Let’s say you have something to do, and you’re not feeling motivated to work on it. Here’s usually why:
- It doesn’t fit my goals
- It isn’t interesting
- It’s so easy, I’ll just do it later
- It’s so hard, I can’t get it done (well enough, on time, or maybe ever)
- I’m too distracted
- It’s not due for a long time, so I’ll get to it later
Here’s what to do…
- Goals. Find something about the activity or project that is meaningful for you. Maybe it’s not the thing itself, but it may help you with other goals.
For example, taking a (boring) required class to finish a college degree, or finishing a (stupid) report at work so you can spend the evening with your family. Or promise yourself a reward when you finish. Or appeal to your sense of pride in doing something well, even if it’s not something you’re excited to do.
- Interest. See if you can’t make it interesting. Add something to the task that you’re curious about or that’s interesting to you.
For example, notice architectural elements or landscaping while you’re walking, running, or biking for exercise. If you have a choice about using examples to illustrate a point in a paper you’re writing, choose something that’s of interest to you, like chess or computer games.
- Too easy. Convince yourself that the task is harder than you think. Find ways to make it shine with excellence, so that you’ll take the time to work on it and do it well.
For example, make the formatting perfect for something you’re writing. Or dig a little deeper to make the task more meaningful, richer, or just better.
- Too hard. Remember another time when you’ve succeeded at something with at least some characteristics in common with the task that seems daunting right now. You can also break the task or project into smaller pieces. It’s easier to string together a set of baby steps than it is to tackle a whole big, difficult project all at once.
For example, When I am speaking to a new audience, and I’m tempted to be nervous, I think of another time when I survived a similar or an even more difficult audience. Or, divide that book you want to write into sections, chapters, subchapters, and even pages or paragraphs to make it seem less formidable.
- Distracted. We’re built for distractions. You have to take the initiative to minimize them.
For example, turn off your phone, put a sign on your door (or across your cube opening) that says something like “Productivity time, see you at noon.”
- Later! The more remote the deadline, the more we have a tendency to put off getting started. People think they do better or more creative work at the last minute, but that turns out not to be true. Breaking a project into small steps with interim deadlines is a great way to avoid those last-minute emergency sessions.
For example, break your project into sections, and assign due dates to complete each week from now until the project is due. Celebrate reaching your interim milestones as you go.
Nearly everyone procrastinates sometimes, and there are quite a few people who make a habit of it. Although some folks think that putting work off can be useful, there’s a lot of compelling evidence suggesting that procrastination fosters missed deadlines, health and financial problems, psychological problems like increased guilt and stress, and work that could have been better.
You can identify which of these six reasons for not being motivated apply in a given situation, and then use their fixes to help yourself, your employees, and even your kids.
Article | Procrastination—Not All It’s Put Off to Be (pdf)
Book | The Procrastination Equation