If you’re like most administrative, executive and personal assistants, you have comprehensive schedules and lengthy To-Do lists. There’s a point in adulthood where we all get 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. Could that be you?
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 and stay motivated, it is also true that negative emotions can motivate us. Sometimes, we are motivated to avoid failure or looking bad in the eyes of others.
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. To summarize her thinking about these concepts:
Task Versus Deadline Motivations
Task-driven people are motivated to complete things as soon as possible; deadline-driven people feel extra planning and exploration create better results and are motivated by deadlines. We are not talking here about procrastinators whose consistently miss deadlines, we are talking about those 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, be aware that colleagues with different motivational styles can encounter challenges when working together, and even clash because 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 it will helpful to 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. Productivity experts typically see worry and anxiety as emotions that cloud the thinking and get in the way. However, Lamia asserts that they can actually focus your attention and energize you. The key is to recognize your emotions and use them as fuel to perform.
So, how do we sidestep avoidance and procrastination? How do we harness our stress?
The #1 Tool Successful People Use to Make Things Happen
Some people can apply their skills to get things done without much difficulty, while others struggle. Those struggles may be rooted in their difficulty with setting priorities. Clear priorities are the foundation of success. The most productive people have a solid sense of which tasks and projects are the most important. A list of tasks isn’t effective if there isn’t an understanding of which are of greatest importance. Without that, how do you decide how to work through your list each day?
If you are leading a team or part of a team, communication also becomes essential. The ability to establish and communicate priorities is critical for teams to become highly productive and perform well. Confusion about what the goals and priority tasks are, or which actions come first, is the root of most team frustration when working on projects. All team members must share a common understanding of goals and priorities.
15 Tips to Kick into High Gear
Most adult learners absorb things best visually in lists, so let’s look at 15 tips to help you tackle motivation, productivity, and performance.
About the Author
Heidi Souerwine, CMP, is the Executive Director of ASAP and manages content strategy for ASAP and its portfolio of products, including the APC, EA Summit, EA Ignite, and PACE. Prior to moving to Maine and joining the ASAP team in 2017, she spent 15 years in Washington, DC managing training and events from 10 – 10,000 attendees for international membership associations, non-profits, and the federal government. Heidi is passionate about needs-based program development, purposeful event design, and cultivating active community and engagement.