No matter how motivated we may be, we all have tasks we don’t want to do. We may find them boring, pointless, tortuous, time-consuming, irritating, and disturbing. For example, even a student doing homework or writing an essay would rather pay for paper writing than do it himself. Because he is not interested and prefers to spend his free time going out with friends than sitting alone doing all this paperwork. So what to do in these situations?
The first step is to recognize that while you are motivated, you don’t have to feel excitement or anticipation. In fact, motivation is simply one or more reasons why you act a certain way. You can decide to do something without even feeling much excitement about it, if you find a meaningful enough answer to the “why” question.
For example, you might decide to do something because:
it will reduce anxiety;
it will help someone you care about;
will result in financial gain;
will help you avoid negative consequences;
will make you feel good about yourself;
help clear your mind;
align with your values;
will reduce stress.
Here’s how it might sound in everyday life:
“I don’t want to do_____. But if I do_____, I’ll get a big financial return right now and in the future and be happy with my choices.”
Or, “I don’t want to do_____. But if I do_____, the boss will be pleased and I’ll be less anxious in face-to-face meetings with him.”
Or, “I don’t want to do_____. But if I make progress on_____, I won’t have to worry anymore next week, and I’ll be ready for_____.”
Even if we don’t feel particularly motivated to do a particular task, we can always find a more meaningful reason by presenting the end result.
The second step to success is to develop a strategy for completing tasks at a time when you’re pretty much at zero emotionally. Depending on the task and exactly how you work, you may find one of the following strategies helpful. They can help you deal with a situation where you’ve already decided to complete a task, but aren’t yet sure exactly how to bring it to an end.
First, you can involve other people in the process. Positive social pressure will give the necessary impetus to achieve the goal. You can delegate part of the task, team up with someone to do it together, to take responsibility or just be in the company of other working people. As for the last point, some of my clients like to sit in the library in the company of other working people, and some even call each other on Skype, to be virtually in the company of the same working person.
Second, you can restructure your work. This type of strategy, each illustrated with a case study, will help you pick up the pace in a situation where it’s hard to move forward.
Always put low-frequency activities ahead of high-frequency activities. For example, I don’t allow myself to check email until I have an expense report.
Set a clear schedule. Every Friday, starting at two or three in the afternoon, I set aside a specific amount of time to plan for the following week and I never break that schedule.
Determine a specific amount of time that you must devote to a task. For example, tell yourself, “I need to work on this task for 10 minutes a day, and then I can put it off if I want.
Don’t set the bar too high. One step per week on a particular task may be enough.
Do it. Tell yourself, “I want to complete this task completely, so I’ll devote the whole day to doing it.”
Third, try combining the unpleasant with the pleasant to improve your overall mood. For example, you can let you work on a difficult task like putting together a presentation in a place you really enjoy, say, a cozy cafe or a park, if the weather permits. You can also try combining tasks, like listening to music or a podcast and cleaning your office at the same time. Even a little physical activity will do you good. I often rehearse my speeches while walking. I may look ridiculous, but I kill two birds with one stone.
Of course, using one or more of these strategies won’t help you get perfect results overnight. However, you can slowly but surely move forward with the tasks that you originally did not want to do at all.