Overcoming procrastination and lack of motivation

Procrastinators have a really hard time getting ahead of the ball and getting work done… sometimes even just getting something done on time is tough!

I had an interesting lesson that I learned this week in how to better be motivated to get something done.

Now, usually I am quite a motivated person. I have no problem having a long list of things to do and plowing through them.

But in this case, I had hit a wall. I have a history class I need to take that has tons of homework beforehand. I have to read 3 books, take 4 quizzes, do online presentations, discussion board posts, etc.

To add to the challenge, history is not my strong point. Particularly when it involves reading an 830-page book (of which 145 pages are footnotes, fortunately!), and reading and studying it with detail — the quizzes are closed book. (Fortunately you can retake them, but even retaking is tough with the questions asked!)

First try: read the sections. Took the quiz. Couldn’t even get past the first 5 questions because I couldn’t recall a thing. Conclusion: need to take another look at how I am studying. Comprehension was nearly zero.

Second try: read the pages slowly and write little notes on the side of the margin. This was so slow the pace was like a snail. My friend had made a reading schedule for me. I got like one-quarter of the assignment for the day done. The next day, I got two pages done. Fell further behind. The next day I was even further behind.

All the usual incentives didn’t work, as:

  1. The book is 50 years old and the language was hard to understand. Some sample words: obscurantist, auto-didact, suasion, itineration, pillory, and sacerdotalism… and that’s just a very small sampling.
  2. I’m terrible at numbers. Just reading about how many people registered for which school in what year made my eyes glaze over.
  3. Text was dry. I like funny stuff. Not funny at all. I wrote funny notes on the margins to spice things up, but this only went so far. Still had to read a lot of names, dates, locations, and hard words.
  4. There were far more interesting things to do, like spend time with family, talk with friends or coworkers, or attend meetings! (Yes, I am strange. I like meetings.)

Also the usual methods that get me in gear didn’t work either:

  • A friend checking in on me to see how I was doing and giving me an appropriate lecture if I fell behind. Usually works great. Not this time.
  • Going off site. Helped some but not super productive.
  • Switching locations. The sofa was way too comfortable (fell asleep). The office was too distracting, the coffee shop was good but still not good enough, my desk was too noisey.
  • Looking at the schedule and seeing how far behind I was… usually kicks me in gear. This time I just felt paralyzed.
  • Friends cheering for me. Nope, didn’t work.
  • Rewarding myself. No reward seemed great enough to put myself through this torture.

But, people were praying for me and the Lord answered!

The answer came in the form of a conversation I was having with someone as we discussed how sometimes people are not motivated at all by achieving a number goal (for example, raising attendance by 20% by next quarter).

I remembered an article a friend had sent me that talked about how people are motivated by different types of goals. Some people are motivated by performance goals — hit a number, achieve a milestone. Others are motivated by learning goals — they are more interested in learning how to do something, and in the meantime, they hit the performance goals, but that’s not what motivates them. (I will read more about this and blog in the future.)

Anyway, the end result was that I realized that this system was not working for me because it was not tapping into any of my natural motivations. Reading a certain number of pages a day doesn’t inspire me as numbers are not big for me.

So as I thought, I realized that I needed to think about what motivated and got me moving. And as a result, I came to some conclusions.

  • I am a visual person. “Read to page 330” is not at all helpful. I need a sticky note to stick out so I can see how thick the pages are until I get to page 330.
  • I like color. I can’t just use a regular sticky note. It’s gotta be something that’s got color to it. (I found some colorful sticky notes a company had sent me for free.)
  • I like to stretch and challenge my abilities. I am also somewhat ADD. I found that as I wrote a short note about one paragraph, if I read ahead to the second paragraph, I actually understood the second paragraph better because I was doing two things at the same time. (I am not sure exactly how this works, but I think it is because my mind goes too fast so that when I read I start to space out. Having one part of my mind write forces the other part of my mind to concentrate on what I am reading.) It was a challenge trying to write and read something else at the same time!
  • I like short term wins. Waiting until 100 pages to mark “done” on my chart is not rewarding enough. I need to chart progress. Every time I took a break, I wrote down what page I was on so I could get the thrill of seeing the numbers go up. (I confess, I really did feel thrilled when each number was bigger than the last one!)
  • I need a physical way of pacing myself. As I read the page, I would run my finger down the side of the page. The challenge was to keep my finger at a steady pace instead of stopping.
  • I am somewhat of a wiggler. If I bounced my legs up and down while reading, it helped me focus better and not feel so restless.

It worked! In one day I read all the readings for that day, the next day, and part of the next!

Here’s a picture of the sticky note coming out of the book. Nothing fancy, but a little sticky note does wonders!


I finished tonight…two days ahead of schedule! And all the quizzes were passed… the last 2 on the first try!

This was a great lesson, one that I can apply any time I feel like procrastinating or feel a lack of motivation. What inspires, drives, and motivates me? Tap into those items and it will make the task go much faster!

Now onto the next book…

A Yee

Angela Yee is a professional designer (graphic design, stage design, interior design — angelayeedesign.com) and teaches leadership skills at strategysketchnotes.com.

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