By Dr. Eugene Brink
Work will never be completely easy and fun, but some days you are just way more psyched to get going with the mountain of labour you must conquer. One of the dilemmas of the human condition is that motivation levels ebb and flow constantly, but not your workload.
“I just don’t feel like working!” is a common refrain heard in workplaces throughout the world. So how do we get going when we truly don’t feel like it? Before we get to the solution to this omnipresent problem, it is useful to conceive of why we tend to procrastinate.
Social psychologist Dr Heidi Grant outlines several reasons why we tend to look at work with a jaundiced eye before we even start.
The first is that we are afraid we will screw it up. “There are two ways to look at any task. You can do something because you see it as a way to end up better off than you are now – as an achievement or accomplishment. As in, if I complete this project successfully I will impress my boss. Psychologists call this a promotion focus – and research shows that when you have one, you are motivated by the thought of making gains, and work best when you feel eager and optimistic.
“Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, if you are afraid you will screw up on the task in question, this is not the focus for you. Anxiety and doubt undermine promotion motivation, leaving you less likely to take any action at all.”
Grant says what you need is a way of looking at what you need to do that isn’t undermined by doubt – ideally, one that thrives on it. “When you have a prevention focus, instead of thinking about how you can end up better off, you see the task as a way to hang on to what you’ve already got – to avoid loss.”
The second reason is a familiar one that should resonate with most of us: You are putting things off because you don’t “feel” like doing it. Nothing is preventing us from working or getting out of bed, we simply don’t want to do it.
Lastly, we postpone work because it is hard, boring or unpleasant.
Luckily, these challenges can be overcome with a little effort and some asceticism. Lifehack blogger Rashelle Isip says one must make plans to reward yourself when you complete a project. This ties in with the promotion focus mentioned by Grant.
“Many of the most prolific artists, writers, and innovators have become so in part because of their reliance on work routines that forced them to put in a certain number of hours a day, no matter how uninspired (or, in many instances, hungover) they might have felt.”
She reminds us of renowned artist Chuck Close’s observation: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Clean up and tidy your desk and take some time to get everything ready for the work to begin because order, in most cases anyway, is beauty. “Unless you thrive in messy conditions, take a few minutes at the beginning of your day to clean up. Bonus points if you wipe down your desk and keyboard after doing this,” writes talent manager and blogger Richard Moy. Isip says we should file away those “file folders that are lying around your desk, recycle papers you no longer need, delete old emails, organise your office supplies, clean out your office cabinet and so on”.
Also, switch on your computer before making yourself a nice cup of coffee or tea and starting.
Use “if-then planning” to get the job done. “Making an if-then plan is more than just deciding what specific steps you need to take to complete a project – it’s also deciding where and when you will take them. For example, if my boss doesn’t mention my request for a raise at our meeting, then I will bring it up again before the meeting ends.
“By deciding in advance exactly what you’re going to do, and when and where you’re going to do it, there’s no deliberating when the time comes.”
Most of us dread the thought of working for hours on end. Hence, it is advisable that you take sufficient and regular breaks during work so that you have something to look forward to before you even start. And finally, do something enjoyable whilst working, such as listening to music you enjoy. That way something laborious is more enjoyable.
Heidi Grant, 14 February 2014, “How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don’t Want To”, https://hbr.org/2014/02/how-to-make-yourself-work-when-you-just-dont-want-to.
Rashelle Isip, n.d., “Those Who Don’t Feel Like Working Will Become More Productive After Reading This”, https://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/12-ways-still-productive-when-you-dont-feel-like-working.html.
Richard Moy, 2018, “5 Things You Should Throw Out Now Instead of Doing Work”, https://www.themuse.com/advice/5-things-you-should-throw-out-now-instead-of-doing-work.