How to get motivated to do the tasks we put off
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We all have tasks that we hate to do, that we put off and procrastinate over.  In my last blog I listed a few of the tasks we could do to get the year off to a good start, things like cleaning out our email inbox or catching up on filing.  In response a few of my readers and friends commented that their biggest challenge is not whether they consider a task worthwhile or necessary but it rather feeling motivated enough to do it.  And that is the issue – we often rely too much on how we feel, and if we don’t feel like it, we don’t do it. Let’s face it, if we wait until we feel like doing certain things, they will never get done.  Trying to motivate ourselves with sheer willpower or discipline also doesn’t work for very long, and then we lapse into our old patterns.

So how do we work around this issue of feelings so that we can get the jobs done that we do not enjoy but are a necessary part of life?

1. Emotional detachment

The first thing we need to recognise is that we don’t have to feel like doing a task to actually get on and do it. In her book ‘Organizing for Life’ Sandra Felton describes a continuum of three types of women with respect to managing their homes. At either end of the continuum is the ‘cleanie’ (who is obsessive and passionate about a clean organised home) and the ‘messie’ (who would love a clean organised home but never seems to get there). In the middle is the ‘successful average housekeeper’, i.e. the woman who is able to keep her home well managed and looking good (but not perfect) with apparently minimal effort.  After interviewing a range of these ‘average’ individuals, she found that one of their key traits was emotional detachment.  As Felton states “They don’t wait until they feel like doing the job. This does not seem to occur to them. Instead, they shift into an automatic mode of moving the body through certain routines they have established and do on a regular basis”.   By emotionally detaching themselves these women free themselves to get on with the job without wasting emotional energy and time in procrastination and guilt.

2. Routine

This quote by Felton also points to one of the most effective ways to establish emotional detachment with respect to the jobs you hate to do – make them part of your daily or weekly routine.  This will prevent things from piling up until you have a much bigger unwanted job to tackle.  Make the task small, short and regular to improve your chances of success. For example, spend 10 minutes every afternoon clearing your email in-box.  Diarise it so it becomes easy to maintain. You can also link a new habit to an old one to help it to stick, e.g. flossing after your brush your teeth.  Don’t establish too many new habits at once as you are likely to fail.  The interesting thing about routine is that a lot of small and short actions add up. Before you know it a lot of jobs that you hate are no longer big mountains but have been whittled down to small manageable molehills.

3. Change what drives you

When we only do the things we feel like doing, we are allowing our lives to be run by our emotions. But each of us is so much more than emotions.  We have core values and positive visions and goals for our lives which we can use to drive or motivate ourselves.  A key way to motivate yourself to do the things you don’t enjoy is to link them to a vision or goal which this task will help you to achieve.   This is especially useful for bigger projects that won’t fit into the ‘daily routine’ variety, e.g. repainting a room. You can define a vision for why you are doing the task (e.g. a beautiful calm bedroom where you can read and relax).  Make sure that your goal is positive as this is more likely to motivate you.  If you start to lose steam in the middle of a project, remind yourself of your end goal or vision to motivate yourself to get the task done.  If the goal is not motivating enough, promise yourself an appropriate reward when you have finished.

4. Capitalise on the times when you do feel motivated.

Lastly, we all experience those unpredictable moments where we suddenly feel energised to launch into a project or task that we have been putting off for some time.  Recently a friend of mine planned to declutter and tidy her house at the beginning of the December holidays, but felt too demotivated to get going.  Then, with a few days to go until term started, she and her daughter suddenly got energised. Within a couple of days they repainted and decorated the kitchen, started on the dining room and cleaned out their storage room.  They made the most of that initial burst of energy and kept the momentum going.   Use the memory of these times as a reminder to you when you feel demotivated that you can successfully tackle these jobs again.  Maybe it will give you the push you need to get going.

But more than anything, I suggest that you start to introduce some small, short and frequent new routines into your life.  You will start to notice the difference that they make in helping you to develop an emotional detachment from the tasks you love to hate.  And in turn there will be less big jobs lurking in the background and a freedom to enjoy life.


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