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Key Points: Hang on, commitment what? If you are scratching your head in confusion, don’t worry. Commitment devices really aren’t as complicated as they may sound. Actually, they are a straightforward and fantastic way to keep yourself from procrastinating. But what is a commitment device, and how does it work?

What is a Commitment Device, and How Does it Work?

A commitment device is a measure you decide to take to help you follow through with your plans. With a commitment device you make it more likely to stick to good habits and stay away from bad ones. Like this, it can help you to reduce procrastination and to reach your goals faster.

It works like this: You do something right here and now that influences the actions you take in the future. For example, if you want to lose weight, only buy healthy food and avoid sweets and snacks in the supermarket. After all, you can’t eat at home what you don’t have at home. Or set your phone to airplane mode if you want to get a big chunk of work done so you can stay focused without interruptions.

Commitment devices have been around for a long, long time. Odysseus, for example, already used this method. He ordered to be tied to the mast of his ship so he could listen to the sirens’ beautiful but dangerous songs without wrecking his ship on their rocky coast.

Methods for Creating Commitment Devices

  1. Create Friction

    Make changes to your environment that make it harder to avoid doing the things you want or need to do. Create obstacles for temptations.

  2. Cause Social Consequences

    Involve somebody else into your commitment to stay on track. Making your commitment known to others is one way to do it.

  3. Cause Financial Consequences

    Some commitment devices may cost you money for nothing if you don’t follow through with your plans, e.g. if you pay for a gym membership but never go.

Which Commitment Devices Work for You?

There is a tricky bit to commitment devices: There is no one-solution-fits-all formula for commitment devices. Everybody procrastinates about different things, and the way you procrastinate is probably entirely different from how I procrastinate. So, to reach your goals, you first need to understand your procrastination habit and identify why and how you procrastinate. Once you’ve recognized your procrastination patterns, you can start to engineer your individual commitment devices to hack your behaviour and your environment. We put together the following list to inspire you to get started with commitment devices. Pick the ones that apply to you and tweak them the way you need them.

List of Commitment Devices: Find Commitment Devices That Work Best For You

Don't Buy Junk Food

This is straightforward. If you don’t have any junk food at home, you can’t eat it. All it requires is willpower during shopping. I know, I know, that isn’t all that easy. Something that can help here, however, is to go shopping after lunch or dinner. If you aren’t hungry while grocery shopping, the risk of packing unhealthy stuff into your shopping cart is not as big as when your stomach is empty.


Delete Music, Only Put Audiobooks on Your Phone

If you want to read more but don’t seem to have enough time, delete all your music from your phone and only put audiobooks on your phone. This way, you can listen to educating material whenever you would usually listen to your favorite playlist.


Automate Your Savings

Automatically transfer 10% of your income to a savings account right at the beginning of the month. Like this, you can follow the “pay yourself first” principle and start to save money for investing into your financial independence.


Put Your Alarm Clock Far Away From Your Bed

If you have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, this hack might be for you. It forces you to get out of bed, or the noise won’t stop.

Alarm clocks have a tendency to make people cranky first thing in the morning. To avoid this, you could try setting your alarm sound to nature sounds and to only keep a “real” alarm sound as a backup in case you miss the nature sounds. There are also ways to learn to wake up without an alarm clock altogether and also only keep the alarm as a backup.


Get a Gym Membership

If you can’t motivate yourself to work out at home or go running regularly, get a gym membership. Once you pay for exercising, you basically lose money if you don’t go and take advantage of your membership. The additional financial pain can be an effective incentive.


Close Your E-Mail Client

Close your e-mail client and only open it at certain intervals, e.g. every two hours. This minimizes distractions. Set up an auto-responder to inform your contacts that you have received their message and that you will reply, but not immediately.


Pack a Healthy Lunch Box

Are there a lot of restaurants, fast food joints or supermarkets close to where you work or go to school? If so, there are also many temptations for unhealthy food that might ruin your healthy eating plans. To avoid that, pack a healthy lunch box to take with you. If you are in a hurry in the mornings, prepare as much as possible the night before.

Preparing your own lunchbox has the additional benefit that it can help to reduce packaging waste. Buying food to-go usually comes with a lot of unnecessary plastic or paper packaging that you can avoid when you use a reusable lunchbox and are mindful about how the groceries you buy are packaged.


Delete Apps and Games

If you have a tendency to play games or use apps to distract you from what’s really important, delete them. It saves you a ton of time and frees up your mental capacities.

Block Distracting Websites

Do you get easily distracted by visiting certain websites that eat up your time? Whether it is social media platforms or any other websites, block them in your browser. Some browsers can do it natively, and for others, you can get plugins to increase friction. This helps you save time and mental capacities for what’s really important.


Set Your Phone to Don't Disturb Mode

Decrease the probability for interruptions as much as possible. Setting your phone to don’t disturb mode is very effective here. Most phones have the option to customize these settings, so you can still allow specific people to call you or certain apps to send you reminders.


Buy a Monthly or Yearly Ticket for Public Transportation

Reducing greenhouse gasses is something we all need to work on. If you want to contribute to saving our planet by using your car less for your commute, buy a monthly or even yearly ticket for public transportation. The financial investment is an additional commitment, and you save money on the gas you don’t need.


Automate Paying Your Bills

Save time and prevent being late with your bills by setting up automated payments for regularly recurring bills.


Arrange Tax-Free Capital Accumulation Benefits with Your Employer

Here, money is taken directly from your gross salary and put into a savings plan. There is no tax on the amount you save until you cash it back out, and as your gross salary is effectively reduced, you pay less income tax.

Whether this is generally possible or not depends on the country you live in. And even if it is possible in your country, your employer is not necessarily bound to participate in such a program. But if you are lucky, there might be programs available to you where your employer actually adds something to the amount you save. So you’d get an extra benefit.


Cancel Your Cable TV or Streaming Subscription

To watch less TV and thus have more time for other things, cancel your cable or streaming subscription. It will free up a lot of time for more fulfilling things.


Move Your TV Out of Your Bedroom

Throwing your TV out of your bedroom has multiple benefits. You’ll get more and deeper sleep, you don’t waste time on mindless TV programs that you could also spend reading a book, and it can be one of the steps to rekindle some of the passion with your partner. Couples who cut watching TV in bed from their daily routine often start to have more sex again.


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