This past August, we had the honor of attending a conference hosted by behavioral economist and bestselling author Dan Ariely. He studies why human beings make the predictably irrational decisions that they do.
Dan invited a number of writers to the conference because he contends that behavioral economics is often best elucidated through stories. And through Dan’s own stories, we learned so much about the ridiculous decisions we make as writers—as well as how we can become more productive by putting into practice the principles he teaches.
Over and over, we talk to writers with great ideas for books. But these very creative people just can't seem to finish writing them. If we say it once, we say it a bazillion times: In order to get successfully published, you have to actually write. To do so, here are three principles of behavioral economics that will help slay the procrastination beast:
- Set real, concrete, achievable deadlines and schedules. Instead of saying you're going to write three days a week, actually name the days—Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for instance. This way, you don’t get to say, “Oh, I’ll just do this tomorrow.” Map out a draft of your book in your calendar, not just in your head. Put in deadlines, along with reminders of those deadlines.
- Find a buddy (or buddies.) Join a writer’s group or seek out a partner, and check in with each other to make sure you meet your deadlines. For example, Arielle and her dear friend Laura Schenone were both working under tight deadlines to finish their books this summer. They were struggling. Then they made a pact: They would both write 500 words a day and then email their word count to each other at the end of each day. It was amazing what this simple social motivation achieved! The knowledge that they would have to check in with someone else produced enormous traction. Day after day after day, they wrote their 500 words. And even when they didn’t get to 500, they did write something—which was a hell of a lot more than they had been doing previously.
- Reward yourself, whether negatively or positively. For example, if you finish a week’s worth of reaching your word count, arrange for a romantic date with your loved one, or a relaxing evening on your favorite golf course, or buy yourself that fancy doodad you’ve been craving. Or you could go the other way: Set up an account with a charity you hate, and if you don't meet your goals, send them $50. Losing something valuable to someone you hate turns out to be a great incentive!