How can I get motivated?
December 31, 2004 12:57 AM   Subscribe

MotivationFilter! I'm interested in improving my personal motivation, and I'm looking for advice.

I'm not ridiculously unmotivated, I do particularly well in social situations, where I'm talking regularly with someone and I have simple goals to accomplish. On the other hand, huge big complicated projects involving lots of solitary work hardly motivate me at all. If I could, I would have an operation to implant a great huge burning ball of motivation in my head, especially in the mornings :-P. No, I don't smoke pot. Yes, I'm pretty happy with my current career outlook (about to head to graduate school). No, my family isn't dysfunctional. I'm one of those people who won't start on something, but once I get started work really hard until I have to stop, so I'm looking for that driving spark to get started on work.

I'm really interested in hearing personal anecdotes that relate how people drag themselves from doing poorly to doing well.
posted by onalark to Work & Money (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, GTD (Getting Things Done) is a blog fad right now (dying fad to me, but it's still there). In a nutshell, it's like the blogger's 7 Habits for Highly Effective People. Self Help/Motivational stuff.

There are many links, notably 43 Folders. Really you should just check out the gtd on for all the most current links.

It was all started by David Allen who wrote a book on breaking down processes and productivity and things like that. I just bought the book. (Not promoting really, just giving you a brief nudge on what's out there. I didn't even give you an affliate link! :p)
posted by christin at 2:10 AM on December 31, 2004 [1 favorite]

It doesn't sound like you are doing too badly, at least compared with many other people in this world (going to grad school, having a decent family, at least). What motivates us is a very individual thing IMHO, and it usually is what we are very keen on. If you will study something that you are enthusiastic about in grad school, maybe that will make you feel better?

This may be a very simple and silly suggestion, but if you feel comfortable with simple things to accomplish, maybe you need to find a way in your head to break down the large complicated projects into daily tasks that you can consider as the "project for tomorrow". As well, a sense of achievement from completing something simple one day will lead to motivation to complete an even bigger thing the next.
posted by keijo at 2:51 AM on December 31, 2004

just like the squirrel
posted by airguitar at 4:17 AM on December 31, 2004

No personal anecdotes I'm afraid, although I'll second GTD above.

However.. a lot of people I know who claimed problems with motivation seemed to become a whole lot more motivated when they were in a committed relationship/married/whatever. Not saying that works for everyone, but it seems to work for some. Loneliness can be a great demotivator.
posted by wackybrit at 6:15 AM on December 31, 2004

I have a lot of trouble motivating myself to do most tasks that I don't outright enjoy. I have found that the only way that I actually will get things done is if I schedule them with a specific time slot for myself, and force myself to stick to the specific time slot.

I've actually made "Time Maps" which I learned about from the book Time Management from the Inside Out (which I do recommend), and in addition to scheduling regular tasks like workouts (Su, Mo, We, Thu - at 6pm), you can set aside blocks of time to work on parts of larger projects.
posted by tastybrains at 6:36 AM on December 31, 2004

Place yourself in situations where you must succeed, learn that skill, and apply outward. This self starting motivation for me arose from trekking all over Hell, where not doing meant not living. After you learn that pile driving (gotta go through it, not around it) is a method, almost a comfortable one, your body will reach a harmonic with work very easily.
posted by sled at 7:11 AM on December 31, 2004

Best answer: i think i'm more motivated than most on doing "complicated projects involving lots of solitary work", but i still have problems and it's something i've worried about a fair amount.

one thing i've had to admit is that i'm not superman. sometimes i can be tired, and i'm not going to do anything. in such cases it's better to accept that and relax, rather than worry about it. for example, when i get home from a shift (8 day's work) i give 2 days over to doing "whatever". if it is stuff related to a project, great, but if not, no worries. another example - over a year ago now i had a mild breakdown from working crazy hours at a nightmare job. i'm still paying for that - i can't do as much as i used to do before - but it's slowly getting better.

other things that seem to help:
- make the project short. if it's a big project, break it up into smaller pieces. when you finish one of the small chunks, take pride in it.
- enjoy yourself. if it's a personal project, you're not going to change the world, so do what you want. change directions if necessary. follow sub-projects.
- be organised. if it's a work project it typically involves other people at some point. let them know what's happening. chase them up. keep communication open between you and them, and between them and others (so you act as a communication hub, if necessary).
- a change is as good as a rest. i had a year or two when programming seemed pointless. at first i was worried, but then i shrugged and looked for something else to do. i ended up designing and building electronics and learning to play bass guitar. it was fun, and the urge to program returned.
- rearrange the rest of your life. one reason i work shifts is to give me a larger chunk of time for my own stuff. i find it better to focus just on work, and then spend my off-shift time on personal projects, rather than trying to grab an hour or two each weekday evening "for me".
- take time to think. it's sometimes too easy to plunge into something without thinking ahead. a bit of thinking can save a lot of worries and waste. so make time to think. while on shift i spend an hour a day walking to/from the office. often i use that time to mull over what i'm doing - either at work or at home.
- exercise and eat well. if i drink during the day (off-shift - for example lunch with wine) i take a nap afterwards rather than trying to work while befuddled.
- keep notes of what you've done/are doing. whatever works for you. in my case web pages and comments on code.
- a supportive partner helps hugely too. muac!
posted by andrew cooke at 8:05 AM on December 31, 2004 [1 favorite]

oh, and at least on my case, recognise and understand your obsessive behaviour. it can be both a help and a burden. exploit the helpful bits and compensate for the negative parts...
posted by andrew cooke at 8:07 AM on December 31, 2004

sorry, one more - have a clear idea of what you are doing over timescales where you can get something significant done. i currently have two different projects arguing over my (work) time. i've made it clear to my bosses that i don't mind which i work for, but that i want the decision to be as clear and stable as possible, and i'd rather not have time divided 50/50 (if i am working on more than one project i try to allocate/group time over days, weeks and even months, when possible, rather than hours).
posted by andrew cooke at 8:11 AM on December 31, 2004

"Act as if you have faith, and faith will be given to you."

It's not the magic trick you were hoping for, and MeFites may brush off Biblical wisdom; but it works. Behave as if you were motivated. Brain chemistry follows behavior.
posted by cribcage at 8:18 AM on December 31, 2004

I like making lists of small doable pieces of a project. This helps when there is not an obvious sequence of events that must be followed. For instance, if you are digging a hole, you can't help but start at the top and work your way down. On the other hand, if you are trying to fix up an old junky car, there are a million places to start, lots of ways to rationalize what order to do things in and lots of things that make the car look worse at first (ripping out the interior to fix the rusted out floor). But if you make a list of small projects it does two things for you: it is very satisfying to cross things off the list and it takes the pressure off trying to optimize the order, because when the list is done, the entire project is done.
When I was writing my graduate thesis, I set a specific date for my defense (locked in by a start date for a postdoc position), so I had to write a certain number of pages a day. Then I made a very detailed outline where the lowest level was just list of things that had to be discussed. This way I could write in any order but stay organized.
posted by 445supermag at 8:32 AM on December 31, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice guys! I said my family life was good but I admit I'm in a bit of a relationship snark (wackybrit caught that). I appreciate the book/author recommendations, and I've got two on my list thanks to christin and tastybrains. Andrew and supermag, your thoughts were really helpful, it's encouraging to see fellow MeFites perservering in a similar situation to mine. This looks like a good place to try out things for New Years Resolutions, I'll draw up a plan and update this thread a couple times over the next month to let those who helped know how I'm doing.

For the moment I think I'll invest in one or both of the recommended books, set some goals for what I'd like to accomplish in my final semester as an undergraduate, and create a plan for managing my time better. The fun part will be sticking to it.

ps: cribcage, no need to be so self-disparaging, I've found faith to be a great motivator as well.
posted by onalark at 12:54 PM on December 31, 2004

Response by poster: additionally, thanks for the White Stripes song airguitar, I've already got Certain Shade of Green if someone was going to mention that :-) and further suggestions are welcome!
posted by onalark at 12:57 PM on December 31, 2004

onlark: You'd do a lot worse than to blog about it :-)
posted by wackybrit at 1:06 PM on December 31, 2004

Well, I'm glad someone put this up, because I was going to, too. Although it usually seems short-lived, reading motivational material *does* help me, at least. One place I've been going lately is Steve Pavlina's blog, and his older articles which are linked to from there.

I don't know if your problems are like mine, but I find that the major motivational problems stem from having a lack of a goal. I am struggling to find a goal right now. Once you have a goal, you can create steps toward it and be much happier, as your motivation becomes, "I am right now on the path between where I am and where I want to be. That path passes through this task, and I need to do it to get to my goal."

Oh, but to find the right goal! If anyone's got any help on that, you would probably profoundly change my life.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 2:15 PM on December 31, 2004

It helps me to break larger projects into smaller pieces. Like, for writing a term paper, start with 'write an outline. (/ kinda bad example) Then, it's easier to jump into the project because one task will be finished relatively soon, and you don't think so much about how long the thing is until you've already started. The 'little chunks' method makes it easy to have a reward system for yourself, too.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 2:29 PM on December 31, 2004

I'm not recommending 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, but ~1/4 of a clean street dose (~1/4 ~120mg orally) should do the trick.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:19 PM on December 31, 2004

I'm one of those people who won't start on something, but once I get started work really hard until I have to stop,...

It sounds like when you're motivated, you descend into compulsion and imbalance.

If *I* knew that I was gonna spiral into compulsion, imbalance and over-motivation once I got "That Spark", I'd have a hard time getting that "spark" too.

(Is your "lack of motivation" just protecting you from your own compulsion? Maybe make internal amends by balancing work with the other aspects of you.)
posted by Moistener at 3:29 AM on January 2, 2005

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