know and yeah it makes me a little human sometimes it’s a little annoying but it’s not life defining that’s a win.

Brett McKay: That makes sense. So yeah, we’re looking for containment looking for mitigation. So let’s talk about how we can mitigate procrastination by tinkering with the procrastination equation. The expectancy and value components, like what can we do with those things to cause us to, you know, More likely be motivated to start doing the thing we know we need to do.

Piers Steele: All right. Well, they they actually somebody this is Alex Vermeer actually made an infographic about it. So when you’re actually looking at the techniques, there’s literally I think about, close to 20 of them, I mean, about 10 per side about what works effectively. So we know we can’t cover them all, but there’s some easy ones to do, right? And in fact, one of the easiest ones is that there might be not that much trouble with your your goal at all, maybe there’s nothing wrong with your goal or what you’re trying to do. It’s just you’re trying to do it in an environment where there’s a lot of temptation.

So you can think about well, when I procrastinate, what am I doing? Is it something on my phone? Is it something on my computer? Is it something you know, the TV and it’s okay, great. Let’s start with those temptations first. Can we make them less reliable like instead of increased expectancy lower, instead of making them more enjoyable it’s making less than dribble and you have all these techniques like for example some people gray scale their phone. Also with that greats, you know the great it’s all those apps and stuff aren’t fun anymore. It’s the color, the pop that makes them go.

Or some people want …one easy one is and this is what you really, really should do. I mean, trust me, if you do this, you’ll be a much happier person. Laptops and everything are getting pretty cheap. Get a second one for your gaming, right? Get a delegated again, get a get a again another one for your work and don’t mix it two. Have … if you’re doing work in your office, have it for work, now have that attempt of work. And if you want to take a break and goof off fine but just do it someplace else.

The the brain will eventually make associations between the location and the activity. Right now when people do both in the same place. It gets confused. It’s kind of like, “Okay, I’m being tweaked and being I mean queued to play or work.” And it’s kinda like a cat scratch like, “Should I play now? should I play?” So the moment you kind of have a moment of weakness all sudden, you’re distracted and doing something else. That happens because you did two things in a similar place.

So start off by looking at your temptations and seeing if, “Can I get them further away from me? Can I make them less obvious?” Say the cookies know, on the counter nice and hot are going to be eaten quite as fast as one of the tin, which you’ve put in the pantry, you know, out of sight, out of mind is not going to be as fast as the ones you know, right available to you which means if you had to go to the store and buy them they might not get eaten at all, so you know, availability but for actual … if you want to know … let’s say we go through that and we actually have a specific task that you really kind of like, “Well how can I make this make this more successful?”

No, one is the classic and this is one that a lot of people know and it’s a variation of goal setting. You must have covered goal setting already.

Brett McKay: Of course.

Piers Steele: Is that right?

Brett McKay: Yeah, lots of time.

Piers Steele: Did you do SMART goals or something else?

Brett McKay: We didn’t cover smart goals but I know of smart goals.

Piers Steele: But do you know the history of smart goals?

Brett McKay: I don’t.

Piers Steele: You should give look it up. It’s actually kind of interesting comes from the 1982 newsletter, I think by this guy called Greg Don. And he was just spitballing about you know, and he was talking about what works for team management and people loved it and people started using it all the time and re-specifying it, but in parallel there was probably like about a few … I’m probably not exaggerating when I said a million hours of research done in this from the sign sign, into actually how to kind of create proper goals. And the reasoning is kind of like something along the lines of reverse engineering.

So let’s say, when do most people have their motivation? It’s just before the deadline, right? That’s the essence of procrastination. So let’s take a look at that. That’s a naturally occurring event. All right, so and then we try and devise the features with it that allows people to kind of where they get the pop and say, “Okay, here’s a natural occurring one now can we create artificial ones? What aspects of this this deadline can we create on our own so that we can actually have motivation when it’s convenient to us?” Because if you didn’t create that deadline yourself, that means somebody else determined when your motivation happened because it happens just before the deadline. So you can create artificial ones that have the same properties, you can create them when you want now and have your motivation When you want. like say most people, their motivation, is carrying like a fire hose just before it’s due. It’s coming like you know but like an eyedropper earlier on when it’s convenient and really what they want is they want to be able just to turn on the tap and get a nice tall glass of motivation, that’s enough that’s what I need but it doesn’t seem to be under the control.

So they found that there’s basically three maybe four if you wanted key features of it. And one was this is controlling the expectancy, I’m circling around now in answering that, is to make it challenging. So you can cut a big project into smaller pieces. And again, you know that old adage about how you eat an elephant one bite at a time. You can make a project into smaller and manageable and doable pieces but they say you don’t want to make it too small, you want to make somewhat so there’s a little bit of, no there’s some something on the table. so you want to make it challenging but not so challenging that you don’t think you can do it so you can control your expectancy that way.

The second one, and this is where most people fall down and don’t do it correctly. You want to make them specific. Specific is basically how the big system gets communicated to and that’s your seat of your emotions, where the amygdala is and that’s where you have your strong kind of feelings. So you’re trying to create plans with your prefrontal cortex but they get enacted by the limbic system. Limbic system doesn’t like anything that’s abstract, like things like concrete, exactly when, what, where, what am I , where’s the deadline. Line of sight goals loves.

So you have to … if you’re saying like, “I’m going to exercise this weekend.” It sounds admirable but it’s not a good goal. If you’re going to say I am going to exercise this Saturday morning, immediately after breakfast, I’m going to pick up my bag, my favorite pair of runners. I’ve got my car keys in the corner there. I’m going to make it to this 8:30 class, which means I’m going to leave at 8:10. And I’m going to do that class and then come home. Yeah, that’s a goal. Do you see that level of specificity with the later one? That’s what you need to have in order to really activate it.

And short term is better than long term, so it should be more immediate. And you can experiment with that. Some people even have to pop, motivational pop a kind of a particularly resistant or sticky task, you do a 10 minute goal just to kind of get it going. But you don’t want to live a life in the series of 10 goals gets really tedious.

Then it’s best if it’s approach. This is the last one. So avoidance goals really don’t work well. So if that’s like I’m not going to eat dessert. That’s an avoidance goal. I’m not I’m not going to watch TV. No, those bad goals because then you have to be soon not doing something. If you want to have it like I’m going to approach the goals like I’m needing more silence, no fill up in silence. That’s something I’m going to do, that’s a good choice or I’m going out for a walk, or I’m seeing some friends. It’s what you want to paper over that activity you’re avoiding where there is a much better way of doing it. You need to … they talk about needing replacement behavior and much more effective.

So the thing is, we actually have all the science pretty much down we actually … there’s very little new in the motivational field very little techniques and the ones we’ve got work really, really well it’s really now just kind of getting them out. I often thought that you know, it should be actually part of a high school curriculum just you know how to motivate yourself instead of having complaining about kids about they’re not getting things done on time, hope they figure it out.

We could actually give this and a dozen other effective techniques and get them trained up with a little bit of help but you know right now people have to kind if they were lucky enough they’ll get some good resources on it and I again I like my book but I’m not the only person out there, there’s other places you can go. But then you still have to figure it out yourself on how to apply it. So you might have the right plan but you don’t implement it perfectly because you’re doing it yourself for the first time, then you get frustrated and you might walk away but all really doable, all really effective.

Brett McKay: So just to recap, you want to set very specific goals because that fires up our limbic system and our limbic system is let’s our executive control going and then you want … what was the third one?

Piers Steele: I try to get this to a mnemonic, like smart goals because smart goals was so cool, right? So how can I get this to do and the best I could do was the CSI approach? So, you know, crime scenes investigation, but instead, this is challenging, specific, immediate, approach goals.

Brett McKay: Challenges, specific, immediate.

Piers Steele: Yeah, immediate, like, so it’s short term.

Brett McKay: We were talking a lot of tactics to increase the expectancy of achieving the goal, the value by making it more immediate, specific, all those things. But then the other component to the equation is impulsivity, right? You divide all that by impulsivity. And, as you said, that we’re wired to be impulsive. And so some of the tactics you talked about is put those temptations that cause you to be impulsive, like get him out of your … just basically get them out of your environment as much as you can.

What about people who are like, as you said, there’s like, a genetic component to impulsivity. What about those people? Like do they just have to work extra? Because like, it’s kind of weird. You have to, like, do some front end work. You have to be like, not impulsive in the front end to get a handle on your impulsivity that, you know, you’ll experience when the moment arises.

Piers Steele: Oh yeah, I would say there’s somethings that actually are effective, really quick. So we recommend starting that just so you can get the quick wins and that’ll feel better. And you don’t have to do everything. There are like a, especially impulsivity there’s like about seven different techniques. But even down to making things less obvious. I mean, when we have a lot of ones that people put for example, that really kind of hits their productivity is checking email too much, right? If you actually just stop checking email and get more in a flow state and that’s where people say they do their best work is actually when they’re concentrating on one thing at the time. And that’s when we verified it and said, “Yeah, they’re definitely correct about that.”

But you, then you go check your email, and you’re checking your email and people … you’re not really choosing to actually, what you’re doing responding to the Ding, like, you know, like almost a Pavlovian response. So the thing goes, you check your email, you’d look at it, you’re getting a variable reinforcement scheduled, sometimes there’s something interesting there. Most of the time there isn’t. And so you go through and you do this again, and you actually get a little drip of dopamine as you’re just about to check your email it’s like, “Could it be something interesting? Could it be? No, it’s not. That little “Could it be” actually is rewarding itself.

So the simple thing is go and turn off your … those dings those cues those visual and auditory markers. It doesn’t take long. You can do them 30 seconds. Some people say, “Well there you just gained two months a year, very easy. Some people say more and that didn’t take any time. But it’s this principle was there, was if you have temptations and you make them … and you’d almost kind of reverse engineering that CSI approach, right? So if you can make them from obvious, specific to something live more abstract, to immediate to something delayed, their mode of the power goes down and there’s a variety of ways of kind of, again doing this.

The biggest … the ultimate goal is for all these techniques is not to use them every day, you’re kind of like almost like physio therapy, if you’ve got into a car accident say your muscle’s atrophied and you just say, “Okay, well go and walk so I can, it what I need.” Yeah you’re right you can’t you need a little bit of apparatus around you to regain your strength but eventually you don’t want to have those even bars around, you want to be able to walk on your own.

So a lot of these techniques are exactly that because ultimately where you want to get to is habit. If you have a workout routine and you’re doing it again and again and you’re making it really really predictable eventually you’ll just do it without even thinking about it’s not a big deal you have a workout routine where it so what what day is it going to be this week? What am I doing this week and yeah it makes it motivational difficult you know and so if you just say I want to go home and pick up my bag before going to the gym well once you get home there’s so much temptation, “I’ll just take five minutes in front of the TV” so he says. We’re going to make my snack then that’s it right the days gone.

If you left in your car and drove to the gym first maybe just have like a you know, a granola bar or something like that give yourself energy, then the gym is the cue, you’re not home, it’s respecting that you we are vulnerable to these impulsive action, it is essentially the first step that you saying, “If I go home I know enough about myself that I am going to probably give in, so I better not go home.” And it’s people who actually acknowledge they have these motivational weaknesses that tend to do better people pretend they don’t that their can do a robotic perfection and put themselves in situation which makes them vulnerable and then they give in.

Brett McKay: So two tactics that I’ve used successfully my own life, that you talk about in the book, one is to increase expectancy or the perceived chance of you accomplishing that big task is by breaking it down to smaller components. So you mentioned earlier working just in 10 minute increments. I’ve done that whenever I’ve been putting off an article I’ve been writing or my taxes or some other undesirable task. I just tell myself, “I’m going to work on this for 10 to 15 minutes.” What ends up usually happening is sort of Prime’s the pump. So I keep going. But even if I don’t like, you know, I don’t want to work out anymore, I’ll say, “Well, I made 10 minutes of progress.” So that’s helpful.

The other one is using that pre-commitment, which this is battling impulsivity and delay. So I’ve used app … the website stick to, put money on the line, I say, if I don’t accomplish this task, by a certain date, I’ve got to pay, you know, cough up, you know, some money, you have to make it sort of significant so it hurts and you can even double they’re hurting the pain of it, by not accomplishing the tasks by making the money go to an organization that contradicts some sort of core belief of yours. So if you’re a Republican, you can have the money go to a Democratic Party, if you don’t complete the task, if you’re an environmentalist, you can have it go to some, you know, organization that supports oil drilling or something like that. Those two have been really helpful for me that I’ve used successfully.

Piers Steele: We’ve got the techniques down, they work really, really well. Now it’s just finding the right one for you and making sure you implemented properly.

Brett McKay: Is there someplace people can go to like find … I mean, do you have a website where you’ve like laid out your research and with some of these tactics?

Piers Steele: Yeah, I have a website and of course there is my book right?

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Piers Steele, this has been a great conversation. Thanks so much for coming on.

Piers Steele: No, my pleasure. I hope you’ve got everything you needed.

Brett McKay: My guest here was Dr. Piers Steele. He’s the author of the book The Procrastination Equation. It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about his work at his website, Procrastinus, it’s Also check out our show notes at, where you can find links to resources, including that flow chart, Dr. Steele mentioned in the podcast that different ways to hack the procrastination equation, we’ll have a link there as well as other links where we can dive deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at and if you enjoyed the show, you’ve gotten something out of it, I’d appreciate it. If you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with your friend or family member who you think could get something out of it. As always, thank you for your continued support. And until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

Related Posts