We want to be focused with on critical tasks and make the best, most efficient use of our time. Instead, we get distracted, we procrastinate, and we wind up getting too absorbed by unimportant aspects of a single project when we'd be better off turning our attention to other things. Fortunately, there is a very simple strategy that has been proven to help us deal effectively with the distractions.
It's called if-then planning. Making if-then plans to tackle your current projects, or reach your goals, is probably – without exaggerating – the most effective single thing you can do to ensure your success.
This is a very simple formula: If X happens, then I will do Y.
IF - is a situation that could lead to falling off your change plan. X can be a time and place, like Monday at 9 a.m., or it can be an event like the arrival of the dessert menu at a restaurant. For example, a dieter might easily fall off their plan in a buffet line laden with cheeses and casseroles and breads and desserts.
THEN - Y is the specific action you will take whenever X occurs. The dieter's then might be that they'll only choose vegetables and lean meats. They could even plan to choose fruit when they reach the desserts. They prepared their mind to know how to manage the event before it even happened.
So considering delaying important work, the formula will be: "If it is 9am, then I will start working on this project". If I want exercise more, my formula is: "When it is Monday or Thursday 5.30pm, I go to gym to work out for an hour". If I want to find time for writing this blog, I say: "When it is Thursday afternoon, I spend time writing a new story".
Well over 100 studies, on everything from diet and exercise to negotiation and time management, have shown that deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal can double or triple your chances for success.
Our habits can prove to be the most difficult thing to change. However this technique is simple for our brain, because this is how our brain is wired: it understands the language of contingencies. Deciding exactly when and where you will act on your goal creates a link in your brain between the situation or cue (the if) and the behavior that should follow (the then).
The situation or cue "5 p.m. at work" becomes then highly activated. Below your awareness, your brain starts scanning the environment, searching for the situation in the "if" part of your plan. Lastly, once the "if" part of your plan happens, the "then" part follows automatically. You don't have to consciously monitor your goal, which means your plans get carried out even when you are preoccupied.