Everyone goes through it from time to time: the struggle to find the energy to get stuff donewhen you’d rather stay in bed or do literally anything other than those things on your to-do list.
Overcoming procrastination requires setting yourself up for success by starting small and being consistent. Whether you’re looking to stick with a new workout routine or finally hone your cooking skills, these tips can help you find your inner drive.
While it’s tough getting started, finding ways to give yourself a push when you need it can help you achieve your goals, whether they involve training for a big event or blowing off some steam with mindful movement.
Just be sure to listen to your body — everyone needs rest days and occasional comfort food.
Make it a game
To build up motivation, high performance coach Shefali Raina suggests reframing the task in the context of a game and connecting your actions to rewards or penalties.
For example, “if you want to feel motivated to exercise, you could commit to a game structure where if you exercise three times a week you get to treat yourself to something you enjoy,” she explains.
“But if you exercise less than three times, maybe you give up something you value.” Just make sure you’re still leaving yourself space to take days off as your mind and body needs.
Make your goals easier to achieve
Clinical psychologist Steve Levinson, PhD, suggests making it as easy as possible to do the specific things you know you should do.
If your goal is to unwind with some light stretching when you get home from work, keep your mat somewhere that’s highly visible and easy to access. Take things a step further and lay out your comfy stretching clothes before you head out in the morning.
Call on a goal buddy
“We all need someone who believes in us,” says educational psychologist Elisa Robyn, PhD. Having a goal buddy keeps you accountable to your goals because they can offer you encouragement for staying motivated.
Consider enlisting a friend with similar goals to team up with you on exercise or even just to encourage each other.
Studying can be a pain, especially if you aren’t particularly interested in the topic. Below are some techniques to make the process smoother.
Make a to-do list
When starting out on a large project or preparing for an exam, write everything you need to get down on a to-do list. By breaking everything down into manageable tasks, you’ll feel less overwhelmed and have a greater sense of accomplishment when you cross each one off.
Build small rewards into the process
It’s important to build small rewards or celebrations into the process. “It can be difficult to stay motivated, but setting small goals makes the journey a bit easier,” says Robyn.
After a long study session, try rewarding yourself with some of the following:
- a walk through the park
- a phone conversation with a friend
- watching a movie or curling up with a book
Keep track of your progress
A key part of staying motivated is acknowledging how far you’ve come. If you’re having a hard time completing a project, keeping track of how much you’ve accomplished can give you the energy to push you through to the end.
After each study session or work period, jot down how much you’ve advanced as a reminder for the next time you feel stuck.
Build in regular pauses
Sometimes, finding the motivation to work through a long study session involves taking short breaks to refresh your mind.
Try to give yourself 15 to 20 minutes for every hour you work. Use that time to get up and walk around, watch a YouTube video, or get a snack. Relaxing and recharging will give you an added boost for the next round of studying.
Having a clean, tidy space sure feels nice. Getting to that point is another story.
Make a housecleaning playlist
There’s nothing like fun, lively music to make the hours go faster. Try setting up a playlist you might use for working out or dancing to help when you’re washing the dishes or doing laundry.
Create a routine
Organizing your time for doing chores each day can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
To create a routine, commit to squeezing in one task at certain times each day. For example, get in the habit of taking out the trash when you leave for work in the morning or dusting during commercial breaks.
Set a timer for cleaning
The beauty of racing against time is that it gives you a sense of accomplishment.
For quick motivation, set your timer for 15 minutes to clean up a specific room or tackle larger projects like a storage unit. If you feel energized after, you can set it for another 15. If you’re wiped, do another 15-minute power sesh tomorrow.
Getting rid of excess items can have a huge impact on your living space. It can also be a huge undertaking.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure of where to start, prioritize rooms that are frequently seen by visitors, such as your living room, kitchen, and bathroom. Go through each room and organize items to recycle or set aside in donation boxes.
Even small tasks may feel like a Herculean effort when you’re in a motivational slump. Finding ways to re-energize yourself can make all the difference.
Create mini-sprints to activate motivation
Sometimes, we’re unmotivated by a task because it feels too long, too overwhelming, or too tedious and boring, says Raina. In those cases, it’s helpful to break down the task into mini-sprints or short-term blocks of time.
“Our brains are wired to focus on the short term versus the long term, so mini-sprints help us get focused, energetic, and motivated to complete shorter term tasks and feel good afterwards,” adds Raina.
Try breaking up your day into 30-minute mini-sprints. You can adjust the amount of time you allow for each sprint as needed, just make sure to take a break in between.
There’s no way around it: Eliminating distractions, such as incessant phone notifications or noisy chatter, is essential for deep focus.
Prepare your workplace by decluttering your desk, putting on noise-canceling headphones, and hiding your phone in a drawer for a designated amount of time.
Prioritize your 3 most important tasks of the day
If you find your to-do list keeps growing by the hour, write down your top three most critical things you have to do each day. Focus on those first, then move on to the others.
Create an emotional connection
Whatever the task, ask yourself how you’ll feel when it’s done, advises Raina. Will you be relieved? Happy? Satisfied?
Asking these questions and building emotional connection with the reward you are seeking helps you activate motivation to achieve any goal you set.
Connect with your work
Here are some other questions to consider:
- What kind of person do you want to be?
- How is doing this task connected to that big picture?
- Why is it important to you?
You’d love to experiment and cook more at home but can’t seem to summon the motivation. These strategies can help you get over the hump (and save you some serious cash).
Hone your culinary skills
Cooking can be a relaxing and liberating activity that helps you tap into your innate creativity. It can also be stressful and time-consuming when you’re unsure what you’re doing.
Consider building your skills by:
- subscribing to recipe blogs
- enrolling in a cooking class
- inviting a kitchen-savvy friend over to show you a few tricks
- taking a knife skills class to master chopping
Create a meal plan
Half the burden of cooking is simply planning what to make and getting the ingredients. Meal planning can help you streamline this aspect and even make it a bit more enjoyable.
Set aside some time each week to figure out what you’ll make for the week and make a master shopping list.
Check out our beginner’s guide to meal prepping.
Keep a meal journal for simple recipes
If you’re running low on time and energy, having a go-to journal of easy recipes can be a lifesaver.
Save your favorites to a folder on your computer or phone that you can easily check when you’re not feeling up for creating an elaborate meal.
Be strategic with leftovers
Got taco fillings but no tortillas? Salad greens but no dressing? Think outside the box when it comes to leftovers and about-to-expire foods.
Fill up tacos with leftover hamburger meat or spice up your breakfast with leftover veggies that can be folded into an omelet. Being smart with yesterday’s scraps can help you stay motivated to experiment and save more by eating at home.
No matter what your goals are, these tips can help you get past the finish line (or at least a little closer to it).
Surround yourself with a tribe of doers
Raina recommends surrounding yourself with people who have a bias for action, which is fancy talk for making quick decisions and getting stuff done.
“Being around high energy people who take action helps us also stay on our A game and keeps us motivated,” she adds.
If you’re having a hard time finding your motivation, try to take a look at why.
Robyn suggests looking at your relationships as a good starting point. Are they restrictive or judgmental? Do you have a pattern of opting for choices that don’t align with your goals?
Consciously noticing these challenges can help you evaluate what needs improving.
Know how to let go
At the end of the day, life can and will get in the way sometimes. After all, you can’t control everything.
Robyn adds, “if you have to stay late at work or change your schedule due to a sick family member, do not blame yourself for not exercising. Do not blame yourself. You will be back on track soon.”
Cindy Lamothe is a freelance journalist based in Guatemala. She writes often about the intersections between health, wellness, and the science of human behavior. She’s written for The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, Quartz, The Washington Post, and many more. Find her at cindylamothe.com.