Much of human behavioral psychology can be explained by the simple phrase “behavior that is rewarded is repeated.” This is true for your team members, the people you hire, contractors with whom you work, meeting participants and even when you reward yourself for your own behavior. To accomplish more right here, right now, identify in advance a “reward” you’ll bestow upon yourself for completing a desired task.
You don’t have to go all out
The reward may be as simple as making a phone call. It might be taking a stroll around the block. It could be checking email, having a cup of herbal tea, totaling your earnings for the last quarter, or any other small, favorable event. Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D., in his book Bringing Out the Best in People, calls this the Grandma Principle — scheduling a reward following a good performance. As Grandma would say, you don’t get to eat your ice cream until you eat your spinach!
If you’re facing an unpleasant task, it makes sense to follow it with something you enjoy doing, instead of the other way around.
Effects of rewards
Think of Pavlov and his dogs. If you set up a series of rewards for yourself for accomplishing small steps on the path to getting something done, you have a greater probability of succeeding. Behavior that is positively reinforced gets repeated.
The rewards can take various forms. For accomplishing a particular activity, you might decide that calling a friend is a sufficient reward. For other people, it could be a short walk, a favorite snack, a 20-minute nap or logging for fun (not work) on to the Web.
The order is what’s essential in this technique. Work precedes reward. The problem with giving yourself the reward first and then tackling a task is that you’ve removed the incentive.
Sure, it’s possible that you’re one of those few diligent types, who’re able to receive a reward first and then make good on the silent, unarticulated promise to yourself to go ahead and complete the task that needs to be done. Most people, however, don’t work this way.
After having the reward first, there’s little to stop you from having another reward and another. Adhering to the Grandma Principle helps develop personal discipline that will carry you through the days, weeks, months and years of your planning career. We all need that kind of discipline.
High-speed online connections guarantee a virtual smorgasbord of infinite and never-ending temptations. Previous generations of meeting professionals also faced temptations and distractions, but nothing from yesteryear rivals the power, lure and availability of the Internet. It’s always there, it’s always on and, meanwhile, you have tasks to accomplish.
If you’re easily swayed by temptations, and who isn’t, find a way to include them into your rewards system. Rather than succumbing to such distractions, enjoy them throughout the day in small measures that aren’t detrimental to your productivity or long-term career prospects. That way, you maintain a modicum of control; to do otherwise is flirting with disaster.
This system helps you go from hour to hour, day to day and week to week getting the small things done, not having them build up, each one looming larger than it actually is and impeding your progress on longer-term projects and tasks.
Discombobulated people go from incompletion to incompletion, having every other thing in their work and domestic life in an unfinished state, yielding to a gnawing sense of anxiety, a lack of closure and the feeling of being boxed in on all sides. Do you want to feel like this perpetually? Probably not. So find a way to use temptations into your rewards system and don’t let them sabotage your productivity.
In any case, giving your total attention to the task at hand yields wondrous benefits. You might be surprised at what you can achieve.