How do you motivate yourself to do useful things at the end of the day?
April 1, 2015 6:12 PM   Subscribe

I have all these goals that I want to pursue right now, and I am making very slow progress. A large part of it is being tired after a day of work. Have you successfully pursued personal-growth activities after work during the workweek? How did you motivate yourself?

My main pursuits at the moment have to do with studying a language and exercising. I have a study schedule (going it alone because I don't have money, haha) and am scheduled to take an official test of my level of the language in a couple of months. I also have exercise goals. I've been trying to work on both of these things early in the morning, as that's when I'm fresh (early morning exercise, go to coffee shop and do language study for an hour or something), but sometimes that doesn't work because I fail to wake up at 5:30 am to go to my exercise class or have to get into work early for a conference call with our field offices abroad. By the end of the day, I just feel exhausted and all I want to do is go home and browse the internet, watch Netflix, and eat. But it would be great if I could motivate myself to spend an hour or two on the personal growth stuff.

Any thoughts on how you mitigated this sort of problem in the past? Thanks!
posted by knownfossils to Work & Money (26 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
I am a morning person, and I am useless after 2 PM. If I want to do something, it has to happen in the morning. There is no chance I'm going to the gym at 4PM.

Is it possible to revisit 'failing to get up at 5:30'? I get up at 5, mostly. Yes, it sucks. I have coffee on a timer so it's ready. But if I didn't I would lose *hours* of useful time that I am flat-out not getting back in the afternoon. Right now, for instance, I'm sure there are people avidly Getting Stuff Done because that's their time to do that stuff, but it isn't mine. I'm right this second digging deep to find motivation to floss my teeth.

I'd also suggest 'doing it the same way every day' helps a lot. If you're getting up at 5, it's easier to get up at 5 three hundred days in a row than mess around with 'Tuesdays this, Wednesdays that...etc.'
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:18 PM on April 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

I've discovered, over many years of attempted self-improvement, that firmly ordering myself to do something even if I'm exhausted does not work. So I've given up on that approach. My new approach is one best summed up as "be nice to me."

-What does sometimes work is just promising myself I will do only 5 minutes. Then I feel like I did not break the promise to myself and accomplished something even if it was only for 5 minutes.
-Bribing myself also works sometimes- "I will work out for 5 minutes, and then eat a popsicle." "I will look at that fun website, after looking at French verbs for 5 minutes."
-Making things really easy and fun, as much as possible. Instead of a punishing workout, I'll go dancing and count that as my workout. Or go swimming, or throw a ball around, or play laser tag with friends. Or watch French movies instead of just studying French.
posted by quincunx at 6:35 PM on April 1, 2015 [18 favorites]

Somehow things I can do on my phone while lounging about feel like less work than things that require me to, say, sit at a desk, or walk around the house. So I'm comfortable shifting certain types of things (language practice using Duolingo, reviewing the week's science news on am RSS reader) to evenings, but the rest I've resigned myself to needing daylight for.

If I really need to get something done in the evenings as a one-off, I make sure to keep the lights on, avoid sitting on the couch or anything comfier than that, and refrain from taking off my shoes until the task is complete.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:42 PM on April 1, 2015

As for motivation in general, if you're of the right nerdy bent, I highly recommend checking out a site called Beeminder. Their thing is to combine quantified self with financial commitment contracts... that is, you commit to a goal (say, 3 hours/week of language learning) and a pledge (say, $5) and either you stay on track or they take your money, and the next time they'll charge you $10 (although you can move that back down again). The idea is that eventually you'll find a pledge that's sufficiently large that you've very motivated to not lose that money.

I've been doing this for a few months now, with pretty decent success. This whole concept has horrified some people I've talked to ("they take your money... for nothing? And you just let them?") But I've flossed regularly, meditated regularly, and been diligent about learning Spanish for 4 months now. All of those are things that I've tried to turn into habits for years with no success, until now. Even though I want to do things, I have a hard time without that extra push, and this has worked for me.

Again, probably not for everybody, but if the idea appeals to you, check it out.
posted by captainawesome at 6:42 PM on April 1, 2015 [9 favorites]

A favourite saying of mine, and one that annoys my friends, is motivation follows action.

In other words, when you start seeing results then you become motivated to continue on.

Perhaps you could make a schedule of exercise and study for a week or two and stick to it as best you can. Once you see the results you are getting from being so diligent, you might be inspired to continue on. Or if it was the hardest week of your life, then you need a new plan and you know that evenings are just not going to work.
posted by Youremyworld at 6:43 PM on April 1, 2015 [13 favorites]

I'm on an eating plan where I don't eat anything after 2PM. (I get plenty to eat before then so don't worry about me.) So I am REALLY hungry when I wake up in the morning and I have breakfast. So, basically, when I open my eyes in the morning I can't wait to get up so I can eat.
posted by cda at 7:08 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think it's helpful to look at Vroom's expectancy theory. Try to break down the components and find out what is making you fail exactly. It's kind of sell hacking your motivation if you will.

Another thing that I read that works quite well is to try to create some delay or obstacle to the thing you are replacing your objective with. In your case, you could hide the TV remote or put your language flashcards on top of it. Just doing something so that it delays you by about 20 seconds and gives you enough time for pause so you can reflect on your goals and take action.

For me it's always difficult to do my physical therapy. To get in the habit I made sure to leave the yoga mat out on the floor tape up the exercises to the wall. The yoga mats right next to the bed so that I can do it first thing in the morning

Make it harder to do distracting activities and easier to do what you want to do. Set up your system/life/work space accordingly.
posted by chinabound at 7:17 PM on April 1, 2015

What does sometimes work is just promising myself I will do only 5 minutes.

I do something similar - I just tell myself I'm going to start something. I have a facebook group of friends where we post our goals, and when I am struggling I will post the most basic first step I can think of. "I will get the vacuum cleaner out of the closet" or "I will put on my sports bra and running shoes." Once I've announced to everyone that I'm going to do it, I feel motivated to do it. And very often just starting to do something is a springboard to getting more done.
posted by bunderful at 7:23 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

The simplest answer to distractions is to physically remove yourself from them.

Tired after work and just want to lay down on the couch and watch Netflix? Don't go straight home. Stay late in your office or go to a coffee shop on the way home, where there is no couch or Netflix. Your mileage may vary, but this is the "one simple trick" that works for me, better than any motivational tactic.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:28 PM on April 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

sometimes that doesn't work because I fail to wake up at 5:30 am

It is entirely possible to be a morning person at 6:30AM, but not at 5:30AM. Perhaps somewhere in between, is the threshold at which your master clock says "Nope, absolutely not time to get up yet."

In which case, perhaps it may be better to focus on only one goal in the morning, and the other one at a later time during the day?
posted by invisible ink at 7:34 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Haha - drjimmy, I wrote this question whilst sitting in a coffee shop failing to work on my language study before coming home to watch Netflix :)

Feeling like A Terrible Llama's suggestion might actually have something behind it for me.

Anyway, will stop commenting, and am looking forward to any other suggestions.
posted by knownfossils at 7:44 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Try the following first if you're feeling tired all the time:
- Drink very little or no alcohol
- Drink very little or no caffeine
- Take a vitamin B12 supplement
posted by deathpanels at 7:48 PM on April 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don't have an easy answer and a ton has been said, but I just want to add:

you are not alone.
All of us deal with this.
All of us procrastinate.
Most of us work out less than we want.
Most of us get less sleep than we want.
Many of us are disappointed in ourselves after bingeing netflix when we should be doing work.

Try to relax :) you can only do so much! Make sure to set realistic expectations for yourself and build in some healthy leisure time, taking a bath, with netflix, before bed, and then maybe you can fit in the other stuff around the edges.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:55 PM on April 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

The nice thing is that both of your things could be very habitual. Coffee shop + studying on your way to work. Bring your gym clothes and hit the gym on your way home. Or do both back to back? I guess this depends on if exercise is about making it to the gym.
posted by salvia at 7:58 PM on April 1, 2015

Google any variation of "motivation/decision/willpower fatigue". It's a thing. If you make decisions all day long, or do what you're "supposed to" all day long, it gets harder and harder to maintain motivation and make the right decisions as the day progresses. It's the reason why people like Steve jobs always wore the same outfit every day — one less decision to be made. The good news is that willpower is like a muscle. Yes, it can get fatigued, but you can also strengthen it.
posted by Brittanie at 8:18 PM on April 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I asked a similar question recently and got several answers agreeing to the fact that if you are not a night owl, it's very, very difficult to change that and vice versa. So I let my evenings be my "me" time for the most part. My mornings are a bit of leisure with coffee and the Internet and then Getting All the Things Done. Sort of. At least the ones I'm focusing on at the time. I'm also fortunate that I don't have to be at work until 9 a.m.

Best wishes!
posted by harrietthespy at 8:26 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Uh, this is what weekends and lunch hours are for. I cannot speak for how an early bird operates because lord knows I ain't one, but once you get tired after work, you either need to work on less taxing things or just put it off. I'm still annoyed at myself for not getting much done last week, but I was hella exhausted and needed the rest, so there you go.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:48 PM on April 1, 2015

One suggestion to help that i haven't seen mentioned is to go to bed earlier. Try half an hour earlier than when you are already going to bed. It's possible that you need just a tiny bit more sleep to help boost motivation and willpower.
posted by canine epigram at 10:38 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I feel your pain! I do a few things to help me get life stuff done when I'm done with work for the day.

- I don't remove my shoes or my jeans when I get home. I usually change my top and put on a more comfortable one, but I pretty much stay dressed with shoes on. Couching out with shoes on is not fun.
- have stuff laid out and prepared. If I'm exercising, my stuff is accessible. If I'm cleaning, I set up my supplies that morning or the night before. Having things out and ready is a good visual cue and reinforcer.
- Keep track using the Seinfeld X method. Every day I succeed gets an X on the calendar and I try not to break the chain.
- have a planned end time and something to look forward to when I'm done
- making myself do "just five minutes" as described above
- don't let myself sit with the cat for just one minute because that one minute is actually hours and surprise it's bedtime
- if I'm really tired, I take a shower. Sometimes I pretend it's morning again and I'm readying up for the day. It's like a reset button. I don't overuse this, but it definitely works a treat.
- don't beat myself up when it doesn't happen. Sometimes it won't. There's always tomorrow. If I'm not even trying strategies to mitigate it and it's a pattern, though, then I take a step back and reconsider my goals.

Best of luck!
posted by sockermom at 11:21 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm doing something similar. I work full-time and am doing a lot of self study with some long term goals in mind.

My best work happens mid morning to early afternoon so my job gets the best me which is great for them.

I realized that for me feeling tired after work isn't always that I super tired, I'm just tired and mentally exhausted about work. I've found that if I can just get started then I get re-energized because this is something I want to do.

I know the tv veg urge intimately. I use the Pomodoro. You can get timer apps based on it or just use any countdown clock. I find that the 20-25 minutes is enough time to determine what kind of tired I am. I find it easier, like the 5min suggestion to say to myself I can do this for 25 mins. When the timer is done if I'm still not super motivated and feel tired then at least I've done 25 mins of work.

I end up playing games with the timer. Trying to beat the clock. Seeing just how much I can get done in this 25 min chunk. Interestingly I've found that I end up getting annoyed with the timer because it stops me from working and the 5 mins between timers is keeping me from working and 'omg hurry up I want to get at this again'.

I break up what I'm doing into smaller chunks and tasks with milestones. So a course might be complete up to lecture 10 and get a prize! One of the things I'm working on is typing faster and have goals set based on WPM. My prizes are things like watching a movie I've been looking forward to or buying something that's more want then need.

I have reminders of the reason that I'm doing all this for. In my case it's more flexibility in my work career and travel. I have pictures of where I want to go. I think to myself that the least I can do is manage 25 mins of work towards getting me to this awesome place. When I'm feeling super unmotivated and netflix is calling I go to this site. I want places like this to be my office!
posted by Jalliah at 4:45 AM on April 2, 2015

Can you do stuff on lunch breaks? It might make sense to get in a workout or an hour of language study then, even if it means staying later at work.
posted by metasarah at 6:37 AM on April 2, 2015

For intellectually demanding tasks, like studying a language, I would recommend identifying a very easy task and always starting your after-work sessions with that. So, maybe that's something like making a few flashcards of some new words you need to learn. This really doesn't require a lot of thinking, just copying words and definitions or whatever. You do that first, and then when you're done with the few flashcards I suspect you will be in a place to start tackling more demanding aspects of language study. You will be at your desk, have your materials out, etc., and it will just take less mental energy to get going on something else.

The idea behind starting with something easy is that it will seem less daunting to start doing something productive when you are worn out at the end of the day. Instead of thinking, "ugh, now I have to study French," you think, "oh, I just have to make out a few flash cards." It's easier to mentally commit to doing the latter over watching Netflix.
posted by crLLC at 7:03 AM on April 2, 2015

With regards to exercise, what worked best for me was making a commitment with a friend. We joined a gym together and having that obligation is usually enough to drag us out there.

Another thing with exercise is that it may be annoying at first, but, if you keep it up long enough, your body will start to enjoy it. I now get antsy if I go too many days without exercising, so that's doubled my motivation.

Another important thing for motivation is make things as easy for yourself as possible. Remove any barriers you can upfront. For example, the further you have to travel to get to the gym or place of study, the more hurculean the effort to drag yourself there. Find places right near you (preferably that you can walk to but I know that's not always an option).
posted by C'est la D.C. at 7:07 AM on April 2, 2015

For language study, you can try combining your leisure and study sometimes. Depending on your current skill level, try reading the news in another language to practice or watching a foreign language show with English subtitles.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 7:11 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Throwing this out there -- the surest way to make sure I do NOT get anything done is to be overambitious, i.e. expect myself to go to the gym every day, study every day AND go to work every day, while eating healthily, keeping up social relationships and general life maintenance. Could you do an either/or morning schedule where *if* you feel like it, you'll go to the gym, otherwise you'll go to a coffee shop and study -- and then schedule a hard "no work after 8 p.m." rule where you HAVE to relax before bedtime? When you're scheduling yourself, remember all of the "invisible work" -- grocery store, bills, cleaning, calling your Mom -- that you do in the course of a week. The goal is progression, not perfection!
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 8:11 AM on April 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm doing something similar, working full time and studying for exams at the same time. It sucks, is the honest answer. I make a point to always study on my lunch break and throw in an extra hour of studying at work if things are slow enough. If I miss lunch hour studying, then I have to do the hour at home. Weekends there is at least 2hrs of study each day. I pull this off because failing my tests is really not an option, and if I fail I'm out a couple hundred dollars (no reimbursement unless I pass). So it's pretty motivating. Making time for exercise is critical, because I can't focus if I don't exercise. I guess my suggestion is try to either study or exercise every day - you have to do at least one for an hour. Doing things every day helps you get in the habit.
posted by annie o at 7:11 PM on April 4, 2015

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