For low motivation days

Motivation and focus sometimes take vacation on days when we can’t.

Today is one of those days for me, so I thought I’d jot down some strategies I’ve developed over the years to deal with these sorts of days.

Make a list of what you want to get done

First on that list should be “Make a list”. Check it off when you’re done making your list.

Your goal for the day should be to go out and collect checkboxes for that list. Given that what you want to do is lay on your couch and watch a movie, every checkbox that you collect is a victory.

If one of these tasks has ambiguity such that you aren’t forced to think through the exact steps involved, it needs to be removed and replaced with multiple, more specific tasks. For example, “Get life insurance” doesn’t count as a task if you don’t know what insurance company to call or the exact policy you want to set up. “Ask on Facebook for references for reputable life insurance providers”, “Call Mom and Dad about how to choose a life insurance policy”, and “Call Auto Owners Insurance at 234-567-8910 to start life insurance policy” is a much better set of tasks.

For more about this strategy, see my previous post: The Pomodoro Technique in practice.

Set a timer and a modest goal

Pick one of the easier tasks on your list, set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes, and focus only on getting the task done. Yes, I know the Pomodoro Technique usually calls for 25 minute blocks, but we’re not mentally ready for that.

If you get it done, regardless of whether the timer has gone off, cross off the item and reward yourself with time spent doing something you enjoy or are satisfied by. Go for a walk around the block, or make your bed, or go eat a banana.

When choosing rewards, it’s critical that you pick one with an intrinsic end. If you check Facebook or Reddit, or start reading a book, or play a video game, there will be a huge temptation to continue doing that thing right past the point you intended stopping at.

In my opinion, it’s also important that the thing not be too much fun. I find that the more I enjoy the “break” activity, the less I want to get back to work.

Lastly, I find that it really helps if the reward involves me getting out of my work chair. I don’t sit back down in the chair until I have a clear plan for what I’m going to do: I pick a next task, pick a duration to focus on it for, and then sit back down.

If you feel able, increase the length of timer you set a little each time you sit back down. However, if you don’t feel able, that’s okay: in the long run, it’s much more important that you get back into the groove of setting goals, reaching them, and rewarding yourself than it is how quickly you ramp up.

“Livestream” your work

Another trick that I sometimes use to get work done is to “livestream” what I’m doing. I’ll start up Loom and explain every step of what I’m doing as if I have an audience listening.

This probably seems (and looks) strange, but I find that I get many of the same benefits from this that I might get from teaching a subject: by explaining my actions like I’m teaching someone else, I hold myself more accountable to staying focused.

(Fun fact: this is also the primary reason that I write a blog. Forcing myself to write about a subject helps me develop clearer thoughts around it.)

Be proud of yourself

What you do on the hardest days is what distinguishes you as a professional from the amateurs. Take some time to be proud of yourself: this is an incredibly tough challenge and you deserve serious kudos.

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