Motivation is a myth. What you need is discipline. Screw the romantic idea of productivity. Let’s throw away all our excess “inspo” obsessions and Instagram worthy “tea and yoga” morning routines. Instead, a personalized lifestyle breakdown, workaround, and solution strategy for motivation addiction is what we’re looking at today.
High achievers do not rely on motivation and neither should you. Or rather, let me put it this way - high achievers do not rely on other people or extraneous mood boosters to get tasks done. High efficiency productivity habit making is a lot like running. You’re going to hate it at first. There will be roadblocks every which way to maneuver and failures to learn from. In due time (three weeks on average) you will be performing tasks at high efficiency, and yes, your mood will lift and make way for organic motivation into your work day.
Why is Motivation an Addiction?
Motivation is not what you desire. What you desire is happiness and not any ordinary happiness. More so, a hyper-focused feeling of unattainable elation. This unrealistic happiness is addictive. Ironically, motivation addiction can create complex forks in the road for goals of which should be clear and simple to achieve. For someone chasing inspiration, it is a task in itself that must be accomplished before anything else - a task that we know isn’t real or attainable. Our brains are simple. We want to get tasks done in order to feel accomplished. When tasks are not accomplished or the outcome is below average, we become disappointed and tasks going forward may suffer as a result.
Practicing stoicism will relieve the inevitable disappointment conundrum, but those starting their journey into high efficiency productivity are more likely to succumb to these negative feelings which turn into a stronger desire for motivation and so on and so forth. It’s a viscous cycle. Me simply telling you to stop being hard on yourself, pick your head up and get to work isn’t going to be effective - I know that from experience. Instead, let’s get right into it.
Two Popular Causes And Solutions For Motivation Addiction
Unclear Goals: Goals, both short-term and long-term should be clear, simple and have achievable steps. This sounds fairly straight forward, but believe me, it’s easy to get caught up in a fantasy world during the brainstorming process. BE REALISTIC!
Goal setting is picking out the blank canvas. Every layer of paint is simply one-color-to-one-stroke. The colors mix and layers build over time into a one of a kind masterpiece. Let time mold your endeavor and be patient. Do not outline and proceed to play color by number. Give yourself room for failure and creative flexibility.
Daily to-do list: Each task should be no more than 8 words with minimal prepositions ie. Take out trash … Make healthy vegan dinner … Go to park with dogs … Finish train illustration … Update website. These daily goals build to weekly goals set at the beginning of the week. Try not to plan more than 10 days in advance.
Medium goal roadmap: I don’t suggest creating extensive roadmaps to achieve large goals because they are rather restrictive. If the goal requires some major sub-goals to achieve, however, get them on paper into something like a spider chart. Tackle each medium goal one at a time and try your best to avoid multi-tasking.
Poor Organization: Environment is important. In fact, it may be the most important mood booster for anyone going cold-turkey on unhealthy motivation seeking. Like I said before, motivation is a misnomer. It is really a desire for elation and focus. If your environment is messy, if your desk is cluttered, dishes are not cleaned, important documents are scattered and notes are not neatly filed, tackling daunting tasks become more daunting.
More importantly, replace your desire to acquire third-party mood-boosters with a healthy habit that correlates directly with the work day tasks.
Set the scene: If product research is first on the to-do list tell yourself this: “I need a clean notebook on the table, a sharp pencil, a cup of coffee, a clean office and tabs ready on my browser before sitting down.” This task isn’t mindless, directly correlates with your work and can be an effective mood booster.
Notepad: Always keep an easy-access handwritten notepad nearby. This can be used to jot down to do lists. It is important to visualize everything. To-do list apps are great but don’t have the visual component that a physical pad provides.
Clean desktop: If working on a computer and the distraction-free apps aren’t helpful due to what your work requires ie. social media management, clean the files on your desktop at the very least. If you don’t already have a folder system, create one. Throw up a new desktop picture while you’re at it. Give yourself a clean slate and a new desktop to look at.
Visualizing the Anatomy of Motivation
The big picture. Task completion is very linear and not nearly as complicated as our brains make most things seem to be. Here’s where motivation infests our thinking and when we need to tackle it.
First of all, this is what we think motivation is: Create urgency, seek motivation, do tasks, success!
This is what motivation actually looks like: Do tasks with urgency, success, motivation unlocked for next task!
Procrastination is the culprit for our perceived idea of motivation. If you look at the first timeline, you’ll see “Tackle TO-DO” sitting one notch before success. We are doing too many unnecessary steps to get to the part we don’t particularly enjoy. The idea of the task is exciting, urgency results and turns into a desire to match urgency with drive. Getting the motivation produces an adrenaline rush, and so the hard part becomes easy to tackle. Boom-bam-done. Success! This rarely ever goes as planned. Trust me. Here are a few reasons why:
Motivation isn’t real and cannot be achieved by any consistent measure other than immediate task completion.
Urgency in this regard only creates high-expectations and with unrealistic goals brews unneeded anxiety.
Prone to high levels of disappointment which leads to poor quality in future tasks.
Also encourages criticizing motivation strategies over quality of tasks.
If by chance the first model pans out as planned even one time, that success is held in high regard and used as an aggressor against someone with low confidence. It is not the model or ingrained routine that is wrong, it is me. I am a failure. You are not at fault for everything - even procrastination. Look at the big picture as much as you can. Tackle weak areas and make small changes. Do not burn everything down and start over (I’m looking at you, past me).
It’s also very easy to tell ourselves to complete a task before seeking motivation but doing it is an entirely different monster. The easiest way to approach daunting tasks is to make every action pleasurable rather than finding pleasure in order to complete the task. There are two ways to approach this re-evaluation of difficult tasks.
Target the task and/or Target the outcome
Target the task: The preferred target
Make it a game: A popular approach that I used in school a lot. By the way, this is especially useful for students or individuals faced with repetitive and similar to-dos every week. You can get creative with it. The ground rules are simple. Pick an attainable data reference ie. time doing task, number of sales after task, number of paragraphs written in half an hour - and try to one up yourself going forward.
Reward-based: Another popular strategy especially for those prone to low mood. When a task is complete, get a reward. Remember, however, the reward you set should be something you really want (that’s not horribly unhealthy, of course). This approach requires some level of self-control which can improve focus.
Target the outcome: The secondary target
Make goals clear: Again, goals should be attainable and easy to understand. There should be no holes in the big picture. The smaller components of your goal, however, should be rather flexible. Try to keep an eye on the big picture while you tackle the to-do. Also, keep in mind that the big picture may change as time progresses and that’s okay! Keep the changes in mind and keep re-evaluating. Is the goal still in-line with the original idea? If not, why is that? Have you lost touch with the big picture and strayed away? Is this creating problems or making way for better opportunities? It’s up to you to figure this out. For the most part, try to stay consistent and stick to a simple big picture that can withstand changes within it without altering the goal entirely.
What Is Urgency And How Do I Implement It Properly?
Tackling a to-do list with urgency is tricky. This step is crucial for high efficiency productivity and can only be used correctly depending on your unique situation. I’m going to use writing a school thesis as an example.
Goal: Andrea wants to get an above average grade on her thesis paper.
Time allowed: 8 months.
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult.
Time required to complete: Roughly 25 full work days (9-5)
Small steps to completion: Initial research and topic brainstorming, Prep interviews, Conduct interviews, Cross-reference research, Outline thesis, Draft #1, Peer review, Re-evaluate thesis, Draft #2, Office hours with professor, Re-evaluate thesis, Draft #3, Peer review, Final draft. (Not including possible re-writes that require a hard reset on the entire process)
Fourteen steps is rather daunting to visualize and 8 months can be easily misconstrued as an excessive time limit to accomplish something that only takes 20-30 days to complete. Here is where the procrastination bug is introduced and motivation addiction is riding right alongside it. There’s a reason why a lot of students pull all-nighters. When I was in college I heard this a lot: I work better under pressure so I usually wait until the last minute. This isn’t a false statement. It’s proven to be true, in fact. People work better under pressure. Not sleeping properly isn’t good but having an urgent and strict deadline is hugely beneficial. Now, the real question is how do we harness this urgency and the quality it produces without pulling the all-nighter or compromising our health? This requires some trickery on the brain.
Here are a couple ways to create urgency that isn’t already there:
Do the opposite of a reward-based approach: Instead of rewarding yourself with a positive reinforcement, setup a not-so-fun “punishment” if the task is not completed. Don’t be too hard on yourself but make sure the outcome is annoying enough to want to avoid. For instance, offer your friend $100 if you do not complete the task.
Setup deadlines: Reasonable and smart deadlines are effective, but remember that it isn’t easy as an entrepreneur to follow deadlines not imposed by some kind of authority figure. It is possible however to make this work. Try to get a feel of how long it takes to complete a particular action when time is not a concern. Now, cut back 1/3rd of that time and create some urgency!
Order Tasks To Optimize Productivity
Lastly, let’s discuss how to approach tasks and where to start. It’s all well and good to get right into the to-do list without any extraneous prep or motivation seeking but procrastination doesn’t end there. It can creep into everything. For instance, how we order our tasks can stall productivity. Here is a popular and inefficient to-do strategy that is commonly used:
Answering emails first: Similarly to seeking motivation, doing the easy tasks first is another form of mood-boosting with quick fix task completion. The success! can be just as addictive as motivation, and if the task is easy that feeling is attained right away. Referencing the second motivation model from earlier, this sounds like a nice trick to triggering motivation. It isn’t that easy. Motivation to write a thesis paper isn’t going to stem from emails or making your planner cute for the week.
How I organize my to do list: First of all, I make sure tasks do not exceed 3-5 major actions, 1 of which is difficult, 1-2 of which are medium difficulty and 1-2 of which are easy.
A bit controversial, but I do not start my day with the most difficult task. I have a few theories for this but the major reason is simple. I’m not a morning person. Doing a medium difficulty task generates the motivation for my big to-do. And as always, save the easy tasks for the end of the day. Have your cup of coffee and use that energy right away then wind down the afternoon with email answering and general admin.
* Note: The best times of the day to check emails is at 11am (before lunch) and to answer them at 4pm (before ending the work day)