I recently listened to a Freakonomics podcast that talked about a cool technique termed "Temptation Bundling". It's a simple but powerful tool for dealing with lack of willpower or procrastination. The idea is you tie together two activities. One is something you that's good for you but that you don't enjoy (e.g. exercise, mowing the lawn, paying your bills, etc.) with another activity that you like to do but isn't good for you or you ought to spend less time doing (watching TV, surfing the web, drinking beer, etc.). You link them together in such a way that you don't allow yourself to indulge in the latter without the former. So for example, you only watch Game of Thrones when you're pedaling on the stationary bike. Or, your reward for mowing the lawn is a trip to Dairy Queen. The ideal bundling has you engaging in the activities simultaneously (listening to music while dusting the furniture, for example) because it bolsters the motivation factor. But where that's not possible, the next best bundling is to indulge in the thing you like only when you've completed the thing you don't.
So for me this week I temptation-bundled getting through my work e-mail backlog that accumulates overnight (since my employer has worldwide offices, that can be a lot) with my personal e-mail and web surfing. In other words, every morning this week I didn't allow myself to deal with my personal e-mail, RSS feeds, Facebook, or even this blog, until I'd had gone through all the work e-mail that had come in the night before. In fact, this blog post is being written now that I've gotten through last night's e-mail.
I gotta say, it's been surprisingly effective. I found that just this dumb little trick made me a hell of lot more productive and reduced the odds of an important work e-mail "falling through the cracks". It didn't take a lot of willpower because there was a very clear and achievable path to get to the activity I wanted to do. And I felt good about myself because I was dealing quickly with an activity that I sometimes drag my feet on.
Very cool technique. Now I'm looking for new things to bundle...