The first time I experienced this motivation-deprivation was after I quit my job to start my own venture. After the initial excitement of the start, fear and self-doubt started to sink in. I had no idea how to structure my day, hold myself accountable or revive the productivity that was so familiar to me for so many years. Here are four pieces of advice I learned along the way on keeping productivity high when motivation is low.
1. Create to-do lists when energized.
Even in periods of low motivation, energy continues to ebb and flow. I took advantage of the times I felt the most energized to create weekly and monthly to-do lists. As Akshay Gupta writes for the site Fearless Motivation, “Giving [your to-do list] an emotional touch will make sure that you take it seriously. To do this, you can write a note at the top of your list.”
Perhaps your note will be about a vision you have for yourself and your career goals. My notes were about the energy I wanted to feel when I was completing the task, a piece of advice I took from Brendon Burchard’s book, High Performance Habits. Instead of, “I have to get X done,” the energy of the list became, “I get to do this for my career and my career dreams,” and I instantly felt better about every item.
2. Work with a coach or accountability partner.
If you can’t hold yourself accountable, it’s a good idea to bring in an outside influence. I spoke with some coaches to see if one would be a good fit, but ultimately decided to make a pact with a friend as “accountability partners.” The premise was simple: We’d touch base every Thursday, set three action items that needed to be achieved by the next Thursday, then touch base again the following week to make sure they’d be done. And we’d heighten the stakes, agreeing to Venmo the other person a certain amount if we failed to achieve our action items. It worked.
A recent article for Develop Good Habits reminded that it’s often easier to blame other people (or circumstances) than take personal responsibility when we don’t achieve our goals or get our work done, noting, “Playing the blame game can derail your efforts at accountability because you’ll struggle in understanding the relationship between taking massive action and getting results.” An accountability partner forces you to acknowledge the ways you’re sabotaging yourself, take personal responsibility and complete that to-do list.
3. Eliminate distractions.
Far easier said than done, but eliminating distractions is the best way to keep your productivity high. To do this, though, it’s important to understand the cause behind your distractions. Behavioral-design expert Nir Eyal shares in his new book, Indistractable, that we often blame our smartphones for distractionsm but that without them, we’d find another way to distract ourselves because of an emotional need for distraction. This need is usually discomfort.
A fix: timeboxing. Eyal asks in the book, “Does your calendar reflect your values?” By eliminating white space in your calendar and planning your productivity ahead of time (using the energetic and vision-board method for to-do lists), you’re more likely to stay on task and be less vulnerable to the usual distraction suspects.
4. Switch up workspaces.
If you’re going back to the same workspace every single day and trying to feel different about your productivity, it may be hard without a spruce-up. So, if you work from a home office, move your desk to the other side of the room and add a plant. If you always work from the same coffee shop, try a day at a nearby co-working space. As David Spencer astutely blogged for OfficeSpace, “A drab, static office hurts both morale and productivity. Experimenting with new layouts can help keep employees from getting tired of their surroundings.”
A trick I learned in college was that once you find a place that works for you, return as often as it serves you. One corner on the fourth floor of the library always fueled my best focus and work. Accordingly, everytime I went back to that lucky corner, I acted in accordance with my beliefs about that spot and it helped my productivity soar. The same is true with certain coffee shops and offices.
Motivation is often hard to pin down, everchanging and available at some periods of our lives more than others. Each season of our life serves a purpose. If you need rest and reflection more than you need to be productive, honor yourself. You may return to your work more productive than ever.