I watched an incredible tennis match recently. On Centre Court at Wimbledon, the number two player in the world, Rafael Nadal, was in a heated battle with Lukas Rosol, a player ranked 100 and not very well known. Nadal, though being tested, was expected to not only win, but to do so in his usual commanding style. In the end, Rosol stunned everyone when he turned the tables and won. In the post-match interview, Nadal said, “I just played an inspired opponent.” Rosol, who also thought that he wouldn’t win, said that he just didn’t want to lose poorly. As a result, he was extremely motivated, focused, and played in a way that far exceeded even his expectations.
But, what happens when your focus and motivation seem to desert you? Even the most well-intentioned and commited person has days when he or she doesn’t feel motivated to do much of anything. Tasks (whether the plan is to take care of some long delayed “fix-its” around the house or complete an important project) can seem daunting, boring, or you just might feel like doing something else. Rather than focus on the things you shouldn’t do (like procrastinate), a better strategy would be to set your sights on things you can do until your motivation returns.
When you feel like putting your important goals on the back burner, consider:
- Making a list and short-term plan. The first step is to create a list because that will get everything out of your head. Writing down the things you need to do (or entering them in your smart phone or a text file on your computer) will help you to categorize and prioritize your tasks, and, ultimately, create a short-term plan for that day. This temporary plan can help you to get moving, keep you focused, and allow you to include other activities you want to do.
- Think of the end result. Thinking about the long list of things that you have to do probably won’t give you the needed push to get stuff done, but thinking about how amazing or proud you’ll feel when you accomplish even the smallest of goals, just might be all you need to jump start your productivity. To remind yourself of that amazing feeling, think back to a time when you did your best work. While you’re at it, look back at the steps you took to reach your goals to see if you can do something similar to turn your current situation around.
- Go ahead and do something else … for a short while and then come back to your project or task. When you’re feeling stuck in lack-of-motivation land, you may need a change of scenery, a bite to eat, or perhaps a jog around the neighborhood to get your juices flowing. In fact, exercising can improve your mood and help you focus and work efficiently. The New York Times recently reported that:
In humans, exercise improves what scientists call “executive function,” the set of abilities that allows you to select behavior that’s appropriate to the situation, inhibit inappropriate behavior and focus on the job at hand in spite of distractions. Executive function includes basic functions like processing speed, response speed and working memory, the type used to remember a house number while walking from the car to a party.
- Start with the easiest thing first. As you look at your list, pick the thing that is the easiest to complete because you’ll be able to get it done quickly. You probably won’t need (much) help doing these types of tasks and you can cross them off your list immediately. When you get things done, you’re likely to be motivated to do more. Sometimes, turning your to do items into a game (how much can you accomplish in 10 minutes) or trying to beat your personal best (can you do more than what you did the day before) can also push you forward.
- Phone a friend. Still feeling like putting your work plans aside? You’ll probably benefit from calling in reinforcements, literally. Having someone else encourage you or check-in with you can be very motivating. Sometimes, all it takes is a different perspective, a friendly nudge, or even a little healthy competition to get you moving.
Or, maybe you just need a body double. Judith Kohlberg, the author of Conquering Chronic Disorganization and ADD Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life, describes a body double as a person who “… functions as an anchor. The presence of a human anchor focuses another person and makes it possible … to ignore distractions.”
Though the body double (or accountability partner) is present while you work and not actively involved with what you’re doing (and quiet), they still help you to get things done by staying on task. If you think this would be too distracting, use a timer to keep you on track. When it goes off, you will be released from that task so that you can do something else.
There will always be days when you don’t feel like working. It helps to come up with a few strategies that can put you in the frame of mind to work productively (like a quiet room, clear desk, co-working, etc.). Test out some of the suggestions from today’s post to see if they’ll work for you. Usually, once you get started, you’ll be inspired to keep going. And, you just might end up having more spectacular days like Lukas Rosol did this past June.