The ONE Trick That Will Get Your To-Do List Done

If you have trouble shifting out of neutral and getting your butt in gear when it's time to do something you aren't particularly fond of, you aren't alone. Really, who among us hasn't put off washing the dishes in favor of binge-watching Orange Is the New Black on Netflix? But if you can't put off that irksome to-do list any longer, let me introduce you to the one weird trick that will motivate you to do everything you hate doing: "Temptation bundling." After all, New Year's is right around the corner, and we're all going to need a little extra inspiration for sticking to our resolutions.

Plus, the concept has a pretty cool backstory. You see, a few years ago, Wharton operations and information management professor Katherine Milkman was experiencing a conundrum many of us face at some point — the seeming inability to drag herself to the gym with any routine frequency. So, in order to up her stats, she created a system of motivation around an activity she does love doing: Listening to audiobooks on tape, especially those particularly addictive novels like The Hunger Games. Her rule? She could only indulge in those "less-than-scholarly" audiobooks when she was working out. Upon pairing that treat with exercising, Milkman soon found herself regularly making it to the gym five days a week.

Years into this self-devised system, Milkman decided to further explore the implications and whether or not it could be helpful to the rest of us waging an eternal war with self-control. Thus, the term temptation bundling was born, describing Milkman's method of "coupling instantly gratifying 'want' activities with engagement in a 'should behavior' that provides long-term benefits but requires the exertion of willpower."

With the help of fellow Wharton professor Kevin Volpp and Harvard Kennedy School professor Julia Minson, Milkman devised a nine-week study examining 226 students and faculty members belonging to a university gym. The results, which were recently published in Management Science, found that temptation bundling could very well be the key to maintaining consistent motivation. Curious about how to put temptation bundling to work in your life? Check out these four pointers based on Milkman's research.

1. Pick Something You Really Want

The crux of temptation bundling is that you are essentially rewarding yourself with something you truly enjoy but don't usually do or give into. For Milkman, that meant ditching academia for an hour and losing herself in the Capitol with Katniss Everdeen. She used this concept with study participants when choosing audiobooks. "These books were pre-rated as addictive. So you had books like The DaVinci Code, The Bourne Supremacy, Hunger Games. They were cliffhangers," she explains. Long story short? Make it something indulgent — think in the realm of 50 Shades of Grey or the Twilight series.

2. Don't Jeopardize The Novelty

For temptation bundling to be most effective, your "want" activity needs to be something that retains its temptation. If you can do it anytime, it loses its pull. Why would you suffer through an hour of something you can't doing in exchange for something else you could do anytime?

Milkman and her fellow researchers found that study participants whose access to the audio books was restricted solely to the gym attended and worked out 51 percent more than the control group (who wasn't given any audiobooks but simply urged to work out more) and 29 percent more than the study group encouraged to self-restrict audiobooks outside of the gym.

3. Think About How To Make It Work For You

Although Milkman created temptation bundling to motivate her to sweat more, the concept can be applied outside of the gym too. In fact, given enough thought, it can pretty much be used across the board — for dealing with a cranky relative, cleaning the house, completing tedious paperwork ... the sky's the limit, says Milkman.

4. Choose A Landmark Moment To Start

If you want to make this method stick, here's some more good news: Milkman's co-author, Hengchen Dai, suggests that temptation bundling works best when it begins on a date that signals a transitional point in our mind. "You may feel psychologically different on this day than any regular day," Dai says, pointing out such temporal associations can make you "more motivated to start or engage in an activity that helps you reach a goal." In other words, it's time to beast those New Year's resolutions once and for all.

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