How To Work Or Study When You Have No Motivation

We all have those days when we’re feeling unmotivated.

And ironically, when I first sat down to write this during my first Pomodoro session of the day, I just wasn’t feeling motivated at all. I just couldn’t get into my normal flow.

And in between phases of staring at the two or three titles I’d outlined for this piece and the white, empty space beneath it, I started opening browser tabs to look at YouTube, stock market performance, news feeds and basically anything that distracted me from doing what I had scheduled for the morning, which was to write this post.

I simply couldn’t focus and didn’t feel motivated at all.

And for no particular reason that I could identify either.

It could have been because it’s was a grey day outside – they do say the weather affects your mood.

Or perhaps it was because I kept feeling distracted by other people and noises I could hear outside and in other parts of the building.

Or maybe there was something worrying me.

Perhaps I was simply bored.

I didn’t really know.

There are a multitude of reasons why we might not feel motivated to do something. We all have different personalities and so are triggered by different things.

And it’s not always possible to identify exactly why we’re not ‘feeling it’. That’s just the state we’re in at that point of time. So let’s not worry too much about the whys and wherefores right now.

The important thing is that when you are lacking motivation, you have a few tricks up your sleeve to get yourself out of the funk and back into the groove as quickly as possible.

And that’s what I want to look at here because I used them to get myself back on track when I was writing this!

What is motivation?

Before we get to that though, what exactly is motivation?

Motivation can be described as is an internal drive or desire to effect some form of change in your current situation or environment. It’s the stimulus or reason that generates the energy and willingness to take action or make a decision.

And I don’t believe anybody can be highly motivated all of the time, so the ebb and flow of motivation is a normal thing.

In the case of a more chronic or frequent lack of motivation, there always seems to be a kind of tipping point where we move from unmotivated to motivated and often that is where the inconvenience, pain or fear of not taking action outweighs the inconvenience, pain or fear of taking action.

To understand what I mean, let’s take a look at a case study. Watch the video below where we are introduced to Raymond K. Hessel in a scene from the movie ‘Fight Club‘.

Now, ignoring the fact that not all is actually as it appears here (in case you haven’t seen the film, I won’t tell you why, as it may spoil the plot for you), it would be fair to say that as a result of this encounter, Raymond will have found some new motivation to pick up his path towards a career as a veterinarian, because the tipping point has been reached.

The pain of not returning to his studies (i.e. the threat of execution) now outweighs the pain (time, money, effort and commitment) of doing so.

Although it did also occur to me that there is the possible scenario to consider where Raymond is, in fact, unable to continue his studies due to the PTSD he suffers as a result of having a gun stuck in the back of his head and consequently ends up in and out of psychiatric hospitals and living on the streets for the rest of his life.

But, hey, let’s not over-think this. It’s a cool clip from a great film and I found an excuse to share it with you.

Anyway, I’m not suggesting that someone needs to hold a gun to your head to get you out of your funk. This, of course, is an extreme example, but it illustrates the point.

Usually, we can snap ourselves out of a short-term lack of motivation with a few quick and less extreme techniques, which I want to share with you here.

It is important to be able to do this because when we are faced with a situation where we can’t get our work done, it impacts on our time – and if you hadn’t noticed already, time management is what this blog is all about.

There are quite a few different ways to work and study when you have no motivation, but here are my six current favourites. I’ll use one or more and sometimes all of these to get myself back into the groove.

1) Reframe the task

Even when you have a very clear goal, the journey from beginning to endpoint is rarely linear and to get there we often have to engage in activities that are not intrinsically motivating, but nevertheless an important step in the journey.

And there’s also the fact that life, unfortunately, is often full of tasks we don’t really want to do but have to get done anyway.

Try to reframe the task you are doing and think about the bigger picture.

If you’re at school, you may well be finding it hard to study for some of the mandatory subjects that will be of no use or relevance to you in the future and so they feel unimportant and like you’re wasting your time. However, doing well in those particular subjects will be relevant to your overall academic performance, which in turn probably is relevant when it comes to achieving your future goals.

Studying is rarely the endgame – it’s simply a stepping stone to somewhere else and a means to an end.

So, visualize where this is taking your future self. And you need to keep that at the forefront of your mind.

The same applies to the work. There are often tasks that need to be done in order to move you a step closer to the goal, but are tedious as Hell. Stay focused on the longer-term goal and keep in mind that the pain of doing the boring or tedious tasks you are facing now won’t last forever and that they are a necessary part of the process.

Staying motivated is definitely much easier when you ‘keep your eyes on the prize’.

Exercise to boost motivation
Move your body / Image by Nathan Cowley

2) Get physical

Exercise can be a tremendous help when you are lacking motivation.

Go for a run, do some weights or some short exercise circuits. Get outside and go for a walk. If it’s daytime, getting some sunshine will help too.

If it’s late and you’re already in your pyjamas, that may not be an option, but you can still do some movement and exercise indoors.

3) Change the scenery

Change where you do it.

Change how you do it.

Change when you do it.

There is an old English saying, a change is as good as a rest, which means that switching things up can be as restorative as a break or period of relaxation.

And I have always felt it was true.

If I’m feeling unmotivated working in my home office, I’ll move to another room. Or I’ll go and work in a coffee shop. Or my car. Or anywhere that isn’t my usual place of work.

You can also try working in a different way. For example, if you’re always working on a computer, see if there are opportunities to step away and use pen and paper instead. You don’t have to complete the whole task in this way. It’s about getting yourself over the hump and into a position where you’re ‘feeling it’ again.

And if you usually work in the morning, switch out with another scheduled task that you have in the evening and try again then.

4) Focus on small blocks of time

Work in short bursts.

Think in terms of minutes, not hours or days.

Take small bites of the tasks.

You can do this by committing to just five minutes of focus on the job. In fact, I did exactly that when I was writing this post.

I set five minutes on a timer and just started writing. It wasn’t well structured and was a bit stream-of-consciousness style, but there were enough thoughts to build on from there and before I knew it, I had been writing for over thirty minutes and had the post more than half-done. I then took a five-minute break and set a 25-minute Pomodoro, which enabled me to almost complete the post, although I was interrupted by my kids and had to do the editing later in another session.

Reward yourself
Reward yourself, Pugface! / Image by Dieter Seibel

5) Reward yourself

I’ve read a lot about the importance of remaining clear on your goals and knowing your ‘why’ when it comes to getting things done.

And I totally agree with this.

However, in reality, it’s not always easy to stay focused on the long-term goals as our brains are usually more concerned with what is happening in the short-term.

For that reason, it is good to set yourself some shorter-term goals – and set yourself some small rewards for getting tasks done. Even if the reward is an ice cream or a glass of wine, sometimes playing this game with yourself can really help.

6) Motivational music and/or videos

I find music very beneficial when I want to get work done and can help to put me in a good frame of mind. If I sit down to work and I’m not feeling it, I will often reach for my headphones and play some tunes that I know get me pumped up. This doesn’t for work everyone, but it’s a quick go-to if you find it works for you.

You could also try taking ten minutes out to watch one of the many motivational videos on YouTube. All you’re looking for sometimes is a boost to get you back in the groove.

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

Lacking the motivation to do something is a situation we can all find ourselves in at some point or another.

Even really successful people feel the same lack of motivation and boredom with certain tasks as everyone else, but the difference is how they get through these difficult times.

And using a few simple hacks can make that difference.

Try using some or all of these six easy techniques to get yourself back into the swing whenever you’re lacking motivation.

Start improving your time management NOW with this 5-Day challenge!

I will send you five daily challenges designed to introduce tried-and-tested methods for improving your time management. Why not sign up now while you’re here and get started today?

5-day hack-a-day challenge

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[Featured image credit: Pixabay]

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