Get Yourself Moving to Get Things Done

March 6, 2018


Writing a to do list

If you’re like most admins and assistants, you have comprehensive schedules and lengthy “to do” lists. We’re really good at listing what needs to be done, so why is it that we sometimes have trouble getting motivated to act? Before we explore how to overcome inertia, avoidance and procrastination, let’s address a few surprising misconceptions about getting motivated.

First, it is generally thought that the most productive people are those who get started on projects or tasks right away and finish early. However, some people are deadline driven, not task driven, and can be just as productive—sometimes with higher quality results. Second, we often hear from experts that we should strive for a positive attitude. While it is true that optimism can help us get more done, it is also true that negative emotions can motivate us. All of our feelings have a strong impact on our ability to get things done. We think when we plan but feelings motivate us to act.

Mary Lamia, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, a professor at the Wright Institute at Berkeley, and the author of What Motivates Getting Things Done: Procrastination, Emotions, and Success explores both these ideas in her book.

Task Versus Deadline Motivations

Task-driven people are motivated to get tasks off their plate; deadline-driven people feel extra planning and exploration create better results and are motivated by deadlines. We are talking here about procrastinators who nevertheless DO bring projects and tasks in on time. Lamia doesn’t see either approach as better than the other; the goal is to use your style to its best effect.

However, colleagues with these different motivational styles can encounter challenges when working together and clash based on when something gets done. Task-driven people often don’t trust a deadline-driven coworker to complete something or to do a good job when the deadline is upon them. On the other hand, task-driven people can submit work that needs further revision. (They are motivated to get something off their plate as soon as possible.) Task-driven people may assume their deadline-driven partners will forget to do something and so they issue reminders or, resentfully, do it themselves. A deadline-driven partner is likely to be offended by constant reminders since he or she usually knows what must be done and how long it will take. In close working relationships, it is important to recognize the impact of each other’s style and be upfront about differences.

Negative Emotions as a Motivator

There is no doubt that optimism can help us succeed because either we anticipate feeling proud or satisfied or because we are excited by the task. But it is also true that many people are motivated to avoid or relieve emotions like worry, anxiety, shame or stress. While the fear of failure may paralyze some, many successful people use negative emotions as fuel to get the job done.

It is common to consciously or subconsciously fear that we will not perform well—that we will be embarrassed. This worry and anxiety create stress immediately for those who are task-driven, and is in the back of the minds of deadline-driven people until they were motivated by a deadline. Worry and anxiety are most often discussed by productivity experts as emotions that cloud the thinking and get in the way. However, in her book, Mary Lamia takes the position that they can focus your attention and energize you. The key is to recognize your emotions and use them as fuel to perform.

So, how to we sidestep avoidance and procrastination? How do we harness our stress? Read on.

The #1 Tool Successful People Use to Make Things Happen

Some people can apply their skills get things done, and others struggle. Having clear priorities is the foundation of success. The most productive people have a clear sense of which tasks and projects are the most important. You cannot just collect a list of what needs to be done; you must put those items in the order of greatest importance and work to the priorities every day.

The ability to establish and communicate priorities is as important for highly productive teams as it is for individuals. Confusion about what the goals and priority tasks are or which actions come first is the root of most team miscommunication when working on projects. It is critical that all team members share a common understanding of goals and priorities. 

18 Actions to Help You Get Going

  1. Focus on starting not on finishing. Beginning something can be half the distance to completion. Take the first step or commit to a certain amount of time on a task. Once you take action, your motivation usually kicks in.
  2. Break it down. A big project will seem less overwhelming if you take it I steps—and even identify pieces that can be done in 20-minute chunks.
  3. Give progress its due. Progress is a powerful motivator—celebrate your successes and give as much thought to your progress as you would to setbacks.
  4. End the day with a clean and organized workspace.
  5. Ask for a deadline when asked to take something on with no end date.
  6. Shake it off. Schedule frequent, brief breaks…get up, stretch and walk around. Complete a different 5-minute task.
  7. Use a weekly prioritized to-do list as the basis for your daily to-do list.
  8. Ditch the cat videos. And, batch your email responses. We all know what a time suck social media and emails can be.
  9. Challenge yourself to get something done within a certain amount of time. Create a time crunch by interjecting other tasks that you also want to get done within a certain time frame.
  10. Incentivize yourself to take action by telling others what you intend to do and by when.
  11. Surround yourself with motivated, successful and productive colleagues. Who you interact with can impact who you are at work.
  12. You are the most important tool—keep yourself sharp. Remember that sleep is a priority as well—don’t use “getting things done” as an excuse not to sleep enough, exercise enough or eat healthily.
  13. Push aside thoughts of trying to extend a deadline or withdraw from a project.
  14. When stress or worry emerge, view the emotions as a tool for focus and a sign of energy coming your way. If you find yourself feeling negative about your work situation, put those aside and promise yourself to think about it once the task is complete.
  15. Reward yourself. Consider what the rewards of a job well done will be. Those rewards can be up to 75% of our motivation. Go further and build in small rewards for completing steps along the way.
  16. Are you a perfectionist? Let it go. Perfectionism breeds procrastination. Focus on getting a draft done; then, go back and edit/revise.
  17. Monitor your self-talk. Switch thoughts about what you must/should/have to do. Replace those with thoughts about what you choose to/want to/will do.
  18. Find a few quotes or pictures that help you stay motivated and focused. Keep them in your line of sight.

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