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5 Tips to get more things DONE (that require NO motivation).

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

It’s August in Toronto, and it’s hotter than Hades. This might come as a surprise to some of our friends in the USA, but Toronto is actually at the same latitude as Northern California. Today, for example, is 37º C. That is 99º F for you southern folks.

With this heat comes the good: trips to the lake, a more laid back attitude towards chores, cocktails permissible mid-day… This heat also brings the bad: usual short tempers, road rage, and notably LACK OF MOTIVATION.

No fewer than five friends in my close circle have recently reported that they feel listless, unfocused, and unmotivated. And these people are generally as inspired and productive as they come—super-high achievers and go-getters.

What to do, what to do?

This is what I have decided: Hell with motivation. I am going to do it anyhow.

As John C. Maxwell says:

“The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that's when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.”

Much like the idea that acting confident will make you confident, doing ‘the thing’ before you are motivated to do ‘the thing’ will provide you with momentum and motivation.

Another way of saying this, by Robert McKain:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, “Action precedes motivation”.

The fantasy of inspiration.

It is common to be lured by the fantasy that inspiration will magically spur us into action. We speak of 'inspiration' as if it’s a divine visitation that will arrive with a flash out of the blue. We fetishize the artist who waits for inspiration to strike and then sits down to paint a masterpiece.

Some tricks to try when motivation ghosts you:

1) Channel Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway’s rule was to end a writing session by stopping abruptly, in the middle of a sentence.

It’s not that he was stuck. He knew how to go on, but he refused to commit the words he had in mind to the paper.

Why? Because, this way, he guaranteed himself momentum for the next day. After all, he had already figured out how to continue the story. The words were already there, ready to go, stored in his unconscious mind.

Try to stop mid-task or mid-function. Know how to finish, but stop working. The next time you start, you know exactly what needs to be done. There will even be the urge to start working to finish the unfinished.

2) Share your goals with someone more successful than you.

Telling others—the right others—creates a sense of accountability to complete your goal.

In 2010, Derek Sivers’ TED Talk went viral because of his surprising advice about goal-setting: Keep your goals to yourself. Citing psychology research, Sivers stated that when you share your goals with others, it makes you feel “less motivated to do the actual hard work necessary” to achieve them.

But more recent research from The Ohio State University suggests that it is about WHOM you tell. The finding is that people tend to be more committed to their goals after they share them with someone whom they see as “higher status,” or whose opinions they respect.

“If you don’t care about the opinion of whom you tell, it doesn’t affect your desire to persist — which is really what goal commitment is all about.”

- Howard Klein, The Ohio State University

3) Squeeze your time.

Work expands to fill the period of time available for its completion. If you’re into productivity, you’ll know this as Parkinson’s Law.

Harvard researchers concluded time pressure significantly improves productivity. For example, if you have a presentation to finish writing, set a timer for an hour and try to beat the clock. This technique shifts your focus to the race against time which makes productivity feel less arduous, and more like a game.

4) Have a laugh.

Laughter has an important role to play in the reward circuitry of our brains.

Laughter produces dopamine, known as the ‘reward hormone’, and is responsible for regulating mood, motivation, attention, and learning. The influx of Dopamine activates the reward circuit in the brain, making us feel good and positive, and also motivated to move forward.

When in a stressful and dead-end situation, try taking a few minutes to laugh, (YouTube funny puppy videos — work wonders for me). You’ll find renewed motivation and focus when you go back to work.

5) And finally: start. Just start.

Procrastination, when not dealt with, does not lay dormant. It starts doing push-ups. It gets stronger. That major project on your to-do list becomes harder and harder to tackle each time you consider it but choose to do something else.

The solution?

Start. Start now. Start before you are ‘ready’, (no one is ever completely ready).

As most entrepreneurs will attest: Starting is the hardest part.

Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion equally applies here: We know that objects at rest tend to stay at rest, and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Once you get going, it’s easier to keep going.

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