Improving Productivity by Bridging Thought to Action


Here’s how to bridge the missing link between thought and intention to productive action

Have you ever watched or heard a story about someone achieving something remarkable that just inspired you? It just ignited something within you and sparked such excitement that you started overflowing with zeal. 

You felt ready to accomplish your own goal and you were ready to start right then and there! 

Or maybe your inspiration didn’t cause such a dramatic response. You simply decided that there’s something that you wanted to achieve. 

Many of us have goals that we want to reach. Experiencing the inspiration and deciding to pursue those goals, however, is the easy part. Everyone’s been inspired in one form or another.

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How Immediate Action Influences Achievement of Goals

Influencing thought and desire into action is more accessible and successful when the action is imminent. That is, when there is minimal lag between influence and action.

When something influences your thought to change your behavior or perform an action, it’s most successful when the intended action is carried out as soon as possible. The more time that passes after the influence occurs, the less likely it is you’ll perform the action.

If more time passes, what’s required is another intervention, another event to create influence on your behavior and action. These additional influences act to bridge the time between the initial intervention and the actual behavior. 

These interventions address the challenges to performing the action. Even with an intervention that occurs to bridge time, optimal results are achieved when the intervention is able to induce the targeted behavior or when there are, again, short uneventful-behavior lags.

Linking Intention to a Productive Environment

Another effective intervention is to link intention to the performance environment. Specifically when planning. This applies to things like exercising (Milne, Orbell, Sheehan 2002) and dieting.

Planning helps you consider how you might overcome logistical obstacles, but it’ll also help you remember your intentions (Achtziger, Gollwitzer, Sheehan 2008).

During this 2020 general election season, the NFL ran commercials reaching millions of viewers, encouraging voters to create a plan to help them actually cast their vote. As we know, voting can take a couple minutes or a few hours out of your day.

Research found that planning to form a link between the intention to vote and the location to cast the vote, or the performance environment, was more than twice as effective as the standard call to vote (Nickerson and Rogers 2010). 

We’re not sure how much of the voter turnout can be attributed to the campaign by the NFL and campaigns by other organizations, but the U.S. saw a record turnout of voters and the highest voter turnout rate among eligible voters in a century.

Using Commitment Devices to Improve Productivity

Commitment devices are effective. Examples of commitment devices include leaving credit cards at home and bringing a limited amount of cash when you go shopping. When you limit the very resource, or access to that resource, that may enable specific behaviors, you can perform specific behaviors successfully. 

Immutable commitment devices, or devices that may be changed, rather than mutable devices are more effective because they incur unavoidable costs as opposed to minor inconveniences. If you don’t store alcohol or foods that you are trying to avoid at home, then you can just go to the store to purchase or have it delivered.

Successfully Bridging Thought to Action

Performing actions successfully requires planning, organization, and forethought. It’s part of creating a productivity system. This is how you set yourself up for productivity and for success.

Since research has found that bridging thought or desire to action when the effects are immediate is more successful, this may be difficult for long-term goals. That’s why planning is crucial.

Create an Action Plan for Your Goals

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