With a net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars and a multitude of awards, it's safe to say that comedian Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful people on the planet. And part of this is down to his incredibly simple procrastination-busting tip.
Seinfeld revealed his secret of staying focused was a comedian called Brad Isaac. Budding comic Isaac found himself at a club where Seinfeld was performing and seized the opportunity to ask if he had any tips for a young man trying to make a name for himself in standup.
"He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day," Isaac wrote in a piece for Lifehacker about the encounter.
The veteran comedian told Isaac that to do this he hangs a calendar where all 365 days are visible at once on a wall he passes regularly. He crosses off every day he does some writing with a thick red marker pen.
"After a few days you'll have a chain," Seinfeld told Isaac. "Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain."
Rather than focusing on vague and intimidating goals like "being successful", "writing a killer joke" or maintaining motivation levels, Seinfeld shifted the focus to sticking a big red 'X' on the calendar each day. Much less scary.
The reasons for procrastination - putting off until tomorrow what you should do today - are numerous. Seinfeld's strategy has been backed by psychological theories on why we procrastinate and how we can stop.
"Procrastination is the gap between intention and action and it is in this gap that the self operates," Timothy Pychyl, a psychologist at Carleton University, Canada, wrote in Psychology Today. Citing psychologists Dianne Tice and Ellen Bratslavsky who described procrastination as "giving in to feel good" he said we commonly put off worthwhile tasks because we often prioritise our short-term happiness over those that may drag up uncomfortable emotions. That includes the fear of failure.
Compounding this are poorly defined intentions that are difficult to stick to and distractions such as making a cup of tea or suddenly deciding we must clean the office in order to concentrate.
He pointed to evidence that showed a "low threshold to task engagement fuels motivation and changes perception of the task". In other words, we need to make our goals as easy to achieve as possible, almost to the point of abstraction.
"We need to move past general goal intentions to specific intentions for action: 'In situation X, I will do behaviour Y to achieve sub-goal Z'," he explained.
Something as simple as challenging oneself to have an unbroken chain of red crosses on a calendar is a perfect example of this.