I don’t want to write this post. I don’t really want to do anything. I’ve spent the entire first half of the day laying on the couch thinking about all the productive things I aspire to but don’t want to do. I’ve opened this page, then browsed to social media, called my mom, and made dinner. At no point during those activities did I do more than write the title. I just don’t feel like writing this post.
I have two options. One is waiting until I actually feel motivated. Except, I should have written this last week. And the week before that. I’ve been sitting on this topic for three weeks now. I know it’s a post I ‘want’ to write, but I never actually feel like doing it. Maybe it can live on my to-do list forever.
Option two, I make time for it. I sit down and write the post regardless of how I feel. Which is what I’m doing now, and, as I write each word, I realize it’s far, far less unpleasant than originally anticipated. In fact, it’s pretty much on par with every time-wasting activity I put in its place while procrastinating. Plus, I know afterward, I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and have one more piece to add to my body of work.
Alright so the ‘right’ option is pretty clear, but that doesn’t do much for you if you’re feeling unmotivated. To give this post a bit more body, I’m going to cover 5 tips for keeping motivation high, or at the very least get your projects done anyway. It’s not nearly as easy as I’ve made it sound, but part of the battle is simply committing to doing the work.
Meaning In The Task
Possibly the most important part of being motivated is recognizing why that particular task is meaningful to you. I want to finish this post because I want a well-populated blog. I also want to practice writing as often as possible, so I can hone my craft and increase my skill.
This isn’t the case for every project I consider. Get back into rap battling consistently was on my to-do list for years before realizing I was no longer interested in insulting people in clever ways. It wasn’t meaningful to me and that was killing my motivation. My resistance to working on it was my mind’s way of telling me I didn’t want to pursue the topic anymore.
If you’re having unmotivated by a task, ask yourself why it’s important. What are your reasons? What do you hope to accomplish? If you can’t come up with any, it may be time to move on. If you can, reminding yourself of the importance can often be a great catalyst for ending procrastination.
The second factor is comparing your motivation to your physical state. It may not be your first thought, but the way your body and mind function can have a huge impact on how motivated you feel. Knowing your routines and energy cycles can provide great insight into when your work will be easiest to complete.
For example, I know my energy dips dramatically between 2 and 5 pm. I try my best not to schedule anything important or mentally draining during those blocks. I also know my best work happens before 10 am or after 7 pm (yeah, the whole middle of the day just doesn’t work for me). Accordingly, I schedule my hardest tasks to fit those blocks.
Knowing when you work best and when you’re most likely to follow through can drastically increase your productivity and motivation. Of course, there are also clear determinants like how much sleep you got last night and if you’ve eaten today. As much as possible, try to align your biology with your work. When do you get the best work done?
When is your project due? For me, this blog is due once a week, on whatever day I choose. In reality, that usually means Sunday night, because I’ve procrastinated as much as possible. This deadline gives me the extra nudge I need to actually do the work (most weeks).
If your project doesn’t have a deadline, it’s easy to keep putting it off. After enough times your motivation inertia is completely negative. It becomes easier and easier to push it forward because it has already happened so many times. By creating a deadline, even an arbitrary one, we know when the task should be done. We have clear success criteria and can set time in our schedule accordingly.
Of course, if we’re not accountable to ourselves, these deadlines do nothing. If you’re the type that has a hard time keeping promises to yourself, external accountability can work wonders. Look for a friend, coach, or anything that adds that extra layer of accountability. Even if you’re not feeling motivated, the pressure can push you to do the work anyway.
Overindexing On Feelings
Many of us let our feelings rule our lives. I feel this way, so that’s how I should act. But running our life based on feelings is extremely sub-optimal. Our feelings are meant to provide useful signals, but it’s easy to misinterpret these signals and end up in the wrong direction. Also, they often push us toward actions that are inappropriate for the situation and the long-term.
I can’t tell you how many times I didn’t feel like doing some work. I sat and agonized about it for hours, procrastinating the entire time. How can I work on this without motivation? It’s going to be so unpleasant. Contrary to my thoughts, however, once I actually start the work, I often find myself completely immersed in it.
I’ve repeatedly evaluated these negative feelings as signs I don’t want to to do the work, when in reality they may be signals I need to do the work to feel good. This may seem paradoxical, but again, after starting, the feelings have often evaporated. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but it has been true enough times I’ve learned not to completely trust my feelings in every circumstance.
You might want to do the same. If we only live by how we feel, we’re trusting our short-term feelings ot make long-term decisions. It’s unlikely those two factors line up perfectly. It’s more likely we’ll be far less productive, and possibly even less happy.
My last point is that discipline makes our feelings irrelevant, at least in terms of taking action. Discipline is more of a habit than a single decision, but once we’ve built this habit we vastly reduce the number of choices we have to make. Each time we push through, it gets easier in the future.
For example, I can’t remember the last time I spent more than a few minutes resisting working out. I know there are times when I don’t feel like doing pushups until I collapse, but I’ve been on a consistent schedule so long it’s no longer a choice. It’s actually easier to do the workout than not because the habit is so ingrained. Missing it completely throws my schedule and body off.
When we’re not feeling motivated, sometimes it really is as simple as using our willpower to push through anyway. To accomplishing meaningful tasks, we won’t always be able to do only pleasant things. Sometimes we have to deal with the unpleasantness of being unmotivated and doing it anyway. We do it all the time for our jobs, social situations, etc. so why not for our personal projects as well? Be disciplined as best you can. Make the choice.
Consider these questions in relation to your upcoming task.
- Why do you need to complete this?
- How is your physical state impacting your motivation?
- When does this need to be done by?
- Are you giving your feelings too much power? Will you keep being unmotivated once you start?
- If you had perfect discipline, what would you do right now to accomplish your task?