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Hey, Colleague: How can procrastinators motivate themselves?

Write a to-do list. Create small goals. Reward yourself after accomplishing a milestone.
perplexed woman
Writing down your thoughts can help clear your head and possibly shed light on why you're not motivated.

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Hey Colleague, 

My job is extremely busy and even though I have never-ending deadlines, I find myself procrastinating until the last minute. Because of this, I’m always scrambling and I feel stressed out even though I know I bring this onto myself. How do I motivate myself to work my deliverables in a timely manner?

—Anonymous


I’m so sorry to hear you are going through this. Don’t worry! There is a solution to everything.

First, let’s explore and identify reasons for your lack of motivation because you can’t hit a target you can’t see. I recommend writing down your thoughts because it literally clears out distressing thoughts from your head. This therapeutic process allows your brain to process and integrate thoughts and patterns so you’ll be able to transform them into something positive.

  • Mental health issues (depression, anxiety, PTSD).
  • Unresolved trauma.
  • Stress, overwhelm, burnout.
  • A shocking life event such as a job loss, breakup, or death of a loved one.
  • Lack of commitment due to unsatisfactory work and life circumstances.
  • Your current work isn’t challenging enough.
  • Lack of goals or vision for your future.
  • Negative attitudes.
  • Failing health.

Action precedes emotion

You may be struggling with motivation because you are searching for an internal emotional state (happiness, contentment, excitement, etc.) to cue you to start a task. We often wait to feel better or motivated before doing something but that is a flaw in our way of thinking. 

Don’t wait until you feel good to get going. Get going to feel good.

This is called ‘behavioural activation’ and is backed by science. You may not be able to control your thoughts and feelings but you can control how you respond to those. Actions contain immense power. Activation creates momentum. 

When we perform certain tasks such as exercising, ‘happiness chemicals’ are produced in the brain to lift our mood and these positive experiences motivate us to do even more. The simple act of just getting to the gym creates enough momentum to do a full workout since we are already there. The act of sitting down at your desk and opening your laptop will get you started on that task you’ve been procrastinating on.

The power of showing up

This is why it’s important to understand we must force ourselves to do things even if we don’t feel like it. Of course, it’s hard but you can begin with baby steps. Every time you perform these tiny steps, you strengthen synapses in your brain making it easier each time, resulting in you doing more each time and creating your own motivation to move forward. Think of the exponential results that are created over time.

Momentum equates to motivation

Next time you are lacking motivation in performing a task, don’t wait to get motivated. Activate. Do something, no matter how small, to get you closer to completion.

Now that you understand the underlying mechanisms of motivation, here are some more tips for you to get back on track:

  • Write down a to-do list. This removes cognitive load from your mind and promotes clarity.
  • Break down goals into smaller, manageable steps.
  • Reward yourself. Treat yourself to something after accomplishing milestones.
  • Play to your strengths. 
  • Ask for help. You don’t have to take the world on your shoulders and you may be surprised at how people will be willing to help.
  • Surround yourself with people who are also working on goals. Share your progress with each other.
  • Read books or listen to audiobooks and podcasts. I get motivated when I learn.
  • Take care of your well-being. Exercise, nutrition, sunlight, sleep, downtime, meditation. Without health, you have no wealth.
  • Spend more time outdoors. Go for a walk, run or bike ride because nature calms you down and helps you find mental clarity.
  • Seek professional help. If you are suffering from mental health issues or you just can't get yourself out of the funk, please go talk to a trained professional. 
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