Make Your To-Do List More Fun With 'Temptation Bundling'
I just got off the train from work and was starving. I wanted to get takeout and relax at home, but I knew I should make dinner and cook for the rest of the week. But...cooking takes forever and I was so hungry.
So I made a deal with myself: I’d heat up some leftovers in the microwave and eat that while I cooked. It was a win-win situation: I got to eat as soon as I got home, and I cooked enough food to last the rest of the week.
I often pair an annoying task with something enjoyable to get myself to do things that I don’t want to do—but have to do. And now, I know there’s a technical name for that approach: temptation bundling.
What’s Temptation Bundling?
Temptation bundling is pairing something you should be doing with something you want to be doing. Ever listen to a podcast while doing the dishes? Or watch Netflix while folding laundry? Boom—that’s temptation bundling. Like me, you’ve probably done it without thinking, “I’m going to temptation bundle now.” And studies show it’s a pretty smart hack for procrastination.
Temptation bundling is pairing something you should be doing with something you want to be doing.
Researchers at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University looked into the tactic a few years ago. In their experiment, the researchers asked participants to exercise while listening to an addictive audiobook, like The Hunger Games. One test group only had access to the audiobooks while they were at the gym, while another group had access to listen to the books whenever they’d like.
The group that only had audiobook access at the gym were 51 percent more likely to exercise than the other group. By the time the study came to an end, 61 percent of the participants opted for the gym-only audiobooks access. Basically, an enticing book was enough incentive to squeeze in a workout.
Why It’s So Powerful
What makes temptation bundling effective is that it differs from a typical commitment device. A commitment device is a formal plan that can help you reach your goal. When you reward or punish yourself for completing or putting off a task—that’s a type of commitment device. It’s saying you can’t leave your apartment until you’ve finished writing that report, or cancelling brunch because you still haven’t cleaned the house yet.
While these plans offer a this-or-that choice, temptation bundling lets you kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. You can still do the thing you want and do the thing you have to do—it’s less choice, and less sting when you dive into an annoying task.
How to Temptation Bundle
The most important thing about temptation bundling is finding a balance and doing two things that semi-complement each other.
For example: If you need to drive to the store but also want to FaceTime with a friend, don’t bundle those two things together.
Bundle tasks that go well together in terms of effort level. Learn the lyrics to a song while you wash the dishes piled up in the sink. Perfect those dance moves while you’re dusting. Get caught up on Serial while hitting the elliptical.
Next time you’re facing a burdensome task, think: What’s something I want to do that pairs well with this? Then, make like a to-do list sommelier, find your pairing, and get it done.