This morning my good friend Stephen Haunts released his new book on beating procrastination and getting focused. My first thought was "I definitely need to read this", because I often struggle with getting enough done in the day. Part of it is the constant distractions from messages, people, other things to do, snacks to eat and many other things. Part of it is just finding the motivation to finish the next Pluralsight course, chase the lead for that new client, read that article on technical subject X and get through the day's to-do list.
My second thought was that this is probably how a lot of people feel and react. Finding that motivation to take our lives one step further and create something new and useful is difficult at the best of times. As humans, we naturally gravitate towards the low hanging fruit. We do the tasks that provide a quick result and fast gratification. There is nothing wrong with that, but we need to fill our time and find room to do the long term, complex and difficult tasks too. It is the only way we can rise above the rest.
Define Clear Goals
The most important part of any project is knowing where you are going, and where you plan to end up. This is true for large enterprise projects right down to the small personal tasks you take on. Defining clear goals for most things you want to achieve is a crucial step in finding motivation. Often if you don't know exactly what result you are seeking, which features you are adding, what business benefits you are adding, which personal problems you are solving, it makes it very difficult to find that measure of motivation to get your backside in gear. After all, we rarely do anything in life for no reason whatsoever.
There are a lot of opinions about how to define goals, but I prefer the SMART goals. Of course SMART is an acronym.
There are tons of articles about SMART goals online, so I won't go through the process here, but they work!
Having goals that you can work towards and measure the progress off is highly motivating. You get a sense of urgency when a deadline approaches and one thing I do is to have the goals physically written on paper. If you put them on the wall or somewhere you look at them regularly, then cross off tasks and milestones when you reach them. This physical act of marking something as done is a powerful and reinforcing action that makes you feel good. It's important.
Time-box Your Tasks
One of the most demotivating things that can happen to any task is when it drags out. That feeling of thinking you are done, only to realise there is more to do is frustrating and can cause both your motivation to fade, but also the quality often suffers. Instead time-box your tasks and define a max number of hours/minutes/days to spend on it. When you get to the end of that time, you are done. You put down tools. You accept the result at that time.
I can hear you argue that "sometimes you just need more time" and "but what if I am only half done?" Stop it right there. If you allow the goal posts to be moved at your whim, then you aren't doing it properly. The whole idea is that you give yourself enough time to both finish the job and to reach a level of quality you are satisfied with. If you are way off the mark, then you will have to evaluate if the task is worth your time, or abandon it. If you continue, then it becomes a new task, and you can use the experience for next time you have to do something similar.
Effective use of your time on tasks is not easy, but it is so rewarding when you achieve it. If you plan to do 4 things on a day, and time-box them, then when you complete them, you feel a great sense of motivation to do it again. It becomes a mantra of getting [email protected]# done to not waste your time, and it reinforces itself over time.Get an Outside Motivator
I know from personal experience that the best intentions and the best laid plans can often get derailed by procrastination, excuses and SQUIRRELS! Sometimes it is very difficult to motivate yourself and find that special energy to focus on your project at hand, when there are other easier tasks to do as well. A great idea is to find someone to hold you accountable. Someone that won't listen to you excuses. However, you don't just want a bully, but rather someone that will assist you in finding the time you need, the energy you need, or even the expertise you might need to solve an issue.
You might have a friend that fits the mold and can give you an injection of motivation occasionally, or it could be a colleague. What I have had the best success with, and also do for others, is mentoring. Having a mentor that is vested in your success and can see through the sea of mud you have surrounded yourself with, provides relief and clarity. They can often provide real insights into how a problem can be tackled and resolved, before you lose the motivation to do so.
There is no point in creating motivation and completing tasks if you don't get to reap the rewards as well. If nothing else, reward yourself. Make reaching and completing a goal an event and celebrate yourself in a way that is both satisfying and fills you up with motivation for the next task and project. I have used a massive Lego Technic set as reward for completing the production of a particularly difficult Pluralsight course, which made me keep the eyes on the prize.
Make sure the reward is proportional to the effort you have had to make to complete the task. Don't go buying a new car when finishing a blog post. Make the reward part of your goal setting process, and keep visual images of the reward close to you. Seeing what you work towards all the time is one of the best motivators you can get.
Be nice to yourself and lure your motivation out with rewards.