Practical Self-Motivation: Four Ways to Make Yourself Do Things You Don’t Want to Do

“Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain, American writer and humorist.

You’ve probably had days when you came down with a bad case of the “don’t wannas”—a complete lack of interest in doing any of your work tasks, much less the tough ones. But you’re an adult now, so you know that expecting the world to automatically provide all the niceties you yearn for is the worst kind of childish dream. It’s probably not going to happen, and even if it did, how much would you value your non-accomplishments anyway?

Procrastination is a novel concept to no one. We’ve all put things off many times, for many reasons: because we didn’t want to hurt someone, because the task wasn’t pleasant, because it was boring or took too long, or because it just wasn’t as interesting as, say, dabbling in company politics or watching the voluntary train wreck that is reality television. But by procrastinating, you shoot yourself in the foot and work in constant just-in-time crisis mode.

The truth is, most of what you dread won’t prove as bad as you expect once you get started. I’ve found that if I can just get going, I often find myself on a roll and knock the task out in next to no time flat. But even if it’s like pulling teeth, you have no choice but to keep at it. You do the unpleasant/boring tasks so you can do everything else, and so the people waiting for your work results can move forward.

These four tips can help you inspire yourself to get to work, even when it seems motivation has left the building.

  1. Set a scheduled time to do each task. Don’t wait for perfection, or for your muse to strike. Horror novelist Stephen King pumps out book after scary book because he works a steady ten hours a day or more. You’re a professional—so when it’s spreadsheet time, show up and get to work, whether you feel like it or not. When spreadsheet time ends, go take a break or start something new—whatever you happen to have scheduled.

  2. Scare yourself. I’ve known people who motivate themselves with the worst possible outcomes if they don’t complete a task: “If I don’t get this done, my productivity will plummet. If my productivity plummets, my boss will fire me. If my boss fires me, I might not be able to find a new job. If I can’t find a new job, then I won’t be able to pay my bills. If I can’t pay my bills, I’ll lose my house, my car, and my family, and end up living in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass.” While I prefer the carrot, a stick works better for others. If that describes you, think about the negative repercussions of not doing do your job right now, and use those thoughts to spur yourself on.

  3. Bribe Yourself.  Promise yourself that when you turn in your report or finish the next code module test, you’ll treat yourself to a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice latte, or whatever appeals to you. Be strict about it; if you don’t hit your deadline, don’t give yourself the reward. Otherwise, why bother? But when you do meet your deadline or finish early, reward yourself ASAP, or the reward might not be as effective.

  4. Promise yourself you’ll work on it for just a few minutes. This is the heart of the Pomodoro technique and similar methods of jumpstarting yourself. The recommended time to work on the dreaded task is generally 15 minutes, but even five minutes can help. Tell yourself if you can just do it for five, ten, or fifteen minutes, you’ll at least get started and make some process. You might get in the groove and start concentrating quickly if you’re serious about it; the time may fly, so you end up doing more than you expected. Even if it’s as hard as or harder than you expected, push for just one more repetition of whatever timeframe you’ve chosen. You’ll get some work done, and if you have something else ready to work on when you give up, you can stay productive.

Get a move on!

Sometimes dreading a task is more difficult and time-consuming than just doing it. So rather than procrastinate, get to it and get through it. These tips will help you get started.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email, or CONTACT US.

Here’s what others are saying:

“Laura Stack’s session with a group of our seasoned operations managers was eye-opening. We all learned new ways to be more productive with the tools we already have. I’ve never seen each of our seasoned, experienced operations managers so engaged in a session. Many of our senior and mid-level leaders were wowed by what they learned and have already begun using the new techniques with their teams.”
—Mary Pawlowski, Learning Design, Piedmont Natural Gas

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland