The Pain and Pleasure Principle

Procrastination Costs You 55 Days Each Year

A 2015 study based on a YouGov survey of 2,000 adults, published by the lender RateSetter, reported that, on average, we spend 218 minutes procrastinating every day. This adds up to 55 lost days to procrastination each year and demonstrates an enormous amount of wasted time. In this post, let’s examine one of the most common reasons for procrastination and then dig into solutions to avoid it.

Procrastination Depends on Pain and Pleasure

Many books and articles indicate that procrastination is not caused by poor time management, motivation, or planning. Instead, it is deeply rooted at the core of human nature and behavior; in the 1950s, B.F. Skinner concluded that the consequences of current behavior impact future behavior: We are more likely to repeat actions followed by pleasure and avoid actions followed by pain. This pain-pleasure principle, known as “operant conditioning,” is associated with basic biological and chemical functions in the brain (

Human nature gravitates towards pleasure and avoids pain. Consequences can control procrastinating behavior because we can assign pain and pleasure to actions we decide to take. By setting results that encourage deferred action, we strengthen avoidance each time. Procrastination then grows like a snowball rolling down a hillside. Selecting the right pain and pleasure consequences takes effort but will help to conquer procrastinating behavior.

Straightforward Steps to Conquer Procrastination

Step 1: Eliminate temptations

Design your environment to facilitate work and make it challenging to start something else. Try these strategies:

  • Turn off all notifications on devices.
  • Set the opening tab for a work-related website.
  • Use apps and extensions that force you away from mindless web browsing.  
  • Disconnect wi-fi while writing.

I often find myself more productive on planes because the environment prevents me from browsing the web. You can even use airplane mode on your devices when not flying.

Step 2: Break up tasks

Getting started is often the trickiest part of a new task. If the task is not overwhelming, you are less likely to avoid it. Make each task as small as possible to prevent intimidating your brain. You’re more likely to keep going and finish after an accomplishment. This is excellent reinforcement to get things done.

Step 3. Use multiple sessions

After you have worked for 20 minutes on tasks that are broken into chunks, take a 5-minute break. This is important to acknowledge your accomplishment. By taking this step, you teach yourself through “operant conditioning” that the task is worth taking. Experience the feeling that you got something done, no matter how small.

Be mindful of procrastination and solutions to avoid it. Gaining control over your time is rewarding. Your brain wants to keep going.