On: Motivation

For me motivation is a big word with lots of scary responsibilities attached. Real life responsibilities like not hiding in a blanket fort watching Suits and caring about things like deadlines and getting things done.

The irony about procrastination is that the things I am avoiding doing are things I actually want to do; write to express myself, learn a new skill, improve my editing, find that news story. It’s just the motivation I lack. And I don’t know how to find it so the best call of action is to hole up and wait til it finds me again.

Motivation conjures up images of me, head down, working furiously as my tea cools forgotten, by my elbow. But it also conjures up days where I have to bully myself out of bed and instead of typing at my desk I sit back with my best friend Netflix missing each 13 second opportunity between episodes to rejoin the real world.

I’ve watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk where she outlines how it is unhealthy to think of inspiration and genius as coming from the individual. She maintains it creates an atmosphere of pressure within the writer (in my case) when things are going badly and an inflated ego when things are going well. She suggests harking back to the Roman idea of attributing inspiration to the “Muses”; god like beings who whisper sweet nothings of beauty into their chosen vessel.

Gilbert, of Eat Pray Love fame, chooses this approach in the interest of the mental health of the writer. It means you cant take too much credit when you succeed and when you fail it just means the muses weren't visiting that day/month/year.

I found this approach very novel and interesting but I’m not sure my ego could let me get away with it in times of success.

I would rather take this approach and apply it to motivation.

This, taken as it is, could be quite a damaging approach to getting work done. But on the other hand, so is berating yourself each and every night for not getting enough done during the day. For not making your word-count, for not being good enough, for not hitting that imaginary standard bar in your head.

Motivation for me is something best harnessed under pressure. I think I am the sort of person who is either on or off. I always have a little something percolating in the back of my head but the motivation to get it out or to do something about it is changeable.

I work best around a schedule and to deadline. When I have a million things to do I get at least half of them done and done to a satisfactory level. Conversely, when I have nothing to do and loads of time to do it in, time just slips through my fingers like sand made of Netflix and Imgur and crappy daytime TV.

I find it very hard to keep to a schedule unless I have work to go to or appointments or people to see. I work badly in uncertainty. If you gave me a thousand years to write a book I would get it all done in year 999 and would be working on the very last day.

I excuse this behavior by telling myself that ideas percolate best when you aren't looking at them but eventually you realize that you have to stop looking away and get down to work.

The older I get the more I realize it is up to me to put myself in the head-space for motivation to strike. It is up to me to get up in the morning, make my tea and get a start on the day.

Now this sounds all fine and dandy but real life has a way of defeating even the best made plans. And “tomorrow” is the imaginary world where all goals are accomplished.

Recently I have been battling the gods of procrastination and have been winning. Not through sheer force of effort, which was the approach I used to take, but through certain tricks:

Instead of swimming round in an unnamed pool of tasks and responsibilities set up a list of clear cut tasks to do today. So when one is accomplished I can hang tight to my motivation by looking at the list and seeing what is next up for completion.

I am a huge fan of Quora and I recently came across a great post by Jim Wagner in a question about “things I can learn in 10 mins or less that will help with life”. There are like thirty thousand answers but Wagner posted his life organisation method.

It was about having a page of tasks and notes for each day so instead of the day being filled with unclear, insurmountable obstacles that make you want to to crawl back into bed, you have 7/8 (for me usually) clear tasks to do and notes about how they went or further things you need to do on them. This means your next days tasks are taken from your notes of the previous day and whatever else you want to do. Its simple and easy.

And it does help.

The post taught me that if you turn up and do something, anything at all, each day, you will very quickly start to accomplish things. For serial procrastinators like myself this is a very powerful message.

Turning up and trying is at least three quarters of the battle. If you are doing this, don't be so hard on yourself. You are doing ok. The trick is to just keep doing it.

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