A funny thing – motivation. You find it at random (not necessarily right) moments and it tends to slip away when you need it the most. Whether it’s studying for exams, working on a project or simply washing your clothes, for most of us motivation is a scarce resource that is depleted easily and not so easily renewed. For example, when writing this article, I found myself completely deprived of motivation. Ironic, isn’t it? But at the same time, this irony made me think: other than the deadline hanging over my head like a guillotine, why am I actually doing this? Why am I sitting in front of my laptop typing, rather than spending yet another hour playing Skyrim or watching the next episode of that series I started two days ago? Because I want to learn more about motivation and how to forge it into productivity and share that knowledge with others. This answer is a bit cliché and not very spectacular, but (and that’s what surprised me the most) it was enough to make me interested in writing again. And so, I started searching for answers in the vast expanse of the internet and after reading a couple of research papers, guides and some motivational quotes I found one thing that many of them had in common. But for a house to linger, the foundations need to be strong. Therefore, let’s start exactly there – in the foundations.
“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t really understand it.” These words, allegedly said by Albert Einstein, would suggest that my understanding of the topic at hand was mediocre at best. Therefore, I have decided to ask Encyclopaedia Britannica for help. Motivation is defined as “forces acting either on or within a person to initiate behaviour. (…) It is also important to understand that motivation is primarily a performance variable. That is, the effects of changes in motivation are often temporary. An individual, highly motivated to perform a particular task because of a motivational change, may later show little interest for that task as a result of further change in motivation.” Hence, again, motivation is a variable that can change quickly. A highly motivated person can become disinterested in a very short time. That’s not very encouraging, is it? But motivation is not a goal in itself. After all, why have all that motivation, if you don’t do anything with it? When we say we need it, what we really mean is that we need it because we’re trying to achieve productivity. Then again, what is productivity? Productivity is “the ratio of what is produced to what is required to produce it. (…) [It] is also used to measure efficiency (…) and as a means of assessing the uses to which resources are being put.” And what is a resource that is necessary for any task? Time. Quite often we complain that we don’t have enough time to do this or to do that and we feel that we could never be able to even start everything that we want to, let alone finish it. And yet, we often read or know about people who are very productive – they study, work, do a project, go to the gym, meet up with friends and somehow still find time to sleep. How do they do that? Do they have an infinite supply of motivation to keep them running? From what we’ve found out already, it’s rather unlikely. So what is the secret? How to “skip” motivation and be productive without having it all the time? The answer to this questions is the very same thing that, as I’ve mentioned before, can be found across many papers and guides about motivation and it is a notion dreaded by many – organisation.
Why is organisation dreaded? Why are so many people afraid of organising their work and responsibilities, despite the fact that it has proven to be a great way of increasing productivity? Perhaps the reason is not that organisation is so terrible in itself. Perhaps the reason is that it is difficult to begin organising your life, even to the smallest extent. If that’s the case, then you just have to start and introduce some order into your everyday life. There is no one recipe for that, but a good first step would be to buy a notebook or a calendar where you can write everything down and put your plans on paper. I know what you’re thinking right now: “this is so cliché, I’ve heard this so many times”. But did you ever try it? The second step is to think about your goal: why are you doing this? For example: why are you studying for an exam? It’s probably not for the grades themselves. It’s because you want to have a good job in the future or you want to prove yourself. Any reason is good, but make sure that it’s true because it will guide you like a lighthouse. This will give you positive motivation, a drive to make you achieve your aims. Now that you have a clear goal, you’re almost there. What you have to do now is make a plan. Do you remember that time, right before the exam, you told yourself “Why didn’t I study earlier? Next time I will do it more systematically”. You don’t want to say that to yourself over and over again. Think about this and this will give you negative motivation, a stimulus not to procrastinate and leave your tasks for later. So guess what? Now is the “next time”. Instead of studying 10 hours the day before the exam just split them into 10, 1-hour-long sessions. Or 20, 30-minutes-long sessions. 30 minutes per day doesn’t seem like that much, does it? Think how much time you need, how to fit everything in your timetable and what you actually need to do. Then, grab a pen and write all that down. Start with the hardest tasks and leave the easiest ones for the end – this way you will have just the right amount of energy for everything. Whether it’s studying, a project or work, spread it out in time and you will find that you are more productive than before. Also, you will get rid of that deadline stress that you hate so much. What is the most important here is bringing your plan to life – and to do that you need to start. Not next week, not tomorrow. Today. And if you start, and it’s not going to be easy (nobody ever said it would), after a short while you will get used to it and routine is your best weapon against lack of motivation.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Just like for me, with writing this article, beginnings are often the hardest. But when you take that first step, with a goal in mind and a plan in your pocket, you might be surprised by what you will have achieved by the end of the journey. And if you think that it cannot be that simple then I dare you – try it! In the worst case scenario you will have learned that it’s not for you. But if you try it and it works, then you have a chance of improving your life and this chance makes it worthwhile. So next time you have a project, plan it and start doing it right away, no excuses. I will certainly do the same and today I will draft my next article. But not now. Maybe in 15 minutes…
If you want to procrastinate for “just a couple more minutes” then watch a short video from AsapSCIENCE about the Science of Productivity and find out more about motivation, productivity and planning, from a more scientific point of view.