Ever have something you need to do, but you just can’t make yourself do it? It might be a mundane task like mailing your Christmas cards, studying for a test, finishing a book, writing a sales proposal, or starting that blog that you’ve always meant to start. Not only are you not making progress on the task, but you are also finding other shallow work to do, or browsing Facebook. How can you motivate yourself to break through your productivity blockers and make progress on the goal?
The following are techniques that I’ve found work for me when I get stuck on a task. If you have other ways that you’ve seen helpful to motivate yourself, leave me a comment below.
- Get started. The first step is the hardest. I’m currently working on a project that will turn into a book. It’s easy to come up with an idea to write about; the hard part is getting started. Many people will spend a lot of time in planning before actually writing something. If you want to quickly make progress in a writing project, you have to write something. Doing something simple like creating the document file, creating the outline, or writing the first 2-3 paragraphs will make you feel like you are making progress and help motivate you to continue your project. When I started my podcast CRM Audio, the hardest part was recording the first episode. The next 68 episodes were easy.
- Break the elephant down. Sometimes the big hairy task is intimidating, and I get overwhelmed with the size of the entire job. Separate the project into smaller pieces (tasks) that can be completed in a reasonable amount of time. When I complete the smaller tasks, I feel a sense of accomplishment, and before long the whole project is done. If cleaning the entire garage is overwhelming, set a task to clean a certain part of it, like straighten up the workbench.
- Embrace the power of deadlines. If you were a child who waited until the last minute to complete school assignments, you don’t have to change your personality. Just embrace the deadline and set yourself deadlines to force yourself to make progress. Your goal should be reasonable but aggressive enough to make you a little bit nervous. Some examples:
- If you work with a laptop and you need to finish something like a sales proposal, work with your laptop unplugged. Especially if you only have an hour and a half of battery life, this can be a very useful motivator to finish the task and avoid distractions. If I know that my computer is going to die in an hour, I’m not going to waste time on Facebook.
- If you need to learn a new technology for work and want to be sure that you will learn it in a short amount of time, schedule a time where you will demonstrate it or train some of your colleagues on the technology. You will be motivated to know it well before that meeting. I do this when I lead sessions at technology conferences sometimes and select a topic at which I’m not an expert to motivate me to learn it well enough to teach others by the date of the conference.
- If you need to pass a test, like a certification or CEU course, I’ve found the most effective way to make sure I’ll be ready is to schedule the test before I feel ready. If I say “I’m going to become certified in Dynamics 365 Field Service but don’t schedule the test, I will find something more important to do and probably won’t meet my goal. On the other hand, if I proactively schedule the exam for three weeks from now and pay the registration fee, I will feel healthy pressure to prepare, and will likely be ready to pass the exam in three weeks.
- Exercise your finishing muscle. How many books have you started reading but never finished? Do you have half-completed home improvement projects? Many people are enthusiastic starters and terrible finishers. In my experience, unfinished things in life can rob your mental energy, leaving your brain with many untied loose ends. Set a rule that you have to finish any uncompleted books before you can buy a new one. This may be a painful experience, as it means you will have to finish the 900-page book about 17th century Japan that you can’t remember why you bought, but that exercise will give you a feeling of accomplishing something, and make you think twice before wasting your money again. Success breed success, and by successfully finishing tasks you will motivate yourself to see other tasks through to completion.
So if you are overwhelmed by a big or small job that you need to do, don’t beat yourself up. Break the project down into smaller tasks and find one thing you can do today to make tangible progress on the job. Then do the same thing tomorrow, and the day after that, until it is done. Set yourself a deadline. It doesn’t have to be a deadline for the entire job to be finished, it could be something like “I have to have the first two pages written by the end of the day today, or I will have to listen to [insert name of a band you hate] on my drive home.”