Discovering I could beat procrastination with forcing functions was a really nifty discovery that has really helped to push my business forward. Whilst they might sound somewhat unpleasant, forcing functions are actually pretty great!
Forcing functions are one of my favourite ways to overcome any mindset monkeys holding me back from doing or finishing something that’s going to help or benefit me. I find them fantastic not only for running my business but also in my personal life – basically for anything where I’m delaying doing something I know I should be doing!
But if we know that something will benefit us, why not just ‘do the thing’? Because as we all know, just knowing that something is going to be good for us, often isn’t enough to actually make ourselves do it.
Often I find myself delaying something that I know will be great for me and that deep down I do want to do, because I’m scared or nervous or apprehensive. Also, sometimes I delay doing something I know will be good for me in the long run because I quite simply just can’t be a*sed doing it – it just seems too complicated or boring.
Whatever the reason, whether it’s fear or nerves or lethargy or whatever else, ultimately the problem getting in our way is feeling like this goal or activity is just too hard or onerous to tackle, so we don’t do it.
Another problem is that often the goal or desired activity only exists inside our own heads, and inside our own heads, we’re the boss and we can choose to ignore it or keep sidelining it, making elaborate excuses about why it wasn’t possible to do it this time. Our own heads can be our biggest assets but also our biggest saboteurs.
WHAT ARE FORCING FUNCTIONS AND HOW DO THEY HELP?
A forcing function is a simple and easily completed action you take that forces you to take another more difficult or complicated action as a result.
A forcing function gets that goal or activity out of your head and into the real world, with connections to other people or things, and with real consequences at stake. It gives you external accountability and motivation that didn’t exist when the goal/activity was just in your head.
One of my all-time favourite quotations is also really relevant to forcing functions: “Leap and the net will appear” – the idea that when you fully commit to something and take a leap that means you HAVE to make it work, you WILL make it work.
When you take that ‘leap’, execute that forcing function, you do something that means you’ve got something at stake, you’ve got ‘skin in the game’. If you don’t show up and do the thing, there will be consequences, for yourself and/or others. We want to appear and be competent and reliable, we don’t want to let others down, we don’t want to waste our own resources, time and money, or those of other people. A forcing function gives us external motivation, rather than just internal motivation, to get things done. It gives us some kind of deadline, additional motivation and/or obligation.
Here are some examples of effective forcing functions, all of which can be used in both our professional and personal lives:
⭐️ Having a regular, recurring meeting with a coach or some kind of task-master where you show your progress and agree on your next actions for your next meeting. Ideally set a fixed time or at least agree the next one in advance at the end of the previous one so you continue to make that ongoing commitment. You won’t want to show up saying you’ve not done what you’ve said you will, so this will encourage you to be more productive in between meetings.
⭐️ Having an accountability buddy – this can either be a friend or a work colleague. This works in a similar way to the previous one but in this case, it’s more of a gentler, mutual arrangement whereby you both make commitments to each other and check in on a regular basis. You don’t necessarily need to meet up – you could agree to check in via text or email on a regular basis, or to send each other proof of completion of activities, whatever works best for you.
⭐️ Announcing publicly that you’re going to do something – this is a favourite of mine, especially for work related things, such as offering a new service or product that you keep delaying. For example, you could announce on social media that in 2 months’ time you’re going to be offering family sessions as well as weddings – that way in the next two months you absolutely have to get your family prices, packages and brochure set up. Or you could announce to your mailing list that in two weeks’ time you’re going to be running a little training session for mums on how to take better photos – that way in the next two weeks you have to design and prepare the resources. You can also do this by telling family/friends that you’re going to do something, although I’ve found the forcing function is stronger if you commit to it publicly.
⭐️ Pre-selling something – this is similar to the previous one except that as well as announcing it you actually also take payment for it in advance. This is an excellent way to supercharge that commitment and ensure that there’s no way you won’t do it.
⭐️ Investing money into doing something – once you’ve paid money you stop messing around and delaying things because you owe it to yourself to ensure that you make your investment worthwhile. Paying for a coach, mentor, course or any other paid resources and therefore having ‘skin in the game’ prompts far more motivation, focus and productivity than a mound of free resources would ever give you.
⭐️ Signing up / putting your name down for something – officially committing to doing or being part of something gives you that accountability and motivation to get prepared and ready for it, whether that’s agreeing that you’ll join in with or contribute something (such as writing for a blog or speaking at an event), or whether that’s signing up for another person’s services (such a graphic or web designer to overhaul your website or a free trial for a CRM or AI editing to help make your workflow more efficient).
⭐️ Signing out or leaving something – this can give you razor sharp focus to make a success of whatever you’re leaving it to make room for, and is very much aligned with ‘leap and the net will appear’. Examples of this could be cutting down your hours in your day job (or even leaving it if you’re able to) so you can focus on launching your photography business, or stopping offering one of your photography services that you no longer enjoy to focus on a different type of photography moving forward.
⭐️ Giving something a name that commits you to doing it – as I have a regular email I send to my mailing list called Tuesday Tips it means that the very name holds me accountable and come hell or high water I know I will email every Tuesday! Similarly, you can name things according to months or any timeframe such as ‘daily’ or ‘weekly’ etc, or a season etc.
Finally, one that I came across this week that I’d never have thought of…
⭐️ Taking your fully-charged laptop to a café or co-working space, leaving your charging cable at home! Wonderful for when you just really need to get a load done – there’s nothing like a self-enforced deadline (however long it takes for your laptop to run out) to get a task finished. Knowing it will shut down after a short amount of time will force you to stay hyper-focused and stop you faffing around.
I hope these have been helpful to you – which forcing functions have you used in the past and which might you try in future?
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