Stop Procrastination By Knowing How Much It Can Cost You

by Jacques Sprenger on January 10, 2009

Do you have a habit of putting things off for another day? Stop procrastination by putting a price to it and seeing how much it can cost you!

I once made a bet with a friend that I would lose more weight than him by a certain date a month later. We carefully used the same scale to establish a baseline and, presto, we both started a careful diet without starving. We were both members of the same gym and were already exercising almost every day. He lost the bet due to a slight miscalculation on his part: he actually gained weight, even though he stuck to his eating plan very carefully. His mistake? He trained much harder than I did and increased his muscle mass, while losing fat (we had also taken our measurements of waist, chest, thighs, and shoulder width).

stop procrastination, overcome procrastination
Image by Blurburger

Put A Price On Procrastination

The morality of this anecdote is that the added monetary reward works very well as a further motivation (I forgot to mention that muscle weighs about twice as much as fat). So before taking on a bet of this kind — $500 in my case — make sure you consider all the factors involved. Elizabeth Landau on the CNN health blog calls it “putting a price on procrastination.” She mentions several cases of prominent economists and scientists who went as far as putting $50,000 on the line (should the winner declare this extra income to the IRS?)!

Stop Procrastination by Giving It A Real Cost

Since we are beginning a new year and many people still believe in making tough resolutions (most of which expire long before the end of January), it would be quite recommendable to try this method on your pet projects. It doesn’t have to be about having to lose weight, having to keep fit, or needing to go to the gym (I noticed that the first 2 months of the year there is a spike in gym enrollment), although knowing the cost of being overweight is itself a huge motivator. You can do it at work when you initiate a new project with colleagues. If you don’t deliver your share by a certain date, you pay the others and vice-versa. “It’s a contract to make slothfulness more expensive,” says the article on CNN. The higher the amount you put in play, the higher the motivation to keep your end of the bargain.

I’ll Do It Mañana!

Which one of us has the bad habit of putting off unpleasant tasks, such as doing our taxes, cleaning the garage, checking with the dentist, or cutting the proverbial lawn? OK, so I am one of those sloths, the laziest animal on earth. Actually, mañana is not just a spanish word used by hispanic cultures, and it sure feels good to postpone the tough jobs. But at what price?

First of all, we pay a psychological price when faced with the inevitable. Second, we may actually have to lose money on the deal. Some such examples:

  • Winterizing your home is something that is time-sensitive to some degree, and may have costs if you delay the work.
  • A home improvement project or certain home repairs can actually become more expensive if you postpone them.
  • Certain financial goals and tasks that fall by the wayside may hit you in the pocket: try to do your taxes after April 15 and you will be socked with a high interest.

I recently waited 2 months to renew my car sticker, thinking that all I had to do was to go to the supermarket and pay there. Wrong, I had to go to the county’s office and waste a whole morning waiting in line.

Overcome Procrastination With A New Plan

As offbeat as it sounds, this new plan to stop procrastination may work for some people: why not make a bet with yourself or with your spouse for every unpleasant task? If you can find a friend or a colleague to participate in the deal, the pressure is even greater to comply. I remember offering one of my children a small bribe to convince him to go quietly to the dentist; actually, he was the one who offered the deal. How could I refuse?

Not the same matter at all you say? Sure it is, but instead of paying somebody else, why not apply the plan to yourself or channel it towards the fulfillment of your personal goals? Bet yourself that if you clean up the attic, you can get to take your wife out to a nice restaurant (with the condition that she knows this in advance). You kill two birds with one stone! Your wife would be doubly happy if you win that bet!

How To Reach Your Goals Faster

Don’t be afraid to attach extra motivation to all your goals; your mind will envision the reward while you work on the task, and your family and friends will congratulate you on your newfound energy. How about $10 bucks per pound lost? How about that TV program “The Greatest Losers”… I doubt it’s not all about the self-satisfaction of losing the weight! Maybe a little money on the line (or some other nice incentive) can inspire us to move faster towards our goals.

For more ideas, check out this book on overcoming procrastination: The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Isaac Yassar February 8, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Interesting idea, putting real cost for procrastination. I wonder if I’m a procrastinator since my nature is to shift tasks like: “I’ll do A tomorrow and today I’ll do B” sometimes I’ll change it again “I’ll do C today, and I’ll do B tomorrow”. What do you think?

2 SVB February 8, 2009 at 10:06 pm


What you describe is something I wouldn’t call procrastination, but rather lack of focus maybe? There is a software engineering term for that as well (I’m a former software engineer) called “thrashing”. It means you can’t help but shift your attention on various activities or projects so it’s harder to get any one thing done.

If you are able to juggle activities well, it can be called “multi-tasking” but only if you’re able to do it well. If you find yourself becoming ineffective and unable to complete a given task because of your tendencies, then you’ll need to apply more discipline to find focus and try to set goals for your projects.

It’s okay to have many simultaneous projects going on at the same time, just as long as you have set goals that you are able to complete (maybe have goals for A, B or C that you have to fulfill within a given timeframe).

No worries though if you have these tendencies; I think most of us face this same dilemma. I find myself “thrashing” frequently, trying to get many things done at once. But I try to stay as structured as possible in order to avoid becoming inefficient.

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