Improve productivity with a Stickk commitment contract

Posted By on Apr 7, 2010

We previously talked about a great way to measure how productively we’re working using a utility called RescueTime. But even when we know how effectively we’re working and have formulated a plan for how to improve, it’s still hard to execute. Distractions are insidious – it always feels harmless to spend just a few seconds or a minute on something else. But it’s easy to let a small amount of time browsing the web or playing a game to grow into a life of its own.

The best way that I have found to stick to a “fuzzy” goal, like spending less time on sports forums, or getting to bed at a reasonable time, is to make the goal concrete instead of fuzzy.  That is, set a realistic goal that is measurable – so that achieving it becomes black-and-white.

Making goals actionable – and with teeth!

That’s where comes in. It’s the brainchild of Yale Law Professor Ian Ayers (author of Super Crunchers, which I highly recommend), and it encourages you to sign a contract that you will achieve your goals.  You can set the stakes if you fail, appoint a friend to monitor your progress, and send out weekly achievement emails to people who support you in your goal.

Lots of the contracts taken out on Stickk are just for bragging rights, but many people (including me), have taken out contracts where the stakes are monetary.  You pay Stickk the amount you are “wagering” on yourself, and when you report back that you achieved your goals, they return your money.  If you fail to achieve your goals, they donate the money to charity instead.

There is one even more intriguing twist to the site – you can ask Stickk to send your money to an “anti-charity” if you fail to achieve your goal.  For instance, on one of my goals, I asked them to send the money to a nasty anti-environmental lobbying group if I failed.  When confronted with the prospect of not only losing my money, but losing it to a group encouraging pollution, I had plenty of motivation to make sure I hit my target every week.

Lessons learned

One key to making stickk work well for you is to make sure that the goal is something you can accurately measure and something completely in your control. For example, I had bad results with a goal I set to get to work on time every morning.  I was doing pretty well until two weeks in, when an accident on I 93 backed up traffic for two hours.  I was late, and failed to achieve my goal for that week, sending me into a tailspin.  A better goal for me would have been to make it so that I left my house before a certain time.

The Productivity Challenge

After giving myself a couple weeks to acclimate to the RescueTime measurement system, I think I have a good ballpark for how well I’m working, and I think I have all the categories set up correctly. Now that I know how much room I have to improve, and a guess as to how much improvement is reasonable, I’m taking out a commitment contract to increase my productivity percentage (as RescueTime measures it), and to limit the amount of time I spend on very distracting activities.

We’ll see how well it works. Have you taken out a contract like this? If so, let us know how it works for you in the comments. And if you’re interested in taking on a productivity-boosting challenge along with us, let us know that in the comments or connect with us on Twitter.

Also, you can get free stuff for achieving specific business goals if you particpate in the Staples Stickk To It Challenge.

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