Day #722:Willpower is a Muscle

Sometimes the thought of doing anything just sounds terrible: Why would you call that client when you could do it after lunch? Why work on that presentation when it’s not even due today? Why not just do it later?

Research suggests we need to carve out five hours of difficult work in a day if we’re going to do awesome things—at least that’s what the inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs tell us.

But getting those five hours in can feel impossible given the reams of email and stacks of meetings we have placed on our desk. By the time we have the occasion to be productive, we just don’t have the willpower.

Therein lies to problem: we don’t want to have anything to do with willpower.


You know that grumpy feeling you get after a long day? That happens because we’re making hundreds of micro-decisions every day, and every decision we make takes mental effort—which, neuroscientists will remind us, is also physical effort.

So in the same way that you can only physically run so many miles in a day, your brain can only run through so many decisions in a day. This is why we who would rather put things off. We need to make productivity less self-determined and more automatic.

“Do yourself a favor and embrace the fact that your willpower is limited,” writes Columbia psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson at HBR, “and that it may not always be up to the challenge of getting you to do things you find difficult, tedious, or otherwise awful. Instead, use if-then planning to get the job done.”

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