With the growing information and distraction overload, sometimes it is difficult to stay focused and motivated to work. This hinders not only our productivity, but also our happiness, as we sometimes reach the end of our day feeling unaccomplished.
Motivating Yourself To Push Beyond Your Limits
Here you’ll find some actionable tips to help you motivate yourself to work harder:
1. List your MITs
If you want to start your day with right foot, start your day the night before; write a short list of the Most-Important-Things (MITs) to go through the next day. These are the tasks that if performed will make your day.
Try to keep the list between three to five items, adding more than that will make it unattainable and it will ultimately defeat its purpose.
To help you create your MITs’ list, you can take advantage of the concept behind the book”The ONE Thing”, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The main idea in the book is that there’s ONE thing that you can do, that if done will make all the other things easier, or unnecessary.
If you need help deciding by which MIT to start your day, read the next point to help you choose.
2. Eat your frogs first
If you leave the most difficult tasks for the end of the day, you’ll have ego depletion and will end up pushing the task for the next day, day after day, thus procrastinating.
What best than crossing off the most impactful task, which will probably be the “The ONE Thing” that could render the other tasks easier or unnecessary.So eat your frogs first! Start with the most difficult thing on your list.
To do this, you need to steer away from things that will lead to you procrastinate, so make sure you avoid distractions at all cost, read on to see how.
3. Avoid distractions
Our brain doesn’t have the capacity to work on more than one thing at a time, so when we claim to “multitask”, we are actually switching between tasks. It may take up to 23 minutes for our brains to fully recover the lost concentration after getting distracted.
These distractions could be coming from people interrupting you, or coming from your devices in the form of popup notifications, sounds or vibrations. Part of the problem is that we feel we are being productive while multitasking, so we get a positive dopamine release as a reward, which reinforces the bad habit of multitasking.
Avoid distractions to stay engaged with your work, it will help you be more effective and keep you motivated. You can let others get a hint by closing your door every now and then, or by using headphones while working.
Another way to maintain a laser focus is by working on a single task, a good way to structure this can be accomplished if you batch your tasks, I’ll explain how in the next point.
4. Batch Tasks
Batching tasks means grouping similar tasks and working on them in batches. This concept is not new, and it’s commonly used on operations management as an integral part of maximizing the production.
Whenever there is a task, there is a preparation (mise en place) required to do it. For instance, you set up a time, place or event to start doing it. By batching tasks by similarity, you utilize the set-up time for multiple purposes, instead of having to set-up multiple times again and again, wasting valuable time and energy.
The activity batching will greatly differ from job to job. Here are a couple of examples:
- Batch email reading/writing: Instead of constantly opening your email client, or email tab, dedicate one or two windows a day where you check your emails. Usually, 1.5 hours after you’ve started your work day is a good time to run the first batch.
- Batch reporting: If you have to write or read reports, do not do that as they come, batch the whole process and allocate a part of you day to do it. In my case, I used to designate one day a week for this purpose.
In general, batching is something that can be tailored to specific jobs. It doesn’t have to be an identical subject, topic, activity, etc. But it has to share similarities (in skills and set up required).
Find what works best for you and schedule yourself. Pomodoro (and other time-restricted techniques) are great for task batching as well, we’ll go through it in the next point.
5. Use the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is used for time management and it was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. It basically consists of creating Working Intervals of 25 minutes and then taking a 5 minute break, after which a new 25 minutes working interval would start. Normally, it is recommended to take a longer, 15-min break, after 4 Pomodoro intervals.
Studies have shown that we tend to lose focus and drop productivity if we sustain long periods of continuous work. So it is important to take regular breaks, and hopefully do some sort of physical activity like walking, to increase concentration by supplying more blood to the brain, as well as enhance our energy levels and work better.
This time-restriction technique benefits from the Parkinson’s Law (work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion), assigning short periods of time to push yourself to go through the tasks more effectively.
But just completing tasks more effectively isn’t enough to stay motivated, this is something that can be tackled by finding some purpose behind these tasks. In our next and final point we’ll discuss just that.
6. Find purpose
In 1977, a study by psychologist Ellen Langer and her team revealed that people respond 30% more to requests when they are given a reason, even if the reason doesn’t make much sense.
Having a clear purpose of why we need to do certain things, even if we don’t like doing them, helps us get motivated to carry them out.
If you get assigned some work that seems irrelevant to you, try talking to your manager so he can help you connect the dots and see the big picture, and how that work you’re about to do will be part of something greater.
By following these simple tips, you’ll find yourself more motivated to work harder and better. You just need to remember to start your day the night before by listing your MITs, then starting the actual day by completing the most difficult and impactful task (the frog!), hopefully doing that while working on Pomodoros, without any distractions, and with a clear understanding on how by completing that task you’re building towards something greater than itself.