Can I change my motivation schedule?
May 1, 2009 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I regularly get bursts of creative energy and motivation to work on personal projects right smack dab in the middle of the workday, when I can't do a thing about them. But when I've got free time, I don't feel like doing anything. How can I better synchronize my motivation with my free time?

It happens on a weekly if not daily basis: I'll be about an hour or two into my workday, and I just start to think "wow, I would love to be home cleaning the house" or "ooh, I remember that idea I had for a project; I want to start working on it right now!" And, of course, I have to do my actual work instead. The same thing sometimes happens when I'm on my way to the gym or in the middle of a run.

However, at the end of the day, or on the weekend, I don't get that rush of motivation. I never want to clean the house when I have time, and my great ideas just don't sound that interesting. I have plenty of time to do things, but I'd rather just veg out.

I suppose my great ideas during the workday are a form of procrastination: it's the time of day when I'm most awake and alert by necessity, but my mind will sometimes drift to other things that sound more interesting at the task at hand. (I do like my job a lot and can usually focus quite well; for the purposes of this question assume that I cannot/will not change my job or work schedule, or work on personal projects during work hours.)

I know action precedes motivation most of the time, and I have a feeling that the answer might just be to force myself off the couch and go do something even when I don't feel like it. But when I do that, it's not always very effective. Also, I love the feeling I get when I'm able to actually put my creative energy to good use, and I'd like to experience that more.

If there are any tricks you've used successfully, I'd love to hear them. Thank you!
posted by Metroid Baby to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if it helps with wanting to clean the house, but I handle the projects by stopping my other work right then and writing a note about what I want to do. So, I'll be hacking on a project, and think of something to add to one of my own projects. So, I'll pause my timer tracker, pull out a notebook, and write down the idea I had and some notes on how I'd build it.

I find that it helps to scratch the itch a little bit when it comes up, write down the results, and then go back to work in fifteen minutes. I find I can at least focus on the task at hand again, and there's a far better chance I can pick up where I left off when I have free time.
posted by Netzapper at 2:13 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

You could try to create an artificial task that would allow you to procrastinate when you're at home. For example, if you promise yourself that you'll run every day, you can procrastinate by cleaning the house.
posted by null terminated at 2:15 PM on May 1, 2009

Take a shower and go for a light jog or light dance a bit, energize but not tire. Listen to some of your favorite music while exercising a bit. This gets blood up to your brain, energizes and shakes off the tension of the day. Your brain will itch to organize or create.
posted by effluvia at 2:36 PM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I saw Adam Savage from Mythbusters speak about his projects. He has a huge catalogue of ideas and research stuff. So I decided to mimic it a little.

I have the same issue you have. I also tend to have a little free time at work, so when I get these ideas, I like to research them a little bit, and collect some motivation and information. I then email myself and have a special folder set up for these "Projects."

I find that having some of this research and such staring at me helps spark my creativity again. It's true, boredom rarely excites the mind creatively, but if you see what your brain was thinking when it WAS being creative, it may get those juices flowing again.

Any time I'm bored or have some free time I try to remind myself about the projects folder. If I can't finish anything, I try and take a step or two to make some progress, and then I update the email. This also helps my ADD addled mind keep multiple things going at once.

As for the cleaning motivation, if you figure out that one, let me know, as my wife would really appreciate it.
posted by toekneebullard at 2:46 PM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

I get this too. It's kind of like an anti-flow, where I'm immersed in an activity that takes so little attention that my mind wanders to an activity it would rather be engaged in. Sometimes I can get into that mode by, as null terminated suggests, setting an artificial task, but keeping myself close to the project I'd rather be working on.
posted by lekvar at 3:18 PM on May 1, 2009

I have started tracking projects in a private Dreamwidth journal. The tags feature is helpful, and I like the layout.

I also don't have a zillion friends on there, so I won't be tempted to read everybody else's gossip and errata instead.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:37 PM on May 1, 2009

This happens to me at work too (creative projects, not cleaning the house!). I think it's a combination of being awake and stimulated enough to get your brain moving, while having enough bandwidth to think about other things. Perhaps there's caffeine involved, and a measure of being focused.

Maybe reading a newspaper on the weekend while having a cup of coffee would sufficiently reproduce the scenario...? I don't suggest getting on the computer, because I find that if I get on the computer without having something to work on, my mind just stops functioning while I surf -- kind of like when I'm watching TV.
posted by Simon Barclay at 4:26 PM on May 1, 2009

Work is getting your fresh and productive energy, and leaving you drained. There is a simple way around this, that I have been refining for years:

After work, go to sleep as early as humanly possible - ie. get home, shower, brush teeth, go to bed. Don't even eat an evening meal, just have a bit more lunch than usual, and two small breakfasts, one when you first wake up and one before you leave for work. Wake up four or five hours before you need to go to work, have some coffee immediately. Do something that makes ideas bounce in your brain, then get a few things done before you leave for work.

It may take a while to adjust to this schedule, but it is much more productive if you value your personal projects enough to give them your prime mental energy rather than your job.

The drawback to this is that it also makes it hard to do the after work socializing that many people like to do - but of course compromises can be made - my commute and workday are long enough that I only have a two hour window between waking up and leaving for work on a workday currently, but I still make sure my free time is before leaving for work and not after getting home.
posted by idiopath at 5:19 PM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I agree with idiopath - projects before work. It was difficult to get used to, but I realized my brain works best in the morning and my procrastination takes over at night, so I took the plunge. I also asked my boss about flex-time, so I can leave a bit later (pushed my start back to 10am). Now I get up at 5:30, dink around, have breakfast, work in the studio for 3 hours, then get ready for my work day.

In a short time the routine became a cherished part of my life. I actually like getting up that early because I know I don't have to get ready for work immediately - I can do what I want! And the best part is that at the end of the day the most important activity is already done. So I don't feel stressed if I just lay around after work.
posted by jenmakes at 9:09 PM on May 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

I have this too. I record the idea into a little Moleskine journal that I always carry in my purse, then continue with my daily task. I put in enough detail to keep the idea fresh when I read my Moleskine again, at the end of the day, at home. Then I act on it, develop the idea further - or schedule it for some other time.

Writing it into a journal makes it look like work, at work, and the kinetic act of putting pen to paper also helps ingrain that idea a little more.
posted by seawallrunner at 10:23 AM on May 2, 2009

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