How 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.

Finding the Motivation to Get Started on Major Tasks

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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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