Last night at about 7pm my daughter called me from college...
"I'm calling for motivation" she said. She had an important Anatomy exam and desperately needed to study. She also had two Psychology projects due but no motivation to do anything at all.
Sharing 'best practices' is something that I very much appreciate from others, so I'm sharing the advice that I gave her, and that has worked for me, particularly in the years of managing single parenthood and running a small business.
I practice these 4 things every day of the work week.
1) DON’T PRIORITIZE TICKING OFF THE TO-DO, PRIORITIZE THE PRIORITY
My daughter knew that her most urgent priority was to study for her Anatomy exam. That was overwhelming because the amount of time she needed to invest in studying was not defined. She knew that her two Psychology projects would take about one hour each.
Her plan was to start with those, so that she could tick them off the list and feel better to have accomplished something. My advice to her - DO JUST THE OPPOSITE! If she knew she had 4 hours at the library to study, start with Anatomy. One hour before she was leaving, do a Psych project.
We tend to get great satisfaction in ticking items off a list. But we can spend hours ticking things off of a list, and adding more items to the list sometimes just to have something else to tick off. This makes us feel accomplished... like we're getting stuff done. The tasks that are less defined (they may never even reach a 'tick off' point) get pushed back until we are scrambling to cram them in before a deadline. By prioritizing tasks by importance and sticking to that plan, stuff gets done and it's the most important stuff first.
2) JUST START
That's not as easy as it sounds. Recognize when you are pushing an undefined task back, and force yourself to start something in relation to that task. For me, if it's a logo design I can simply start sketching. For Anatomy, my daughter can simply open the book, start posing some questions to herself that she thinks make be on the test. Action triggers more action, and once the train is in motion it will stay in motion.
3) SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
It's so satisfying to look at a completed task list. But using that to gauge our success only reinforces the desire to attack the list from the easy to the hard rather than the important to the less important. I strongly encourage the use of lists, but here are the categories I use to organize mine:
What I need to do today (Most urgent/highest priority)
What I need to do later (Can wait until a later time)
Work "Distraction" List - Things that come to mind that I need to address at some point - sometimes clever ideas, or passwords I need to add to my spreadsheet, etc.) I do not stray from the task at hand to address these distractions when they come to mind, I make note on this list.
Home "Distraction" List - The same as the work distraction list, except personal. - schedule eye dr. appt, call window people, etc. Again, I do not stray from the urgent task to address these when they come to mind, I make note on this list.
Note: I re-write this list every single day.
At the end of the day, I gauge my success by only the progress on the "What I need to do today" list, which could potentially be only one item.
4) ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS
This is so simple. Put your phone in do not disturb and out of sight, do not check emails, disable social media notifications, etc.. Respect the task at hand. Remove anything that could potentially pull you away from it. There is nothing more important than this in today's age of 24/7 information bombardment.
Thanks for reading. Have a focus-filled, efficient and productive day!