Last week I had to go and fight a giant dragon. It was huge and intimidating and its name was Demotivation. I have been fighting this dragon for a while now but it only gets bigger and stronger.
image found here
I have been reading a lot on the topics of productivity and motivation, but all the strategies I read about only seemed to work for a little while. I would feel a spark of motivation and get really productive, but then would quickly return to my ‘normal’ demotivated state. I wanted to kick myself for doing this. After all, I want my PhD so I have to write that book. And I just need a kick in my butt and start working. Period. But somehow that didn’t really seem to help me. I was getting really frustrated and also more stressed out as my thesis deadline is approaching.
But the other day I found this productivity blog where another approach to productivity and motivation was explained and it totally made sense to me! Well, not all of it, but at least it provided me with some clues on how to slay that dragon in my life. Not that I had never thought of those things, but I forgot about them.
100% productivity is a myth
It is impossible to be productive all the time. You cannot control 100% of your time budget, nor should you strive to. It’s good and beneficial to make smart and conscious choices about what you spend your time on, but… it is also good and beneficial to go with the flow and end up doing stuff that do not match your goals at all, every once in a while. Further more, it is impossible to be focused at, for example work, for the entire 8 hours of your work day. Everyone has good and bad days being able to focus, even good and bad hours of the day, weeks of the month. The issue here is to accept this productivity flow and learn from it: schedule difficult things at strong moments and cut yourself some slack at times you know you have a hard time focusing anyway. Just save the easy tasks for those moments.
Never-ending to-do lists
The Getting Things Done system of David Allen teaches us to have different lists for different projects and/or contexts and to put stuff you are not about to do right now on you ‘someday’ list. But my problem is not so much in having several lists, but more in the never-ending part. Because I have so much to do (write a thesis), there will always be a next action until it’s all done. To me, this is super demotivating, because I never finish my to-do list. I can only decide that it has been enough for today. So I have changed this, and now I am setting monthly and weekly goals. I turn those goals into daily to-do lists. This way I can actually finish everything that is on it and call it a day. It’s just a small change, but it feels so much better!
The reason for your demotivation
If you want to battle the dragon, you have to know why it is attacking you. There can be several reasons ‘Demotivation’ showed up: perhaps you are bored because your work is not challenging enough, or you are frustrated because your job is really not what you would like to do. Or maybe you are scared that you won’t be able to complete the task. (for more info on types of demotivation, read this post). After some soul searching I found out that I am generally feeling a little motivated because I am fed up with the subject of my research. I have been researching general practice for older adults for almost three years now and it is getting boring. But I guess that’s normal for every PhD at some point. But more more importantly, I noticed that I feel overwhelmed and anxious that I won’t be able to finish it all in time AND come up with good and creative results. And then there is always my inner kid: she just wants to play and does not agree that I have to work in a job that is not my dream job right now. She also gets lonely very fast and then she wants to cheer herself up and chat with people.
Stressors and distractors
If you want to win the battle and slay the dragon, you have to know how you can hit it well. Actually, ‘Demotivation’s’ only way to win is to attack you in your weak spots. So what are the things that affect motivation? That would be stressors and distractors. They can be a lot of things, depending on your surroundings and on what you are sensitive to. Here are some of mine:
- clutter and dirt –> I can’t stand looking at piles of stuff when I am trying to focus
- multitasking –> I am not productive when I try to do several things at the same time (even though it is more fun)
- high workload –> it makes me feel overwhelmed and I lose my overview of the situation.
- focusing on the future too much –> also makes me feel overwhelmed
- unhealthy food –> if I don’t eat healthy I don’t have the energy to focus and I just feel blah.
- people making annoying noises –> speaks for itself
- internet –> once I start, it’s so hard to stop surfing the web!
- lack of downtime –> like they say in Dutch: ‘The bow cannot always be tense’.
The good news is that once you notice your own weak spots, you can try things to counter them. For example, having a clear desk and uncluttered office would help. And I can also (and actually do) shut down my internet connection. I put away everything except for the task I need to work on and I take regular breaks. When I feel overwhelmed and anxious, I take a small break to collect my thoughts and write them down if I need to. And then I set a timer for 5 min to get myself started on one task.
I am not saying that these things will guarantee that you win the battle and defeat ‘Demotivation’ at all times, but at least you can increase your chances. Some days the dragon is only a small one, but there are days that several huge dragons come after me. But that’s okay, I can’t always win and I am happy to accept my loss and try again after a while.
How do you slay your demotivation dragon?