Choice Architecture: Avoid Procrastination WITHOUT Willpower

After getting back from work or school, you notice that there are some few hours left you can use to do what you want—practice playing guitar, learn something new, read a book, or perhaps meditate.

But you feel extremely exhausted.

It’s not that playing guitar or reading will beat the shit out of your body, but something feels off…

You have ZERO willpower.

You feel too lazy to get your guitar out of its case, or perhaps your books are neatly arranged in their respective bookshelves sorted out by color and by height.

But wait, what’s that? A NEW message from [someone you like] sent to your easily reachable phone?! “What the hell, it’ll only take a minute, anyway.” (Except not.)

Forty-two minutes in, and you still haven’t done anything productive. You still feel that burning desire to be lazy.

But you did answer that message, did you? That means you did something, didn’t you?

Wait a minute…

What if you could do the opposite and make yourself lazy to reach your phone instead? (or perhaps motivate yourself intentionally)

What if you could automatically make yourself do what you really need to do despite not having the willpower and the self-discipline to do it?

The good news is, you can. (I mean, that’s why I have this article in the first place…)

And it’s a technique from behavioral economics that makes people prefer a choice not because they like it—but because it’s the easiest one. It’s called Choice Architecture.

Hospital Cafeteria Customers Want to Get to The Hospital Fast

In a large hospital cafeteria, you would expect that people would prefer to buy healthy drinks.

After all, they’re inside a huge reminder of where to go if they choose to be unhealthy!

But because unhealthy, thirst-quenching drinks were available, people were still likely to buy them off the shelves.

Researchers thought of the same behavior pattern you get of your phone and your guitar—how the heck did they know you, anyway?

And so, researchers did their brilliant plan.

They rearranged the items such that the healthy drinks were more visible than others.

Healthy items were labeled with green, unhealthy items were colored with red.

The color scheme alone decreased the sales of unhealthy items by 16.5% and increased the sales of healthy items by almost 10%.

The magic happened when they designed the cafeteria to make green items and bottled water more visible.

The result? A 25.6% increase in sales of bottled water, and a total of 26.02% decrease in sales of unhealthy items.

And the researchers did this without even a telling a single word to the cafeteria’s customers.

That’s the power of choice architecture.

Using choice architecture, you essentially bypass your willpower system and make yourself do better decisions automatically.

Lastly, choice architecture allows you to immediately get to the root cause of bad behavior.

Example of an Anti-Procrastination Architecture

Choice Architecture is like the Path of Least Resistance on steroids.

Personally, I did this technique to:

  • Make myself finish all of my due reviews in the morning
  • Make myself read for 2 hours everyday to prepare for my exams
  • Stop using Social Media mindlessly
  • And just lately, a reading habit every morning

When I first got into “reading books”, I mostly watched book summaries on YouTube, or searched for blogs that provided more detailed book summaries.

Not gonna lie, it’s fun as hell to learn about 25 books in 1 hour if you watch at 2X speed, or get the best ideas in a short amount of time.

When I started writing on the blog, that’s when it became a problem—I had no real knowledge.

I didn’t even know the “why” behind the ideas laid out in each book.

And I had this problem of jumping from book to book, also not knowing where to start.

Now, book summaries are fine if you’re just applying it yourself and if you don’t really need that much convincing.

Books, though, will thoroughly persuade you into each piece of idea using interesting anecdotes and proof. (Rant over)

It’s so freaking easy—because you made it easy

In my bedroom, I have a plastic table near my bed, about 26 inches tall. You bet everything on there was easy to reach after waking up.

And then I noticed there are a lot of books collecting dust on the bookshelf.

Not to mention, my girlfriend bought me some books for my birthday—The ONE Thing and The Lean Startup.

Also, a friend/mentor of mine sent me two other books I can read—Originals and Permission Marketing.

Of course I’d feel bad about not reading these books!

Actually, I started reading them before when I first received them, but then some unimaginable dark force pulls me from reading these books consistently.

Choice architecture comes into mind. “If you can do it to break a social media habit, then you can use it to build a reading habit!”

So, I removed the book I want to read from the bookshelf and placed it on top of the table.

After an effortless, consistent streak of 27 days, I’m already at 50% of my THIRD book.

And it’s just going to get better.

Using choice architecture, you’re effortlessly going to do the things you need to do and automatically avoid the habits that are making you procrastinate.

The two rules of Choice Architecture are easy to remember:

Rule #1. Make it so freaking easy you can’t NOT do it

Rule #2. Remember rule #1.

And if you want to make it look like you’re a self-disciplined person…

Rule #3. You do not talk about Choice Architecture.

It’s not just limited to your environment, too

You might think Choice Architecture is only limited to the place around you, and that you might not be able to apply it for some reason.

Since the most common way people procrastinate is by using their phones and scrolling on social media or browsing the internet (more like Reddit), that’s the example I’m going to give.

Step #1. Stop the root of all evil

No, it’s not money. (In my opinion, it’s when you start becoming controlled by excessive desires.)

We’re talking about the root cause—why you use your phone in the first place.

And most of the time, the trigger to this behavior is when you get a new notification.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Only turn on notifications for the MOST urgent matters. (Ex: Phone calls)
  • Uninstall apps that doesn’t add any real value to your life
  • Use the Grayscale feature if you’re on iOS, because the “Red” color of notification is a MAJOR trigger of attention (Settings>Accessibility)

Step #2. Make the apps you NEED more visible

Do you really need Reddit? Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Snapchat?

If not, then place them where you can’t see them immediately after opening your phone.

After that, place the apps you need right at the home page of your smartphone.

Bottom Line: Bypass Your Willpower

The possibilities of Choice Architecture are endless.

The effects are complex, but anyone can do this to bypass their willpower.

Again, if you keep procrastinating on something, make it so easy you can’t NOT do it.