motivation: all you need to know
December 16, 2019

Productivity

Live to work or work to live. Part 2. Motivation: how to deal with unpleasant tasks

By Alexander Sergeev

If you skipped our previous part, you can find it here: 1. Rest: how not to become a “dray-horse”.

No matter how we like our work, some of our tasks are quite difficult and not always pleasant. How to “motivate” yourself to perform such tasks? How to get “involved” in a complex task and spend less strength and energy?

“Anchors” for the effective integration into work

How to get involved in the work, so as not to waste, sorting stuff and not finding the energy to take up the important tasks?

In psychology, there is a good concept of “anchor”. It is something, which is associated with a certain emotional state (music, color, word, movement, ritual). If you want to get “involved” into the problem, you “switch on” the right anchor and introduce yourself in the corresponding emotional state.

The most frequently used “anchor” is music. Try to choose different music for different types of tasks. On the way to tough negotiations – hard rock, when you set up the intellectual work – quiet music without words when having rest – something most favorite and enjoyable, etc.

Another good “anchor” is technical, “rough” work. As painters say, “sharpen pencils before sketching”. Simple technical matters help to tune in difficult work.

Be careful: if you have chosen an “anchor”, you should use it only for a single purpose, not “switching it on” in other circumstances. If, for example, your “anchor” is coffee, and suddenly on vacation you drink a cup of coffee – you send your subconscious the signal “Now we have to work!”. The rest becomes less effective. Similarly, while relaxing do not listen to music that is your “anchor” for the job.

Delay performing of complex tasks

“Anchors” help to easier change between periods of rest and work. The next question is how to get involved in the task, if it is sufficiently complex and intensive? The more complex task we perform, the higher level of “involvement” is needed to work on it.

To spend less time and effort on delaying performing complex tasks helps the “method of Swiss cheese”. Try not to perform the task in a logical order, but randomly “biting off” small pieces from different places – the most simple, pleasant etc. For example, when preparing a report, you can first choose illustrations, write a couple of most simple and understandable paragraphs, etc. After some time there will be so many holes in your “cheese” that it will be quite easy to “eat it up”.

Another way to spend less effort when working on complex tasks is “intermediate joy”. Divide your job into several stages and assign yourself a small reward for completing each step. For example, “take a bite of chocolate for every 2 written pages”. These rewards can be quite small, but it is important that they are immediate. As a rule, “small pleasures” for every stage motivate better than the realization of future long-term results. Such small rewards will make the most complex work more pleasant and allow you to execute it in a shorter time.

Liquidation of small unpleasant tasks

Some things in our life may require little time, but are quite unpleasant. For example, to call an unfriendly customer, call a plumber, ask the boss for a salary increase, etc. In time management such tasks are called “frogs”. “Frogs” are often long-delayed and can escalate into big trouble solving which you’ll have to spend a lot of hours.

Major unpleasant task is easier to solve, breaking it into many small “frogs”. Spaniards have a saying: “Every morning, eat a frog”. Indeed, starting the day with one eaten “frog”, you’ll be cheerful and joyful all day long. You won’t have to worry about the rest “frogs” – they are left for the next days. Conversely, if you don’t eat a “frog” in the morning – you’ll think about it all day long and it will poison your life.

Segmentation of major problems

The further the deadline of a problem and the harder it is – the more difficult it is to force yourself to execute it. It is especially true for very large problems, which in terms of time management are called “elephants”. For example:

  • Develop a business plan;
  • Repair the house;
  • Learn a foreign language ;
  • Improve physical fitness.

The only way of dealing with such “global” problems is to “eat an elephant” – cut it into small “steaks” and eat one “steak” a day. It is important to cut the “elephant” into such “steaks”, that really bring you closer to have the “elephant” eaten.

For example, learning English. Possible “steaks”: to learn several words a week, to see several movies in this language, to communicate with native speakers on the internet forums for a couple of hours. But not “study grammar” – it can be studied endlessly, not improving language skills.

Personal rewards and punishments

To segment the unpleasant things and divide them into “steaks” is not enough. It is desirable to create extra motivation for regular eating of these “steaks”.

The first and the easiest way, long known to mankind is a “carrot and stick” approach. Here is an example. You promise yourself to perform several task during one week. If you manage to perform them, you allow yourself to spend a huge sum of money on shopping. If you fail, you go shopping with a much smaller amount of money. This is both carrot and stick.

A more sophisticated way is to begin to quantify your results. For example, mark the number of English words learned daily. It’s also possible to measure not only the results but also the amount of time spent on an “elephant problem”. It doesn’t matter whether you measure the results or the time, you should daily fix these quantitative indicators. Fixing itself is pushing for action in the right direction. Just start to consider the amount of time needed for the unpleasant task – and it starts solving quickly.

Finally, it is sometimes useful to put yourself into the “area of death”. Ancient Chinese generals said: “To ensure victory, put the soldiers into the death area – burn the ships”. For example, give a public commitment like French President Charles de Gaulle, who came to the reception and publicly declared: “From now on I, General de Gaulle, quit smoking”.

The “area of death” can be, in particular, time trouble – a tough situation with a lack of time. Some people intuitively feel that they perform the most effective in time trouble and artificially drive themselves in such a situation. There is nothing wrong with that, but to reduce your risks and improve the quality of results, we recommend to replace big time trouble with a few small ones. For example, use a major “area of death” as the deadline for submission of the product to the customer, and a smaller one as a project meeting with the General Director.

Table of daily affairs

An easy way to consolidate all your “elephants” and “frogs” and to motivate yourself to perform the required tasks every day is to make a table of regular tasks. Hang the table on a desk or put it in your organizer. You should be able to see it several times a day.

Next to the table it is useful to write down some “intermediate joys”. For example, the list of pleasant non-urgent purchase and agree with yourself: “For every next 15 tasks performed I’ll buy the next nice thing”. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll began to move your long-term tasks.

Motivation calendar

It looks as follows: the past years are on the top of the calendar, the future years are at the bottom. You take a pencil and cross out the past years one by one. Then cross out the past days and months of the current year.

Every morning before work cross out half of the present day. In the evening cross out the second half. Keep a calendar in a prominent place and often look at it. Thus, you materialize time and every day you feel that it passes by. Believe, the effect is huge.

The second step in creating a personal TM system

Master techniques of getting “involved” to perform complex and unpleasant tasks and to reduce time spent on them.

Summary of recommendations:

  • Use the “anchors” for setting on the various tasks and recreation;
  • Use the “method of Swiss cheese”;
  • Eat at least one “frog” a day;
  • Cut the “elephants” into the “steaks”;
  • Reward yourself by the “intermediaries pleasures”;
  • Create a table of daily affairs, with a list of awards for its performance;
  • Create a motivation calendar.

Stay with us and check our next post Live to work or work to live. Part 3. Objectives: how to bring dreams to reality.

 

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