There’s a giant vacuum nozzle that hangs over your head day and night. Manufactured by  Some Day Incorporated, this vacuum is powered by procrastination and stands by ever waiting (and indeed, the operative word is waiting), to suck up good things from every area of your life.

Procrastination siphons off your money. Think of all the added fines you’ve accrued because you failed to pay your bills on time. Or all the investment returns from the miracle of compound interest you’ve missed out on because you never opened that retirement account. Or the problem with your car that could have been fixed far more cheaply if it had been addressed when you first heard that funny little noise, rather than when your engine finally went kaput.

Procrastination steals your opportunities. If only you spent a bit more time studying for that test instead of cramming the night before, you could have passed the class. If only you turned in that application on time, you could have landed that plumb internship. If only you asked out that girl you were crushing on (who a decade later you’ll find out was crushing on you back) before graduation, she could have been your life’s great love.

Procrastination holds hostage your health. Maybe if you had started that exercise and diet program sooner, you wouldn’t now be staring down diabetes. Maybe if you had gone in to see your doctor about that niggling pain right away, you’d be facing a diagnosis of Stage 2 cancer rather than Stage 4.

Finally — and this effect is perhaps the least acute but the most onerous as it weighs on your mind — procrastination costs you a sense of peace and satisfaction in progress. When you look around and see the laundry still piled up on the couch unfolded, hear the drip-drip-drip of a still unfixed faucet at night, and remember for the 18th, and still unacted upon time, that you need to call to make a dentist appointment, it’s hard not to feel demoralized that you’ve been beaten in life by simple minutiae. 

Fortunately, while procrastination does indeed truly suck, its solution is as simple as the problem itself: an equation developed by a researcher who’s done more than ponder its pull and offer anecdotal hacks for its defeat, but has scientifically studied all its thieving angles.

The Procrastination Equation

Why do we humans almost universally experience a mighty struggle with procrastination? It’s because we’re seemingly hardwired to favor short-term pleasure over short-term annoyance/effort, even if the latter leads to greater long-term gains. We like to do whatever feels good in the moment.

The key to overcoming procrastination is thus to increase your motivation for tackling a task, so you feel more inclined to do it now, and less inclined to put it off.

That’s the conclusion reached by Dr. Piers Steel, the foremost researcher of procrastination. In The Procrastination Equation, Steel explains that our given level of motivation for something is determined by four factors that interact in the following formula:

Motivation = Expectancy x Value / Impulsiveness x Delay

Let’s unpack the role each of these variables play in causing us to be more motivated (Expectancy and Value) or less motivated (Impulsiveness and Delay).