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Let's Get Stuff Done (With Or Without Motivation)

In the best or worst of times or any time actually, it’s hard to get motivated. For me, it results in procrastination that exceeds my usual procrastinating which is a lot of procrastinating. These are some strategies that have helped me get work done when I would rather not.


Dance Parties

When I had to edit incredibly long short stories and I found it hard to dig into the garbage that I wrote, I turned on a pump-up song and danced around my room for the song’s duration. When the song finished, I was ready to attack some editing. My song was “She’s Not Just A Pretty Face” by Shania Twain. I liked it because the song is about how great women are and dancing to it made me feel like I was a great woman editor. The dance party technique gets me up and moving and off the couch or the floor where I am more likely to procrastinate. Then I can sit down and focus. The dancing serves as a buffer between relaxing and work like a morning commute but more fun. It also gets the blood pumping to my brain, resets my muscles, and doesn’t make me tired like a real workout so I am ready to get to work.

Move Locations

It’s hard to be motivated while in a comfortable place where it would be easier to watch tv or have a nap. Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to get started on the projects that have been put off for too long. I now realize that there are some tasks that I won’t do unless I am in a certain location. For me, moving is worth the effort because in a new location my task becomes easier to accomplish.

Fake Deadlines

On many occasions when I was doing work for myself (like starting this website for instance) fake deadlines were the only way for me to get things done. When I give myself a deadline, I need to make it non-negotiable so I either write it down in my planner or tell someone who can hold me accountable. I told my best friend when I was struggling to get up my last post and she told me that if I didn’t do it, I would have to bake her cookies every Sunday. Because of this, I met my deadline. When tasks aren’t for a class or work, holding myself accountable or having someone else hold me accountable to a set deadline is sometimes the only way to combat the urge to do it tomorrow or the next day or the next day…

Rewarding Work

Rewarding work can seem like a silly "homework before TV" parenting thing, but when I give myself a reward for my work it can help motivate me now or for the next time. I used to reward my work by setting a stop time: homework until 8 pm and then I can watch television. Now I make sure that after I finish a killer essay for school, I reward myself with something I have been wanting to do but didn’t have time for like boot shopping a half an hour before the mall closes. Rewards can be as simple as putting stickers on question sheets. And to all those people that say that the only reward is a job well done, I say “I prefer cookies.”


Imagining the End

When I got my first real summer job, the days were long, hot, and tiring. There were some parts of the job I liked but when I was bussing tables I was not a happy camper. As I moved from table to table clearing plates, I pictured myself walking out of my job at the end of my shift to get in my car and go home. It gave me the peace of mind I needed to continue to work through the day. Sometimes all the motivation I need is the knowledge that I will be much happier when my task is over. If I organize my closet, I might have room for some new clothes. Or maybe it is all about timing like if I complete these three essays it will be summer. This trick is very versatile and can go hand in hand with the rewarding work idea. When I finish this blog post I can have a cookie, it will be a delicious cookie, I love cookies, so continue to write to get to the cookies.


Chunk it up

Some tasks can be daunting: writing long pieces, large editing projects, cleaning or organizing projects. To those long and arduous tasks, I say, “CHUNK IT UP!” It can be hard to start long writing projects, but in order keep working on my project I try to write five pages every week. That way I have a small meetable goal that will decrease my chances of going crazy while still progressing to my larger goal. When I’m editing sixty-five-page plays, I divide the play into separate documents for each scene so I can edit them individually. Then instead of committing to editing through sixty-five pages in one sitting, I am committing to a document with five pages or ten pages which is much more manageable. I still may get through those sixty-five pages in one sitting, but it will be easier as I shift between smaller documents.


Daily Tasks

Recently, I have been trying to complete an accounting workbook. I decided that in order to make it more manageable I would divide the pages up and do some every day. I counted the workbook pages and figured out how many pages I needed to do per day to finish the book on a certain day. I set the goal of four pages per day and have consistently met that goal. My four pages also provide a feeling of accomplishment every day especially when I don’t have as much going on. This can be a great thing to do with big projects or great things for building skills. Learn a new piano scale every day or organize a kitchen drawer every day or write a page every day. I even had an English teacher that divided up a book we had to read by saying if we read fifty-five pages every day for the next week we would be done in time for when we cover it in class. Daily tasks can become routine and make it easier to get things done.


Set a Number

Having a long to do list can be daunting but lately I have been assigning myself a number of tasks to do each day. Three has been working nicely for me, although I don’t include things that I do every day anyway like dog walks. But if I have workshop or a class, I might include it in my list of three things to make my day more manageable. This never means that I can’t do more than three tasks, but it does mean that I can finish a day feeling like I accomplished something whether they were big tasks or small tasks. This is especially good when my schedule isn’t set because I can shift and move things around and choose easier tasks for busier days and harder tasks for quiet days.


Go for What’s Exciting

I was in a workshop the other day and someone said that they only like to write when they are working on a project that they are excited about. If they aren’t excited by what they’re writing it can be hard for them to write. I think that could be applied to anything. If I have a list of projects to do for school, usually the best way for me to tackle those projects is to start with what excites me the most. That’s certainly how I write posts for A Spaghetti Moment. I chase the exciting.


Future Self.

There are some jobs that are dumb. For me that is doing the dishes. It is a repetitive task that I always have to do. But I went a whole summer without leaving the dishes for the next day and I did that by doing the dishes for my future self. I knew that I would be annoyed the next day if I had to do two days’ worth of dishes and so to save myself the added pain I did them every night. My future self has translated to other tasks like getting started on projects with a distant due date or applying for jobs that will build important skills for my future career. Sometimes it’s nice to work for the betterment of your future self and I am very grateful to my past self and all the work she did to get me here.


Final Note: One of the most important lessons I have learned while working on hard tasks is to be kind to myself and forgive myself if a day of work doesn’t go the way I planned. Some projects take longer than others and I can’t always plan for that. But I am more likely to work better the next day if I forgive myself and start fresh without resentment towards myself because of the amount of work that got pushed to tomorrow.

 — Chef Amy

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