How important is it to specify the time you are going to do something to predict accomplishment? Precision and Specificity is one of the three key to establishing effective rituals. Researchers have found that even chronic procrastinators are eight times more likely to follow through if they set a specific time to complete it. Here’s an example from Be Excellent at Anything that illustrates the importance of precision and specificity.
A group of subjects were asked to exercise at least once a week for twenty minutes. Certainly not a daunting task, yet only 29% were capable of complying. Another group was asked to exercise and were provided information on the impact exercise plays in reducing heart attacks. A ploy to motivate them. Compliance rose to 39% A third group was asked to commit to exercising at a specific time, on a specific day and designated location. Compliance more than doubled to 91%!
Why does this work? When we define precisely when we’re going to do something we reduce the amount of energy we have to spend to do it. When we make a commitment to something we fail to recognize that unless we set aside specific time to do it it’s not going to happen. That’s because there is another behavior we’re currently doing at that time or because there is something else we are doing that is more pleasurable or easier to do then.
Let’s take an example where you’ve created your to do list, but didn’t specify when you would do any of the tasks. Let’s say you created your list the evening before or just before you left work. The next morning you come in and what happens? Suddenly the seduction of the urgent, along with the pull of your old previous habits overpowers you. Mentally you look at your list and say, “I can do that, that, and that later, or I can do it this afternoon.” Later in the day you look at your list and tell yourself, “I really don’t have time to do this with the time left today to get it done, I’ll do it tomorrow.”
The solution? Give yourself no leeway in the start time. Make appointments with yourself to complete the work you have on your list at a specified time. If a call or conversation is running late, tell the other person, “I’m sorry I have another appointment, can we continue this later?”
One of my clients has a disciplined schedule he adheres to with specific times to do everything right down to his spiritual, family and romantic commitments. Work he’s discovered not only expands to fill the time allotted, it also contracts to fit within the time allotted to it.
Be Excellent at Anything points to three keys to building effective rituals:
- Undertake only one or two at a time. Start small and build on success incrementally. Only bite off what you can chew
- Define precisely what you plan to undertake and specify exactly when you intend to do it. Precision and Specificity are the most important key to establishing rituals. The more challenging the ritual, physically, mentally or emotionally the greater the need to be precise in implementing it.
- Focus on something you do rather than something we continually try to resist. It’s easier and more effective to avoid temptation than to resist it.
We’ll look at the final key next blog.