An article I read today shared a surprising strategy for making New Year's resolutions, one that also translates to productivity: non-resolutions. We're tempted to make long lists of things to change about ourselves this time of year, but in an interview with Daniel Pink, Stanford lecturer Kelly McGonigal actually advocates making non-resolutions, or pledges not to change something.

Resolutions, it turns out, offer too much choice, and actually cause us to indulge today with the promise of making better choices tomorrow. "When you want to change a behavior," said McGonigal, "aim to reduce the variability in your behavior, not the behavior itself."

McGonigal then outlines an example of a smoker trying to quit:

The typical approach is to set a goal to smoke fewer cigarettes -- or even quit outright. But imagine instead that the smoker simply tries to smoke the same number of cigarettes every day. Research shows that they will gradually decrease their overall smoking -- even when they are explicitly told not to try to smoke less.

Essentially, by acknowledging that tomorrow's choices must match today's choices, the smoker is incentivized to commit to better choices now rather than later to avoid negative consequences.

Non-Resolutions and Productivity

Kelly McGonigal's ideas on behavioral psychology apply perfectly to productivity. Consider the following resolutions versus non-resolutions and how they might influence long-term efficient behavior:

  1. Avoid taking work home on the weekends. I'm going to take the same amount of work home with me every weekend.
  2. Get in shape. I'm going to exercise the same amount of time every day.
  3. Spend less time at work. I'm going to work the same number of hours every day.
  4. Stop procrastinating. I'm going to put off the same number of items on my list every day.

How do you plan to reduce variability in 2012?

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