• | 8:23 am

3 simple strategies to motivate yourself to get something done

Are you procrastinating tackling a certain task? It probably falls into one of these categories.

[Source photo: Hans Neleman/Getty Images]

There’s always that item on your to-do list that seems to take up permanent residence. It floats to the top of your agenda, but you find reasons to work on something else. After a while, you get so used to seeing it, that you almost ignore it. Yet the reason it’s on the list is that it really does need to get finished at some point.

So, how can you get yourself to get it done?

Typically, the tasks that you resist are ones that feel like they will be unpleasant to do. That discomfort likely comes from one of a few sources. You might fear that it will be boring. You might know that it will test your limits, and so you gravitate to easier jobs. You might know deep down that you’re not entirely sure how to do what you have been asked to do.

Each of these requires a different strategy to get going:


If the task you’re doing is going to be a slog, that’s probably because it doesn’t really occupy your mind. It may be repetitive or something that you have done so many times before that you’re just not interested in it.

This may be a case when a little distraction can help. If the task is one you can do without a lot of thought, then playing a little music or even listening to a light podcast while you work might actually help the task go more smoothly. The small amount of distraction that you’re causing shouldn’t decrease the quality of your work, and might just make it fun.

And—of course—don’t forget to give yourself a little reward at the end of the task. Treat yourself to a drink or snack you like, or take a short break to do something you enjoy, like playing a game or talking to a friend.


You might have more concerns that the work is going to be too intense. In that case, one of the first things you need to do is to get started. Rather than feeling like you have to complete the entire thing in one shot, just commit to working on it for 15 to 20 minutes. You might not want to dive into something heavy for hours, but you can often convince yourself to just get started if you’re not making a long-term commitment.

The beauty of this strategy is that you get yourself on the road to completing this item on your to-do list. And—more important—once you get started, you’ll often find that you’re enjoying the intensity of the work more than you expected, and so you keep working far longer than you anticipated.


The thorniest tasks that stay on your to-do list are the ones that (deep down) you realize you aren’t prepared to do. You might not understand exactly what is required of you. You might not be skilled at a key component of the job. You might not really know what steps you need to take to succeed.

This is the best place to phone a friend (or colleague or supervisor). Get some help getting started. If you’re not sure what to do, ask the person who assigned you the job in the first place. You might be afraid to admit that you’re not sure what to do, but I promise you that your supervisor would rather you ask what you’re supposed to do than to have you guess and get it wrong.

If you have concerns about your skills, get some coaching from someone who is better at it than you are. Use that person as a resource to help you complete the task yourself. Don’t give in to the temptation to let them do it for you. You need to learn the new skill. Treat this as a practice session.

Finally, if you’re not really certain about the steps to take, work through that with someone with more experience. Start by laying out your own plan for how to accomplish the goal. Then, check your plan with a mentor. Once you have established the tasks you need to do, put those on your to-do list and get started.


Art Markman, PhD is a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. Art is the author of Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership, Smart Change, Brain Briefs, and, most recently, Bring Your Brain to Work. More

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