The Myth of Motivation & How to Stay Productive
By: Laura Miller, LMSW
“Ugh, but I’m just not in the mood to do that right now!” Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve heard something like it from a loved one or caught yourself thinking similarly prior to starting a difficult or unpleasant task. It’s natural and common for our mood or opinion toward a task to impact our motivation to complete it. However, we don’t actually need motivation to get something done! Many people believe that they need to be motivated to do something in order to begin the task (i.e. motivated to begin spring cleaning or motivated to try a new workout routine in order to start cleaning or exercising). However, if you wait until you feel motivated to begin, you might find yourself stuck waiting.
Why? Well, action actually comes first and then motivation comes as an after effect of our actions! Think about the last time that you felt like staying home and relaxing and weren’t that motivated to go to the gym. However, sometimes, there’s something that occurs that you get yourself to go anyway regardless of your motivation. Have you ever noticed that after going you not only felt better about yourself but were also more motivated to go back later? That is evidence for your action morphing into more motivation! It’s normal to not feel motivated all of the time, however if you start acting in ways that are consistent with your long-term goals and values, your motivation will build after.
Even with the understanding that we don’t absolutely need motivation to act, it can still be challenging to start tasks and stay focused and organized throughout. Since the pandemic’s start, work and school has transitioned to virtual and hybrid models that at times, may make it challenging to feel motivated and productive. In stressful
environments, your productivity may look different, and that’s okay and
understandable. In fact, there is some research to suggest that employees have noticed a change in their levels of energy and productivity since remote work has increased. Below, you will find tips for staying organized and productive. Remember, once you’ve decided to act, motivation will build!
1. Change your perspective. If you believe that you have to feel like doing something in order to do it, it might not get done. Do an action step because you can, not because you have to. Changing your inner dialogue from “Ugh, I have to…” to “I get to do this...” can have a positive impact on your ability to get things done. Positive thinking has been shown to reduce stress and overall improve health.
2. Create Urgency. Sometimes, procrastination continues because there’s no real deadline of when something has to get done. For example, you may have an ideal time of when you would like to finish folding the laundry, but there’s not a specific “due date”. You can create a sense of urgency by scheduling to complete tasks right before something that you would like to do! For example, choose to schedule cleaning up the kitchen thirty minutes before your favorite show begins! This way, you’ll be motivated to move quickly and get the task done so that you don’t miss out on your pleasant event!
3. Begin a calendar and task list system. Develop and commit to using a system that you can use to keep track of all of your tasks. Consolidate everything into a phone, notebook, or app. You don’t want to have any loose papers or appointment slips, instead, keep everything in the same place. When you write out your task list, break down large tasks into multiple do-able steps. Often times, when there’s a task on a to-
do list that seems too large, you can become overwhelmed and avoid it. Instead, choose a complex task from the to-do list and break it down. For example, if the task is “buy a house”, it will never get completed. Instead, if it is “look up realtors in town”, it’s much more likely to be completed. Set yourself up for success by having a clear system with manageable goals.
4. Cope with distractions. It’s entirely natural for your mind to wander off to different topics and get distracted from tasks. Begin, by deciding on a reasonable length of time that you can expect yourself to focus on a difficult or unpleasant task. Set a timer for this amount of time and if distractions occur during this period, write them down and then go back to the task. Check in with the distractions that come up once your timer has gone off. Second, look for distractions in your environment and eliminate them in advance to set the stage for success!
5. Use Reminders and Alarm Devices. When distracted, you generally don’t have an accurate sense of how much time is passing by. Set an alarm on your phone or computer to go off at regularly scheduled intervals like thirty minutes. Each time the alarm goes off, you can use this as your cue to ask, “Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing right now, or did I get distracted?". Alarms can also be very useful in helping to schedule your daily routine. Develop a schedule for the day, and use alarm reminders to keep you on track!
6. Reward yourself. Keep the momentum going by rewarding yourself after you’ve completed a task. For example, for every chore completed, allow yourself to get something from the amazon shopping cart you’ve been creating! Positive reinforcement is a useful tool in increasing the chances that someone will continue to engage in a desire behavior. Throughout the task, you can imagine yourself enjoying your reward!