Have you ever struggled with feeling unmotivated? Have you put a project off until the last minute? Do you wish you could figure out how to be more productive and stop procrastinating?
Even people who are naturally conscientiousness struggle with lack of motivation at times. Overwork and burnout can be a problem too, and perfection isn’t possible. So, it’s important to understand how to motivate yourself in a balanced way.
A lot of people say they work better under pressure, but this usually isn’t true. What happens is that the pressure of a deadline motivates you, and once you get started, you keep going because you know you have no choice. Also, when you’re working under pressure, it is easier to avoid perfectionism, because you know you just have to get it done.
Still, working under stressful conditions isn’t good for your mental health. Just because you can complete a short-term task doesn’t mean procrastinating is good for you in the long run. Author Alfie Kohn says, “Even if raising the stakes caused people to do better at something today, the accumulated stress over many days might well backfire before long.”
When you’re trying to overcome procrastination, consider areas of your life that don’t involve deadlines. Lack of motivation in your personal habits might involve only small consequences in the beginning.
The problem is that these consequences pile up over time and prevent you from living the best, most productive, and fulfilling life you could have. Why? Because you end up playing catch-up instead of routine life management. This pattern causes you to always feel behind, and it adds unnecessary stress to your life.
The Importance of Conscientiousness
Conscientiousness is one of the “big five” traits used by psychologists to assess personality, and it’s the one most closely linked to personal life success.
There are two main aspects of conscientiousness: orderliness and industriousness. Industriousness means being self-disciplined and persevering in accomplishing your goals. In other words, it’s being a hard worker.
Procrastination happens when you choose to do something enjoyable rather than accomplishing a necessary task. We all do this to some extent. After all, resting is a basic human need.
The difference between resting and procrastinating is that when you rest, you intentionally decide to set aside work and take a break, usually after a period of work and before another period of work.
When you procrastinate, you know that you really should be working on something, but you promise yourself you’ll do it later instead. Procrastination can quickly become a habit, and that’s when it’s a problem.
Procrastination is all about instant gratification, which marks the difference between momentary pleasure and long-term rewards. It’s hard to overcome the desire for immediate satisfaction, but if you can cultivate the habit of delayed gratification, you will reap many long-term rewards.
Creating Habits and Routines
If you’re struggling with a daily overall lack of motivation, consider whether you may have some form of depression. You might be experiencing a depressive episode or even a depressive disorder. Please don’t hesitate to contact a local counselor if your lack of motivation is combined with difficulty sleeping, lack of interest in things you used to enjoy, or other signs of depression.
One of the most reliable ways to overcome procrastination and lack of motivation is to develop habits and routines little by little. Small habits build on themselves to create consistent routines that help you maintain your responsibilities without draining your mental reserves.
If you’ve already decided when and how to get something done ahead of time, it’s easier to motivate yourself to do it when the time comes. And you won’t have to expend extra mental energy wondering what to do and how to do it.
It still takes self-discipline to stick with a routine, but it’s much less difficult than trying to create a new habit from scratch each time you need to accomplish a repetitive task.
If you are struggling with daily motivation, don’t try to overhaul your entire life all at once. Sit down and make a list of your biggest areas of struggle. Are you having trouble eating healthy? Do you stay up too late? Do you put off answering work emails? Decide on 1-3 productive new habits to develop at a time.
Here’s an example:
- Pack a salad every day for lunch.
- Set an alarm for 10:00 p.m. When it sounds, go to bed.
- Answer work emails from 11:00-11:15 a.m. every weekday.
Create a habit tracker if it helps encourage your progress in these new habits. Spend several weeks practicing them. Once you have about 80-90% consistency, add in another habit or two. If you find yourself starting to backtrack, go back to the basics and slowly add more as you go along.
The Problem of Perfectionism
Ironically, people who struggle with procrastination are often perfectionists. It’s the “all-or-nothing” mentality that prevents you from even getting started because why try if everything isn’t going to get done, or you’re still going to feel like your life is chaotic?
Imagine being a mom of two toddlers looking at a messy house and throwing her hands up in the air because she knows it’s probably not going to be clean for the next decade, so why bother folding that load of laundry in the corner?
It’s really hard to get past this trap of perfectionism. Embracing good enough and accepting the chaos is much easier said than done, but it’s true that you really can increase your productivity by simply doing less.
The popular cleaning maven FlyLady illustrates this concept when she advises her readers to “shine your sinks” first and foremost. This is a keystone habit, a basic routine that gives you a short burst of accomplishment. You don’t have to be perfect to be productive! Something is better than nothing.
We all like rewards and we all like to take breaks. The difficulty is knowing how to take breaks without breaking your focus. Clicking over to social media every five minutes is not going to improve your work quality. It’s going to make everything take longer. Each time you lose focus, it takes that much longer to get back on task.
One popular method is the Pomodoro technique, in which you divide your work into 25-minute periods (pomodoros) interspersed with five-minute breaks. After the fourth pomodoro, you take a 15-minute break. This can be an effective way to stay focused without feeling like you’re never going to be able to take a breather.
You can apply the spirit of this concept to other areas in your life. Your reward doesn’t need to be extravagant, just a pleasant activity you can look forward to.
Maybe you save your first cup of coffee until after you’ve gotten up at your chosen time and gotten dressed and ready for the day. Maybe you schedule an outing with a friend the morning after a paper is due. If you know you have something fun coming up, set a specific goal to achieve before then.
There’s wisdom in working before “playing.” If you play first you may never get to the actual work, and work is a lot more enjoyable if you have something to look forward to afterwards. Just make sure your chosen rewards add to the quality of your life instead of cultivating negative habits.
A Job Well Done
The best thing about learning how to be more productive is that you can enjoy your accomplishments. Learning the satisfaction of a job well done will help you motivate yourself going forward.
People who are healthy eaters throughout their lives tend to keep that habit because they like how it makes them feel. Productivity can have a similar draw. If you’re always focused on the direct outcome of your efforts, you might experience frustration because you can’t control all possible outcomes.
But, if you cultivate an enjoyment of productivity, you’ll find yourself enjoying your times of well-deserved relaxation. Achieving a healthy balance in this area contributes to your well-being and quality of life. Then you won’t want to go back to procrastinating, worrying, and feeling guilty about everything you’re not doing.
If you want to find out more about how to motivate yourself and stop procrastinating, talk to an experienced Christian counselor today. Christian counseling or coaching can help you set goals and provide accountability and guidance for new habits you want to create.
“Where to begin?”, Courtesy of Silviarita, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Stressed Out”, Courtesy of Pexels, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Chillin”, Courtesy of Thibault Penin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Under Pressure”, Courtesy of Jeshoots.com, Unsplash.com, CC0 License