The Bane of Akrasia: Four Ways to Make Yourself Listen to Your Better Judgment

“By constant self-discipline and self-control, you can develop greatness of character.” – Grenville Kleiser, American inspiration author and speaker.

If you’ve never heard the term akrasia, don’t be surprised: it’s an ancient Greek term for a specific state of mind, coined by Aristotle himself. Also spelled as acrasia, it’s not often used in everyday English; however, it’s a wonderfully compact term for acting against your own better judgment. Anything you do that you know hurts you—but you do anyway—is akrasia. A diabetic having a large latte with extra whipped cream, a cancer patient smoking, or an alcoholic “having just one”—all akrasia.

When we apply Akrasia in the workplace, it’s anything you knowingly do that damages your productivity, including procrastination, micromanaging, gossiping, playing politics, checking social media, yakking for too long around the coffeemaker; all those little things you do to waste precious time. Admittedly, it’s a broad concept, but you can cut it down to size with some basic self-management tactics anyone can learn. Like these four:

  1. Own your job. We all know true engagement and job ownership is low among white collar workers. Though it’s ticked higher in recent years, it’s rarely over 30%; everyone else is either just somewhat engaged or entirely disengaged. And no, you can’t just snap your fingers and magically start loving your work, especially if it’s a real drag. But you can work on owning it, learning to love its most productive and profitable aspects. Start with some part of the job you already like and focus on doing it with excellence; then work outward from there, building on that accomplishment while delegating the tasks you dislike and that someone else can do. If you can pare down that list of hated tasks, it makes productivity much simpler and more enjoyable. Ultimately, you’re in charge of your attitude: You can work toward changing it if you really want. If not, change jobs to one you CAN own.

  2. Exercise self-discipline. Many of us think of discipline as something imposed from others. How many times have you heard someone say, “Look what you made me do!” to avert blame, or “Why didn’t someone tell me to do that?” or worse, “It’s not in my job description?” You can’t think that way; make self-discipline your watchword. Accept the responsibility for your own behavior, eliminate negative self-talk, control your perfectionism and tendency to procrastinate—and start making yourself get to work even when you don’t feel like it. This doesn’t preclude you from eventually learning to love your work. Choose to do what you know you need to do, even if you don’t feel like it. The sense of accomplishment will reward you for the yucky task.

  3. Remove distractions and focus. Get rid of everything tempting you NOT to work, so you have no choice but to do it. Can the Internet, TV, and your timewasting habits, whatever they are. Writer Victor Hugo found an enterprising way to do this. He promised his publisher a new novel in 1829, but by mid-1830 had spent so much time working on other things and enjoying life that his publisher became frustrated with him and set a hard deadline of six months for the new book; February 1831. Faced with the new deadline, Hugo locked away all his clothes and forced himself to get to work, clad in nothing but a large shawl. Since he couldn’t leave the house, he wrote all day. According to an account written by his wife Adele Foucher, he became so focused on writing he turned in The Hunchback of Notre Dame two weeks early.

  4. Make it easier to start work. Once you’re doing a dreaded task, it’s not so bad; it’s the getting started that’s hard. So try breaking down the project into such easy subtasks that getting started is a cinch. For example, if I have an article to write for a publication, the first subtask might be “Do Internet research”. It might take a half an hour to collect 10 articles. The next subtask may be “Read the first half of new articles.” I can then create a headline and intro, and then write a few hundred words at a time, until all that’s left is a final edit and submission.


Overcoming akrasia results in enkrateia, command of oneself. If you never take command of yourself, how can you effectively command others? More immediately, enkrateia provides a sense of power that allows you to overcome the lack of will that makes procrastination an acceptable excuse not to excel. Use the above methods as starting points to kick akrasia to the curb.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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