HOW TO MOTIVATE YOURSELF WHEN YOU DEEPLY, DEEPLY DON’T WANT TO WORK

Allow me to begin by saying that I really don’t want to be writing this.

It’s gorgeous outside today – and considering that I live in northern Michigan, which is gray for 13 months a year and a frigid snowy wasteland for the other 11 – I really should be taking advantage of every sunny day I get. I could be riding my motorcycle right now, or sitting by a lake, or painting a picture of a motorcycle parked beside a lake. Lots of options. Not to mention that I don’t have a boss, so it would be so easy for me to skip out on this. But instead I’m writing this stupid thing, because it has to get done.

I think it’s fitting that I’ve chosen this topic for August, because this is one of the months where it seems harder than ever to get anything constructive done. The whole of Europe basically goes on vacation for this entire month, and you’re probably getting more ‘out of office’ replies to your email than you normally do. With such lovely weather – and so many other people taking advantage of it – you’d be forgiven for having trouble motivating yourself to be productive.

But in all honesty, I’m just using the ‘beautiful weather outside’ thing as an excuse for my disinterest in working. It happens all the time – not literally all the time obviously, or I wouldn’t have a job. But it can happen anytime. I’ve had days where I wake up and am already less than enthusiastic about working before I’ve finished breakfast, and I have other days where I’m on fire in the morning and then hit a wall around 2pm (or noon, or 3:45, or whenever) and simply can’t figure out how to want to keep going. My guess is that you have as well.

Now the obvious solution to this problem is to be independently wealthy. I’m still working on figuring out how to make that happen, and when I do find the secret I’ll share it with you. (I made a mistake and chose not to marry a rich heiress, but that’s on me. Plus there weren’t any available.) So in the meantime, here are some things you can do to push yourself forward when everything inside of you would rather be doing anything else.

SWITCH TO A DIFFERENT TASK

Part of the problem might be that you don’t want to do whatever it is you’re currently working on. That doesn’t mean you can simply avoid doing it, but it often means that you can get it done in smaller, less odious chunks. One of the less glamorous parts of my job, for example, involves data entry – inputting names and contact information into my list of potential speaking clients. Sometimes, after a particularly large conference, I’ll have a few hundred business cards I’ll need to deal with. It has to get done, but I would go crazy if I did them all at once. So I break it up into chunks of 10 or 25, and in between I work on things I enjoy doing more than copying phone numbers and email addresses. For uninspiring work that can afford to be dealt with at a slow to medium pace, this can be a great approach. If you’re lucky, you can sometimes get everything done without ever actually fully realizing that you’re doing it.

CHANGE YOUR ENVIRONMENT

I love my office. It’s very comfortable, and everything is right where I want it to be. But I still sometimes find it a bit oppressive. So when I need to, I leave. For example, I started this article sitting at my desk, but right now I’m writing it outside, where I can enjoy some of the beautiful weather that is making me not want to work in the first place. We’re more influenced by our physical environment than we sometimes believe, and so changing where you are can often be the catalyst you need to find an extra couple hours of productivity.

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK

It might seem counterintuitive to stop working in order to find an extra boost of motivation, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need. Our brains function exactly like our bodies do (which is one of the reasons we keep our brains inside our bodies instead of in a jar on the shelf). You can only push your body so far before you need to rest, and after you’re rested you can push your body again. The same is true with our brains. If you can’t bear the thought of staring at your computer for another second, then staring at it a little longer isn’t going to give you the motivation you need. So instead, go for a walk. Talk to someone. Eat a salad, solve a crime – I don’t care. Just go do something else. By the time you come back (hopefully a few minutes later), you’ll usually find that you can move forward where a few minutes ago you were getting nowhere at all.

With any luck, this article has provided you with just enough distraction from the thing you’re supposed to be doing (and which I’m assuming you don’t want to be doing, or else why would you be reading this?), and now you can get back to it with a little more enthusiasm than you had before. If so, yay! Mission accomplished!

As for me, I’m going to take my own advice. Because I have another article I need to write today, and I don’t want to write it anymore than I wanted to write this one. So I’m going to go outside and stand in the sun until my painfully white body says, “Please, stop hurting me!” Then I’ll go back inside and get it finished. Sunburn, here I come!

2 comments

  1. Nice piece. I’ll be sure to apply some of these tips next time my procrastination allows it.
    I especially like the @take a break’ tip….seriously though I enjoyed the read.

    Like

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