How To... avoid procrastination and self motivate

by - Monday, October 13, 2014


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It's a truth universally known that motivation can come and go at the oddest of times. Some days I hop out of bed, easy as anything, nailing five items on my to-do list and reeling off 1,000 perfectly expressed words before I've even cracked out the Wheetabix. Other days, it's a struggle to break up with my pillow and I find myself languishing on the sofa, wondering why I'm watching my fifth episode of the Real Housewives when I have so much I could be doing.

The last three months of my life have been a combination of the two extremes. Somewhat bummed out by the perpetuate depression-fest that is the post-graduation job hunt, days and weeks often passed me by where I felt like I hadn't really achieved anything. Freelance work kept me busy occasionally, but it is only now, my last weekend before I start a full time job, that I realise I really didn't make the best of my three months off, because, quite frankly, I allowed myself to get lazy. In some respects I deserved a break and I'm grateful for the time spent making sensible decisions about my next career move, but I do wish I'd maybe complained about being bored a little less and actually indulged a little more in my personal projects whilst I had the time.

But I digress. If I have learnt anything recently, it's that motivation can be taught. It's all about getting into the right head space, the right routine and the right surroundings. Whether you're trying to decide your next career move, want to better your blog or are trying to improve your study skills, here are a few tips that will hopefully help you dig deep for that long forgotten extra kick of inspiration.

Work with your productive ebbs and flows
I learnt a long time ago that I am NOT a morning person. Working in a creative field, my best content or new project ideas nearly always comes to me in the evenings, and so I keep a notebook by my bed at all times for this very reason. Inspiration can strike at the oddest of times, so utilise your phone notes to jot down 'to do' points or new ideas before you forget them. Having something written down that you can act on the next morning is a great way of helping you sleep too - no more lying awake, mulling over your latest brainwave if you know it is safely stored, ready to address tomorrow.

Make lists
There is nothing, I repeat, nothing, more motivating than making a list. There can be a million things swirling round in your head, but something about having them put down on paper seems to instantly make them more manageable and less stressful. It's the best possible method for memory retention too - as a student, downloading the lecture slides is often the time saving way to go, but it never really sinks in quite as well as writing it out in your own words.

A long to-do list can be daunting, so be kind to yourself - always start a new list with a task you've already completed or can complete very quickly (i.e wake up, shower) ,giving you one satisfying tick almost instantaneously. It sounds silly, but this sort of visible progress can be a great motivator.

Mindmap goals
Very often, procrastination comes from a place of not really knowing what you want, or feeling overwhelmed by big tasks that need prioritising. My advice? Make a mind map. Looking for a new job or course? Write down all the things you enjoy doing, the skill sets you possess, and the places you might apply. Planning a new creative direction for your blog? Draw out your key inspirations, favourite colours and topics all on one visual spider. Much like making a list, having your ambitions played out on one sheet of paper makes them seem far more achievable, and can be pinned up somewhere if you find yourself having a wobble of confidence.

Start early
If there is a task that needs to be done by a certain date, start it as soon as humanly possible. It doesn't mean it needs to be completed early, it just means you can get in the right state of mind in plenty of time to give the task the holistic consideration it needs. Been given an essay or presentation question that's due in 6 weeks? Spend the first two reading around the topic, jotting down thoughts or questions as they occur to you. Begin to write only when you know you understand the core ideas, leaving at least one week to step away, before proof reading or rehearsing. The same goes for creative projects or redesigns - take them one facet at a time, and make sure you've got a solid grounding in research before you start getting practical. When you've had a brainwave it's easy to act impulsively, but a more considered approach will always mean results that you're likely to stand by months down the line.

Tidy environment, tidy mind
I'm the absolute worst for working from bed, but unless you're genuinely ill, it's not the way to go. There's nothing wrong with being cosy whilst you work, but make sure you're sat in an alert position, ideally at a desk in a room with minimal distractions. I work best with some music or TV playing low in the background, but I always make sure it's something I'm unlikely to want to watch intensively - I recommend the radio or music channels that aren't tailored to your specific music taste. If there are boring chores like tidying or washing up that need doing, do them first. That way, you can't be tempted in doing them later as a distraction.

Work office hours 
As a freelancer or someone who studies/works from home, days can feel incredibly long and lonely if you're lacking motivation. Try and train yourself into regular office hours, including a lunch break. Whether it be revision, answering emails or a string of longer, more mundane tasks, you'll be surprised at how much you'll get done when you know that five o'clock is your 'knocking off' time. After five, take time to relax, reflect on your day and make a list of tasks for your next 'day at the office'. Make sure you speak to real people too - feeling like you have a sensible social life/work balance is a great way of sharpening your focus when you do have to get stuff done.

If it isn't working, let it go
Perhaps contradictory to my previous point, but there will be days where for whatever reason, your work ethic just isn't sparking. If this is the exception and not the rule, try not to be too hard on yourself. Try something else for an hour, and then come back to the task. This point is especially pertinent when it comes to blogging or creative writing - it's far better to put 3 posts out a week instead of five if it means the quality is higher, or if it's a topic that you're truly passionate about rather than filler you're churning out because you feel like you have to.


My last piece of advice? It's this simple:


Word.

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