Do You Suffer from Akrasia?

Akrasia – it has struck you, enveloped you and choked you during the busiest seasons at work. It has stifled your creativity, caused you to clean up your inbox and clean your desk. Yes, most people have suffered from the negative effects of Akrasia in the workplace.

So what is this dreaded disease? Akrasia was coined by the Greek philosophers, Socrates and Aristotle and in layman’s terms is simply good old procrastination.

Humans have been procrastinating for centuries. And for some reason it is usually linked to your busiest season or during your biggest projects– when your desk is the neatest, your inbox looks impeccable and your desktop clutter free; all your pencils have been sharpened and all the days on your monthly planner have been neatly crossed off – but your big project lies untouched in front of you.

So why do you suffer from Akrasia – what causes you to act against your better judgment and do something else; when you know you should be doing SOMETHING ELSE? What prevents you from following through on what you set out to do?


Akrasia has loosely been translated as lack of self-control; but is that why you procrastinate?

According to James Clear’s behavioural psychology article, procrastination is a result of: “time inconsistency”, which refers to the human brain’s tendency to value immediate rewards, more highly than future rewards. Clear explains that when you make plans for yourself or set a goal – I am going to tackle this big project – you are making plans for your future self. But when you make the decision, the choice is no longer for your future self; now your brain is thinking about the present self.  And mostly, your “present self” likes instant gratification – not long term pay-off. Clear says: “Your brain values long term benefits when they are in the future; but it values immediate gratification when it comes to the present moment”.

So tidying your desk, organising your desktop and doing small tasks will be favoured, over tackling that big task and hence you procrastinate.

Another reason can be because big projects seem overwhelming; so-much-so that you don’t know where to start. And because the end seems so unreachable, you try and avoid the project until it can’t be put off anymore.

Or maybe you are an individual that thrives under pressure (and drama) – so you purposefully put off the project so that you can get that pressure-fix.

No matter the reason why you procrastinate – there are strategies you can use to combat this tendency.


Clear uses Victor Hugo as an example:

By the summer of 1830, Victor Hugo was facing an impossible deadline. Twelve months earlier, the famous French author had made an agreement with his publisher that he would write a new book titled, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Instead of writing the book, Hugo spent the next year pursuing other projects, entertaining guests, and delaying his work on the text. Hugo’s publisher had become frustrated by his repeated procrastination and responded by setting a formidable deadline. The publisher demanded that Hugo finish the book by February of 1831—less than 6 months away.

Hugo developed a plan to beat his procrastination. He collected all of his clothes, removed them from his chambers, and locked them away. He was left with nothing to wear except a large shawl. Lacking any suitable clothing to go outdoors, Hugo was no longer tempted to leave the house and get distracted. Staying inside and writing was his only option.

The strategy worked. Hugo remained in his studyeach day and wrote furiously during the fall and winter of 1830. The Hunchback of Notre Dame  was published two weeks early on January  14, 1831.

James Clear
The Akrasia Effect: Why We Don’t Follow Through on What We Set Out to Do and What to Do About It

Using Hugo’s method as inspiration, here are three ways you can beat the Akrasia-effect:

#1 “Commitment device”

Victor Hugo locked his clothes away so that he could just write and this is known as a “commitment device”.

Clear defines it as strategies that help improve behaviour by increasing obstacles, or costs, or making it simpler to do the “right” thing. If you for example – go on social media as a form of distraction and procrastination, deleting apps or disconnecting from the internet could be a “commitment device”. If snacking distracts you, you can lock away your snacks in a different room, away from your workspace – as a “commitment device”.

Another one that many of us are typically a ‘victim’ of in the workplace is email…try establishing a set period of the day when you close your Email Provider completely and focus on your important work tasks for a couple of hours, without the distraction of incoming mails.

Whatever enables you to procrastinate – make it difficult to come by (whether financially/physically) …

#2 Prepare for an easy start

Procrastination goes hand-in-hand with guilt and frustration. Actually just doing the big project is less painful (if you take it moment-for-moment). Just force yourself to start – even if it is something small. If it is writing something start with headings, the first paragraph or even the conclusion. Just start somewhere. If you tackle bite-sizes, you’ll soon have a whole chunk finished and in no time the whole project will be signed-off.

#3 Use Implementation Checklists

Have a checklist of what you plan to have done or have completed – and be specific with dates and times. By having deadlines and checklists – you are three to four times more likely to get a move on and stop procrastinating, than if the deadlines are vague. Put a specific date to each section of the project as well, being realistic; and stick to those dates. This will help make the project manageable and it will decrease the likeliness of you procrastinating.

So do that big project now, using the three strategies above – your future self will thank you for it!

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