Contractual Success

Productivity Contract

Some people are more motivated by formal agreements. If you’re tasked by someone else to have something done by midnight tomorrow, you’ll find a way. If you’ve given your word that you’ll deliver by the end of the month, then nothing can stop you. Commitments to others can seriously boost your productivity, and that’s wonderful—but what about all those other things you want to be doing, but never seem to get around to?

With a certain amount of self-delusion, you can arrange formal agreements for those other things you want to get done: the yard work, that book you want to write, exercise, etc.

The first step is to write yourself a contract. Actually write it out—thinking about it doesn’t count. Give it legal-sounding language if that will help you think of it as a more official document. Set out the terms: pull the weeds every Saturday, write a chapter every two weeks, hit the gym three times a week. Make it very clear what you’re asking yourself to do. Put deadlines and time limits on everything. Don’t leave yourself any loopholes.

After you’ve determined what you’re going to do to accomplish your side projects, you need to set up expectations for a breach of contract. The punishment for breaching your contract should be severe enough that it is highly unpleasant to you, but not so unpleasant that you won’t be able to make yourself do it. For example, if you absolutely hate wall-sit exercises, set a certain amount of time you’ll need to spend doing wall-sits if you breach your contract. (Personally, wall-sits are ideal because I hate them, but I can easily do something else—read, surf the internet, etc.—while I’m doing them.) Other options could be not having chocolate in the house for a week, wearing your shoes on the wrong feet for 24 hours, or any number of things. It just has to be something you’ll dislike doing more than you’ll dislike fulfilling the expectations of your contract.

After you’ve completed the terms of the contract, sign it. Now you’re fully committed to the formal agreement you’ve made with yourself. Once it’s signed, put it somewhere you’ll see it often. If you procrastinate in the same place every day, put the contract there. Other useful places may be on top of your alarm clock, on the fridge, or on the front door so you’ll see it when you leave home each day. Just make sure it’s nice and visible.

Even though the contract is with yourself, sometimes the act of spelling everything out and setting up consequences for less-than-ideal behavior will make the difference. Often when we’re setting goals, there are no undesirable consequences for failing beyond disappointment. For some of us, looming consequences can be a deciding motivating factor, even if those consequences will be self-inflicted.

What would get you to sign a contract with yourself? What sorts of things would you use as breach-of-contract consequences?

Image by Jeroen van Oostrom

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