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If you’ve ever spent more time talking yourself into doing something than it actually took to complete the task, you know how hard self-motivation can be. Whether it’s procrastination, distraction, or disinterest, the struggle can be real. Fortunately, there are some tricks that can help get you moving.
Science-backed principles of persuasion can be the push you need to get stuff done, says New York Times best-selling author Daniel Pink, who teaches a MasterClass on persuasion and sales.
“Self-motivation has a new urgency in the pandemic when time is so distorted,” he says. “So many of us are missing cues and structure found in a typical workplace. Anything small you can use to get yourself going can be super useful.”
If you’re feeling stuck, try one of these five simple tricks:
1. Just five more
When you’re trying to persuade someone to do something, one tactic is to make it simple. “You’re not trying to change their mind, you’re making it easy for them to say ‘yes,'” says Pink.
Use this technique on yourself by agreeing to just do five more. Not only is it simple, it gives you an in-sight offramp to do just a little more. For example, make five more calls, read five more pages, or send five emails.
“In many cases, 80% of the problem is getting started,” says Pink. “By making that initial step easy, you’re not trying to change your mind; you’re doing what you need to get started and you’ll likely build the momentum to do a lot more.”
2. Set interim goals
Setting goals is how many of us achieve the things we desire most, but goals can also be daunting when they’re big, like writing a book. Persuade yourself to get moving by setting smaller, interim goals, such as writing a chapter every week.
“Long-term goals don’t motivate,” says Pink. “They can be too much—something you can’t wrap your head around—and cause you to freak out. Goals that are easier to accomplish can be motivating. When you see the end of something, you kick harder to get to the finish line.”
3. Make a public commitment
Posting an intention on social media can also be motivating. “This has to do with the behavioral science that watched people are nice people,” says Pink. “A public commitment is like being watched. You don’t want to lose face or look bad.”
To work, the public commitment persuasion tactic has to involve specific goal setting. You can’t just proclaim you’re going to write a book or run a marathon.
“If one has never written book, for example, it won’t be effective,” says Pink. “Provide a timeframe, such as a finishing a chapter this week. Smaller and more specific is better than large and general announcements.”
4. Take breaks
Another trick for getting more done is to take a break. The brain and body are not meant to work nonstop, says Pink.
“For whatever weird reason, we have the idea that powering through is the best way to get stuff done and a sign of our own virtue,” he says. “We’ve got it upside down and believe amateurs take breaks and pros don’t. Athletes know that taking breaks is not a deviation from performance but is part of performance.”
Your drive to get more done would increase if you would simply take a walk outside every afternoon. “Go out for five- or ten-minute walks with someone you like talking about something other than work,” says Pink. “Suddenly, whatever you were banging your head about will resolve itself.”
5. Set deadlines
Having a looming deadline can be a good motivator for committing to action. You can set them yourself or leverage deadlines given to you by a manager or coworker.
“Deadlines help turn an abstract into something concrete, instead of a dull nagging to do something,” says Pink. “Deadlines also provide the power of endings. It helps when you see the finish line.”
However, Pink cautions against using deadlines if you’re engaged in divergent thinking that requires greater creativity. They can inhibit your performance instead of enhancing it. In addition, if a deadline is too severe, it can deaden your intrinsic motivation.
With so many of us working from home during the pandemic, the structure and time signals of traditional workday are gone. Having some tricks up your sleeve that can help you motivate yourself can be an important tool for boosting your productivity and reducing your stress.