3 Tips to Improve Behavioral Self-Management


Daniel B. Sundberg, PhD

bSci21 Contributing Writer

Sometimes it can be hard to get started on a task. Just when it seems like you are ready to get moving on that thing you have been putting off, a distraction pops up that you just “have to” attend to..

Be honest, are you reading this now because you are avoiding doing something else?

For those of you whose work involves a lot of time on the computer, this can be a huge challenge. However, there are some behavioral strategies in self-management that can help you to arrange a more effective and productive work environment. B.F. Skinner himself was an avid self-manager, which helped him to be as productive as he was.

Here are three tricks that you can use to arrange your environment in a way that ensures your working time is actually effective.

1- Set up separate “zones” for your work and home life. This can be particularly challenging if you spend time working from home, or are a student doing projects or homework. While it can be tempting to try and do focused work sitting in front of the TV, I have never seen that strategy actually work. Move yourself to a location that is associated with work and work alone. I had a friend who once built himself a tiny desk inside a small closet, just for this purpose. Just by changing the physical environment to one with stimuli associated with work (rather than working in “the fun zone”) it will instantly become easier to focus.

2- Now once you have decided where you are going to work the next big challenge is the work tool itself: Your computer. The computer has brought us so much efficiency and productivity boosters, but honestly sometimes a typewriter sounds pretty appealing. A computer, and namely the internet, is filled with limitless distractions that can kill productivity.

To combat the distractions of the internet, I highly recommend the web app StayFocused. This app automatically tracks your time on distracting websites, and shuts down access when you pass your allocated amount of time on these sites. It also works on your cell phone too. Sometimes I have to get on a site like Facebook for work, but when the clock is ticking (literally, it shows a clock ticking) it’s a lot easier to avoid getting sucked in.

If you are fortunate enough to have two computers, establish one as “work only” and don’t install anything on there that could be a distraction. My work supplies me with a work computer, which allows for distinct “zones” for work and play. The most fun thing this computer has on it is Spotify. For any Netflixing, video games, or aimless internet surfing, that all happens on the personal computer, in a different room. This isn’t just about respecting the fact that this is company property, it is about establishing effective stimuli that evoke work-related behavior.

3- Lastly, establish for yourself a low effort work ritual that can get you started on-task. In behavior-speak we would call this a behavior chain, and the idea is quite simple. You start with an easy behavior, which allows you to engage in a different behavior, and another, until you get yourself to your work behaviors. For example, you make a cup of coffee, then sit down and open your computer and put in headphones and start your “work playlist”. Then you open the PowerPoint you need to finish, and start doing little formatting changes, and then move up to creating new slides and practicing. The more the first behavior in the chain is unique to that task (e.g. only having coffee when you are about to start working in the morning), the more effective this technique.

With these self-management tactics, you can get more done in less time. 

Now get back to work!

Do you have any self management strategies not on this list?  Share them in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest article directly to your inbox!

Dan SundbergDaniel B. Sundberg, PhD, is a behavior analyst dedicated to creating meaningful change for individuals and organizations using the science of human behavior. Dan has worked in a variety of organizations, including non-profits. Additionally, Dan spent two years as a university lecturer, teaching undergraduate students how to improve the workplace with behavior analysis

Dan earned his B.A. in Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, M.S. in Organizational Behavior Management from Florida Institute of Technology, and Ph. D. in Industrial/ Organizational Behavior Management from Western Michigan University. During this time, some of the best thinkers in behavior analysis and OBM mentored Dr. Sundberg as an academician and business professional.

Dan is currently Regional Manager of Consulting Services at ABA Technologies, where he helps to develop and deliver OBM consulting services. Dan is also a guest reviewer for the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and in his spare time he creates behavior-based products that allow people to manage their time and accomplish their goals. He also has a special interest in building effective work practices and cultures for start-up companies, and increasing the positive effects of organizations working towards an environmentally sustainable future.  You can contact him at [email protected].

4 Comments on "3 Tips to Improve Behavioral Self-Management"

  1. Great ways to stay focused Dr. Sundberg. I really like the idea of one work computer and a second for play.

  2. I’m going to print his article up and hang on my wall until I start implementing some of these! Thank you!

  3. Erin Grubbs | June 6, 2017 at 8:46 am | Reply

    Earlier I was reading an article and it dawned on me WHY the strategy I used to get through my dissertation (on a topic that quickly became extremely dull…prior to my conversion to the ABA team). At the time, I was in a clinical practicum in an ADHD clinic and pushed the use of timers to help with homework completion. By setting my personal timer for a fixed time NCE on a (almost ridiculously) dense schedue, I managed to get through! Noncontingent Escape may be my new self-management toy.

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