If you have a daunting to-do list in front of you (and who doesn’t?), there’s a new productivity hack that may be able to help you out. It’s called “scary hour,” and it’s taking TikTok by storm.
Although San Francisco–based advertising copywriter Laur Wheeler is credited with starting the trend, it’s also known by other names, such as “power hour” or “eat the frog.” In each scenario, the person is encouraged to do the hard task first.
What is scary hour?
@classiclaur Gorgeous gorgeous girls do Scary Hour #scaryhour ♬ original sound – Laur “Birthday Card” Wheeler
In her video, which has more than 1 million views, Wheeler says she sets a timer for one hour and works only on tasks she’s been avoiding because of anxiety. Indeed, feelings of stress make us more likely to procrastinate, according to Alicia Walf, a neuroscientist and senior lecturer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. According to research, 20% of U.S. adults are chronic procrastinators, meaning they procrastinate at home, at work, in relationships, and more.
Why does scary hour work?
“When we are stressed, we are more likely to want to avoid not just the task at hand, but the negative emotions we feel around that task as well,” Walf previously told Fortune. “That’s because at a basic neuroscientific level, we have a bias toward the present and prefer the immediate reward of feeling good when the brain releases the neurochemical dopamine.”
In other words, our brains are hardwired to approach tasks we find enjoyable and avoid those that produce negative feelings. Productivity hacks, such as “scary hour” or the Pomodoro Technique, wherein you work in 25-minute intervals followed by five-minute breaks, can help refocus your attention and energy.
“Recognizing when you’re getting stressed and trying to minimize that by deliberately refocusing on whatever the task is, versus those feelings of stress, anxiety, or not feeling motivated, is about retraining your approach to stress and behaviors,” Walf said.
How to implement scary hour in your day
While Wheeler says she does scary hour at a different time every day, Vip Sitaraman, a Phoenix-based digital consultant and entrepreneur, schedules his for the mornings.
“I kick off my scary hour within 90 minutes of starting work—that’s usually around 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.,” he recently told Insider. “Before adapting this approach, I felt my highly productive sweet spots were within an hour of starting work and around four hours after ending my workday—after 9 p.m. However, the night blocks were usually only useful for mindless tedium rather than truly groundbreaking, brain-wracking work.”
When it comes to making the most out of a scary hour, what you do matters more than when you do it, and that you do it consistently. In addition to dedicating time for your scary hour, you should also select the task(s) you want to focus on ahead of time to eliminate information overload when it comes time to get to work. Also key to setting yourself up for success is eliminating distractions, such as Slack or email.
“To get the most out of it, carve out 100% of focus for the singular task. No meetings, no email, and no admin work should conflict with it,” Sitaraman said. “I’ve found that most unproductivity comes from one of two sources: communication overload (such as Slack, email, and meetings) or analysis paralysis (overthinking a problem). By blocking both of these out, I’m able to preserve focus for deep work.”