The Work-Reward Productivity Cycle Method

Noam LightstonePsychology 2 Comments

Fuck I don’t want to write that paper!

God I just can’t bring myself to clean those dishes.

Ahhh I don’t want to go to the gym!


Sound familiar?


Why is it that things we have to do, or things that are good for us are SO hard to get done? Why can’t our brain just let us work and be productive?

Your mind always works against you. Ain’t it a bitch.

Instead of going into the psychology of why we might feel this way, let’s look at ways to make it easier for us to get past this and push through. To do this, I’d like to introduce The Work-Reward Productivity Cycle Method.


Background and How the Method Works

Your brain loves doing things that make it happy. So, if you like to play video games or fiddle around on YouTube, your brain will OBVIOUSLY choose that at the moment over something more important and more challenging, something that requires more effort, or is less fun. Say… writing your thesis? However, you’re going to feel pretty guilty for not getting these important things done, even if deep down you think they suck. Why are you choosing instant gratification over accomplishing longer-term goals? Simple: you get the benefits faster, it’s easier, and it feels better right now. Who cares about the future, we’re here right now.

A way to combat this is to use a sort of “brain-hack”. Instead of giving in to that pleasurable activity now, start promising your brain and self a reward if you do some work… THEN you get to do the fun activity.

For instance, a chore I DESPISE doing is the dishes, but I love playing drums. So I tell myself when I’m done with the dishes, I get to smash my drums to my heart’s content. This makes me motivated to get the fucking dishes done so that I can go have fun. Make sure you actually FOLLOW THROUGH with the reward though. Otherwise you’re going to feel cheated, catch on, and get pretty pissed with yourself.


Have some fun with this! Take a few minutes now to write down potential rewards on a list for when you do some work. For instance:


  • Watch a TV show
  • Listen to music
  • Play video games
  • Order in food
  • Buy a new shirt


Rewards for Long- and Short-Term Goals

The work-reward cycle can be extended to longer-term goals as well, not just small daily ones, and the rewards could be more substantial. I could set myself a potential reward of a new iPad if I finish a certain number of blog posts in one month. If I really wanted that iPad, I’d be pretty motivated to get those posts done.

You can set sub-rewards as well! What about each time I move towards my main goal, i.e. writing a single blog post gaining on my target number, I get to buy some small fashion item. Then if I make my blog post goal for the month I get the iPad. Either way, I’m winning when I do the work!


Learning and Building Momentum

You can get creative with the rewards and the tasks. The great thing about this method is that due to the plasticity of your brain, it will learn. The more you use this method it will think, “Oh, if I get this work done I get something good. Let me get some work done!”. If you are really strict then the thought changes to “I only get to do fun stuff IF I can get some work done, so I’d better fucking get this work done!”. Moreover it will build momentum. You’ll WANT to get work done to get those rewards. If you keep at it, you’ll be crossing things of your to-do list consistently, and you’ll feel amazing.

Of course, it’s up to you to know and feel how much to push yourself and if you are over doing it. Constant exhaustion is a sign you should probably step back, and so is general unhappiness. There’s nothing wrong with throwing in a few freebie rewards and having random fun here and there, but when you need to get work done, you’ll have to crack the whip to make this method work. Otherwise, your brain will know it can just do whatever it wants and still get the delicious cookie, whatever form that cookie takes (I don’t recommend trying to eat an iPad).


So try it tomorrow. Instead of mindlessly checking sports pages, Facebook, and YouTube on the internet, tell yourself you’ll do twenty minutes of work and then you can check one of those pages. Then repeat this. Extend it to something else like a chore at home.

See what happens over time. Try different activities and rewards, and use it to learn about yourself in the process. Are you more motivated by certain rewards compared to others? Have you gotten tired of certain rewards? Can you think of new ways to motivate yourself?


The possibilities are endless, and so are the things you can accomplish being productive while rewarding yourself doing so. You’ll feel great getting and doing things you want while also accomplishing what you set out to do.


Tell me about the rewards you plan to use! I’d love to hear them!


Image credit: Michael Connors

Comments 2

  1. This is an awesome method – I do this all the time, mostly rewards being new clothes, fun activities and eating out at my favourite places. The main challenge with this method is that the rewards have to outweigh the pain associated with doing the work. Another effective method is thinking about the reasons why you are doing a certain task, and combining this with rewards can do miracles in terms of motivation 🙂

    1. Post

      Nice Egle, glad it comes in use to you! I find sometimes it’s hard to set those concrete goals, but as long as you are able to use this a bit you’ll be far better off.

      Agree with your combination method… Like for the gym I am so lazy, but know the benefits and feeling afterwards are so worth it.

      What sorts of things do you use this for? Mainly work-related?

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