Finding the Motivation to Get Started on Major Tasks

I have this nice big list of projects in front of me. Twelve creative projects, all related to The Simple Dollar or my writing ambitions, just waiting there to tackle.

I have a nearly mountainous pile of books to review for the site. Many of them look really compelling.

My office is cleaned up and as spartan as can be.

I’m well rested, happy, and ready to go.

But something’s not quite firing. Instead of going gung-ho on all of these projects, I feel like curling up in a corner somewhere and finishing off the book I’m currently reading or going to the park to play with my kids.

In short, even though all of the pieces are in place to get started, I’m somehow missing the motivation to get out there and get busting on the projects I need to work on to further my creative career. I know I need to get started … I’m just lacking the central motivation to get started. Without that motivation, it becomes very difficult to accomplish something great, something that can further my career aspirations and earn some solid income.

Here are some solutions that I’ve found to the problem.

Work on Something Distinctly Different
Writing words.. by _StaR_DusT_ on Flickr!One useful option is to work on something completely different. A different set of problems requires a person to use their brain in different ways.

One avenue I could tackle is to work on short stories. I’ve been working on a number of them for a while, intending to submit them to short story competitions in order to get my name out there as a fiction writer.

Another very distinct work-related project that I could focus on is my need to build up a better image library of my own. Many of the images I use on The Simple Dollar are in the public domain, from stock archives, or are blanketed with permission to use them with a link back to the source. I’d like to take a bunch of my own to use and also share in a similar fashion.

Re-evaluate Your Tasks
If you’re finding a hard time motivating yourself to work on tasks, it may be because of a disconnect between the task at hand and the larger goals you envision for yourself. Spend some time looking at the tasks you have at hand and whether or not they’re in line with the bigger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish, then minimize the tasks that are unimportant.

I do this regularly. There are a number of tasks throughout my day that don’t really push me directly on towards my goals, so these often get pushed to the side for more important tasks (like writing solid articles). Whenever I get bogged down, I just push aside the less important stuff. Paperwork will wait, but every day you put aside your bigger goals is a day you put off achieving your dreams.

Brainstorm
Another angle I could take is to back off from the task at hand and focus on pure brainstorming. Ideas not only for articles, but for ways to explain concepts I have floating around in my head.

For me, this usually means going to the library and just browsing personal finance and economics publications, leafing through personal finance books, or going to places where ideas for posts will strike me (like warehouse stores, for example).

I also use a lot of brainstorming ideas, especially those described in Made to Stick and Thinkertoys. When I use these ideas and just start tossing out ideas, I usually find that 90% of it is complete rubbish. It’s that other 10% that’s actually valuable.

Take a Break
Spend some time doing a personally enriching activity. Take a walk. Work in the garden. Go out for coffee with a coworker. Run some errands. Read a book. Something – anything – that will take you away from the creative gambit at hand.

I do this quite often, actually. I’ll stop for an hour or so and read a book or work in the garden in order to make my mind focus on something completely different than what I’m working on. Almost always, when I return to the task at hand, my mind is refreshed and juicy with new ideas.

This is perhaps the most difficult to explain to others, however. Let’s say I take an hour off and spend it reading a book or playing a video game in order to recharge my creative batteries. Most people do not view this as work, and thus it’s often difficult to explain to others. I’ve found that direct honesty is the best explanation – I’m in a creative rut and I’m trying to break out of it and find the right track again.

Get Some Exercise and Some Hygiene
If you’re still suffering, a bit of exercise can really help things. Go for a short jog, do some push-ups, or take a nice long walk to get some endorphins running through you. Follow that up with a nice shower to get yourself freshly clean, then sit down and take a fresh look at the problems in front of you.

At one of my previous jobs, there was a group of people who did this each day over their lunch break. They went and exercised vigorously, took a shower, ate a very quick brown bag lunch, and got back to work, feeling thoroughly energized. I didn’t participate in this, but I could clearly see from their responses that it was a net benefit for them in terms of productivity.

If you don’t have the opportunity to do this, consider just doing some basic yoga at your desk in order to stretch a bit. Even five minutes worth of stretching at your desk can make a huge difference.

Alter Your Environment
Another technique that can help you break through a motivational block is to change your environment a bit. Get a plant on your desk, or put up a fresh new piece of art. Perhaps brighter lighting might help – whole spectrum light, perhaps.

I’ve been slowly decorating my home office using this pattern. At first, I worked with blank walls. Since then, I’ve added an elegantly-framed picture of my wife and son from when he was still a baby. Soon, I’m going to add a few other items as well, just to change the environment steadily.

As I wrote this post, I tried each of these tactics. Each one has worked for me in the past. This time around, exercise and brainstorming paid off, and I feel alive and motivated again.

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  1. Onaclov2000 says:

    I believe this answered the question I emailed you about the other day, thank you.

  2. Very timely for me right now, as I’m feeling like nothing is getting done, especially since I seem to be doing things that have nothing to do with my long-term goals.

    Reading helps me out when I’m blocked like this.

  3. Ramona says:

    That’s the main drawback of working for yourself – motivation. Even though you know you have tons of stuff to do, something just won’t let you do it. Your ideas are great and I have participated in many of these. My favourites are going for a walk, working in the garden, and yes, computer games. Sometimes just blasting away at Chicken Invaders for 10 minutes allows me to refocus. But that is hard to explain to others. Especially when the phone rings and you are desperately trying to hit the mute button! Another of my tactics – rewarding myself. Once I have completed a particular task that was stuck in the mud, I get to have a certain snack or surf the web for 10 minutes. Works every time.

    Thanks for the post.

  4. uri says:

    so, uh, you just read a book for an hour, wrote short stories for an hour, did some yoga for a while, went for some exercise, took a shower, then redecorated your office — and you’re calling that working?

    of course, at my job, i just read some blogs and posted some comments, and i’m calling /that/ working …

  5. Sheila says:

    Wow – I really understand why you’d rather finish the book you’re reading. I’ve just finished reading it myself and found it to be inspiring and completely frightening at the same time. I hope this one will be reviewed since I’d love to hear your thoughts on the content.

    By the way, because I just finished reading this book, I have several boxed stacked in my dining room. I read instead of sorting them. :D

  6. Angela says:

    One problem I find with all of these wonderful suggestions (and I’ve tried every one) is that they easily lead to procrastination. I’ll hang some art. Ohh, then I’ll put a new plant on my desk, and then maybe read a different book. Sometimes I find they lead me further away from a rush of new energy for a project that needs to get done.

    What I often do is combine #3, #4, and #5. A common strategy is to take a walk (exercise and a different activity). But I use the exercise break and the new environment to brainstorm about my hurdle. On a lucky day, by the time I get home I can’t wait to sit down and implement what I thought of.

  7. Mike Sty says:

    Props to the link for http://hundredpushups.com — I’ve been struggling through it for three weeks now, go go gadget noodle arms!

  8. BonzoGal says:

    Heh, I find that the best way for me to get a project done is to have something else I really SHOULD be doing instead. I revamped my company’s intranet because I really should have been writing a boring presentation on yearly goals… If the intranet had been a bigger priority, suddenly I’d have found the goal presentation more fun to do. ;)

    I find the same with housecleaning- when the tub needs scrubbing, suddenly cleaning the knobs on the stove seems much more interesting.

  9. What works best for me is to tell myself I only have to work on (fill in the blank) for a short period of time – from 5 minutes to 30, depending on the project. Sometimes I’m ready to do more, sometimes not, but at least I’ve made a dent.

    This technique has been essential for getting my house in order and getting freelance projects done.

  10. Jules says:

    Whenever I don’t want to do anything, I tell myself, “OK, I’ll just do this little thing–five minutes, that’s it.” And then, once that little thing is done, there’s another little thing that I think of doing–and it sort of just snowballs from there until I’ve gotten done what I need to do.

  11. Julie says:

    I think I’ll send this article on to my husband who’s working on his master’s thesis right now. These are some good suggestions!

    On another note- I just finished re-reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for the second time, because I enjoyed it so much the first time! I hope you’re liking it too, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

  12. Anna says:

    When in doubt, take a nap.

  13. Make Money says:

    Timed article for me. Really helpful. Thanks mate

  14. The reason for us avoiding doing something is always internal. Rather than overpowering any resistance (either through diversion or something else) we have the ability to see what is really stopping us. Turning our attention inwards to our thoughts and feelings we can see we obstructs us and let it go.

  15. Carol says:

    Wondering what Trent meant by “going to places where ideas for posts will strike me (like warehouse stores, for example).” I don’t think you are going to warehouse stores to shop are you? Since we never shop for entertainment, I guess maybe you are going there for something specific, but maybe the atmosphere gives you some kind of energy??? Please explain, thanks.

  16. bellneice says:

    Your solution assumes that you have to “feel” motivated in order to do a task, and approaches a task from that point. Another solution is to realize that you can actually “do” something, without “feeling” like doing it, separating the two things. It isn’t literally required that you be in the mood.

  17. Lenore says:

    I have an assignment for you, Trent, the next time you’re feeling stuck like this. Pick one of your short stories, revise it a bit if you feel the need, and share it with your Simple Dollar readership as an example of pursuing a maor dream.

    I know it can be intimidating to open up more personal writing to the public, but it may also be very enlightening and enriching. You might end up with fans for your literary endeavors from among those already hooked on this blog. I, for one, would love to see an example of your purely creative work. Maybe it would inspire me to write more poetry.

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