Easy Bribe System

This to-do system uses basic psychology to succeed where other systems fail. It is worth trying, even if just to gain a better understanding of how your mind resists and accepts different things to do.

This system uses

  • a bribe of some kind. I have a box of Raffaellos (above), as I find them particularly irresistible. You might substitute sugary candy, chocolate, or whatever else you find hardest to resist.
  • a to-do list with some pesky, but important things – that you repeatedly fail to do.


1. Place your personal bribes somewhere near your desk. You need them to be close so you can remember them, but not too close that you use up all your self control (researchers know this is a finite resource, and itself needed to do unpleasant jobs).

2. Identify some category of job that you want to do more of, but regularly can’t find the time for. A few common ones might be: planning for the future, difficult phone calls, making doctor’s appointments, difficult creative work, initiating new contacts, doing your tax, invoicing, changing routines, sorting clutter and old files.

3. Set your appropriate payment level. For me, I allow myself one treat when I tick three of these small things off my to-do list (or one large thing).

4. Adjust the type, proximity, and payment amounts until you are clearing through your lists like a (fat) champion.

Extra info: The real psychology that this works with is the idea of “time inconsistency”. Humans value small, immediate gains (like candy or coffee) more than far greater, future ones (such as a large tax return, that can purchase a lifetime’s supply of candy if we want). Similarly, the cost, or pain, of a difficult task is considered greater than the (later) pain of not doing it. This hack uses what is normally a human weakness to our advantage.


  • Cheap and easy. You can buy treats anywhere, indeed you probably already have them as part of your day (tea, coffee, snacks).
  • This teaches you about how your brain works (and fails) – which can lead to a lifetime’s benefit, in many areas.
  • It gets the “high hanging fruit” that is hard to complete in any other way.


  • Not a system in itself, this still needs to be combined with other, efficient ways of recording and reading to-do lists.


  • Swap treats for internet treats – such as favourite websites that have no productive use. Use procrastination as a fuel!

Our Rating

rating: 4.0 stars
A very simple trick that can be incorporated throughout our working lives.

Your Thoughts

Have you tried this system? What are your experiences working with it? Any pros, cons, variations, or tips?

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