Everybody knows a thing or two about procrastination, a hard-won skill polished through years of practice in front of computer screens crawling with cat videos. For those folks without the inner discipline to overcome it, consider the Premack Principle.
This cyberslacking alternative draws on the research of David Premack, a behavioural psychologist interested in behaviour reinforcement whose work from the 1950s and 1960s still resonates today.
Premack’s research split behaviour into two camps: high probability and low probability. The former are things you’re more likely to do, like eat chocolate cake and sleep in. In the latter, find a junkheap of unpleasant, difficult and ill-defined tasks, like organizing the basement and filing your taxes. Premack believed that a high-probability behaviour can serve as a reinforcement for a low-probability behaviour. The trick? Stack your to-do list so the pleasant activities come afterthe unpleasant ones. Pudding after peas.
Or, in a more refined version, scatter the pudding among the peas.
That means rather than top-loading your list with toil and drudgery, package those chores in chunks of three or four, followed by a reinforcing task whose completion will buy you the will to tackle more low-probability jobs. With this, the principle shifts to one of sequence rearrangement, where the assignments are still all there, but their order of completion is shuffled.
Consider salespeople, who often call existing clients before new clients. The chummy familiarity of the known quantities is a pleasure, especially compared to encounters that bristle with strangeness and the potential for discomfort. In one systematic evaluation of the Premack Principle in action in an organizational setting, a pair of salespeople were told they had to sell a new appliance service contract (low-probability stuff) before they could make five renewal calls (high-probability stuff), which were historically more enjoyable for their predictability.
Compared to typical days when they chose the order of their calls, both salesmen scored. Better, they increased not only their warranty sales but their renewal sales.With this conditioning principle, developed with animals, a sprinter recovers with a stroll instead of a dead stop. Its adoption in the workplace can help overwhelmed cat watchers more efficiently pace their workdays for maximum productivity.