Bribe Your Brain to Get Work Done: The Hardest Part Is the Start

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 23 seconds

When you’re struggling to get work done, the hardest part of any project is the start.

Whether you’re just starting a new project, or you’re trying to get restarted, all too often, procrastination rears its ugly head.

So, there you are: stuck.

Knowing you need to be working on that project.

Feeling guilty you’re not getting work done.

But unable to get yourself to sit down and tackle that project.

In my research on what makes some people productive and others not, I have found that procrastination comes in as many flavors as ice cream. And just like ice cream, we each have our own favorite flavors.

I’m not saying that that all procrastination is bad. Sometimes it can be helpful. In fact, my father calls it “just-in-time management.”

A little procrastination can give your brain the space to think about a project; to get a jump start on creation. It can also prevent you from wasting valuable time on a project that is a priority one day and a dead issue the next. But, in many cases, procrastination makes you less effective, less successful, and more stressed.

If you don’t need more stress in your life, the good news is that there are some simple solutions to help you break through procrastination.

Your Brain’s Drive for Closure

In my book, Brain Power, I wrote about seven principles of how your brain operates and how to use them to focus, create, and get work done. One of the principles, the Drive for Closure, is important to understand when you’re trying to break free from procrastination.

Have you ever been reading a story and just could not resist the urge to peek at the last page, because you just couldn’t wait? The principle of Drive for Closure explains this urge by saying that our brains strive for a sense of completion or a definitive answer.

Your brain does not like the experience of limbo, when there is no clear direction or ending. So, it races toward the finish line. Even when you know you would be better off by waiting to make a decision or by taking time to consider other information, you will still have the urge to close the open loop.

The principle of Drive for Closure explains why people find it difficult to resist buying something immediately, whether it’s an electronic toy or a pair of new shoes. Once you feel the urge to acquire, your brain is in limbo, waiting for an answer. It is not until you make the purchase, or you decide you’re not going to make the purchase, that you give your brain the closure it wants.

The interesting thing about Drive for Closure is that it doesn’t only happen when the answer to the question is of practical value or urgency. You can feel the Drive for Closure in relation to something as inconsequential as the end of a movie or book, even though there is no practical need to know and no actual urgency involved.

What does this principle have to do with procrastination? You can use your brain’s Drive for Closure to start or finish a project. Strategies that use the Drive for Closure hinge on this idea: if you can get started on a task with a modest goal in mind, your brain will help you reach that goal.

Bribe Your Brain: The 15-Minute Bribe

When you just can’t seem to get yourself to sit down and focus, you can bribe your brain. The 15-Minute Bribe helps you get started on a project when you are procrastinating.

Here’s how you use it: Begin by promising yourself that if you work on the project for just 15 minutes, you can turn your attention to something more pleasurable or less stressful.

Why 15 minutes?

First, because it’s such a short period of time. You can tolerate almost anything if you know it’s just for 15 minutes. And even if you have a packed schedule, you can find a 15-minute window somewhere in your day.

Second, because you can actually accomplish a significant chunk of work in 15 minutes.

Because of your brain’s Drive for Closure, once you start, your brain will beg for completion, which means you may find yourself working longer or accomplishing more than you expected.

Using the 15-Minute Bribe, you can make real progress on your project. You may even surprise yourself and complete it.

Are you wondering just how many times you can bribe your brain before it catches on and the 15-Minute Bribe no longer works?

Don’t worry.

Remember the Peanuts Thanksgiving cartoon with Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football? The one where Lucy convinces Charlie Brown to kick the ball and just as he does, she pulls it away and Charlie Brown goes flying through the air and lands flat on his back? For your brain, the 15-Minute Bribe is just like that. Your brain will fall for it every time!

Use It Now: The 15-Minute Bribe

What are you having trouble starting?

Choose one of your tasks and try out the 15-Minute Bribe. If you only have a few minutes, try out a mini version, the Five-Minute Sprint, by working on your project for just five minutes.