Finding the motivation to start and finish a task can be difficult for all of us. Executive function involves processes that are essential for behavior regulation and impulsivity, time management and planning, and problem-solving and decision-making. Where there are Executive Function challenges for initiating, planning, organizing, prioritizing, and sustaining attention, motivation is a bigger factor. There are many reasons why getting started on tasks is difficult. Focusing on specific strategies helps improve motivation.
Difficulty initiating or getting started
When tasks pile up, getting started can feel overwhelming.
- Break your tasks into baby steps or chunks. Work on starting just one of these chunks.
- Remember that done is perfect. Perfectionism is often paralyzing. Know what the end of your project should look like to complete it.
- Create an initiation “warm-up” strategy. That is a way to ramp up to get started. This can be getting on headphones for quiet work, moving to a new space with a clear desk, or gathering all your materials together.
Lack of motivation leads to poor planning and time management
You think a task will take five minutes, but overall it takes two hours. Lack of time awareness can deter motivation.
- Use visual tools to create a workflow for any task or project. A dry-erase or paper calendar helps you plan out the steps.
- Assign tasks to time blocks. This assignment indicates what needs to be accomplished and when to do that.
- Plan with the end in mind. Start backward and assign times for completion.
- Use an overflow day to catch up and finish a task or project. That day is open just to have extra time available.
Disorganization of materials and due dates
Projects need organization in order to proceed. If you have trouble organizing the materials, it is difficult to start.
- Set a time daily to capture information in your planner. Use the end of the day to review email, text, or other communication to add dates to calendars.
- Organize your materials in a way that you feel is easiest to access. For some, that means printing and placing it in a notebook or keeping digital files. Use consistent naming to keep your system easy to use.
- Maintain your system by including time to get your materials updated and put away at the end of the project.
Clear priorities help motivation
When everything seems important is the time to establish clear priorities.
- Make a list of your top 3- 5 priorities. Be sure that your tasks match up with these priorities. This will help you define how many projects are not on this list and may need to be eliminated.
- Use a daily focus list to keep your daily priorities clear and easy to see.
- Often there are two competing priorities simultaneously. You want to finish up your work for the day and have dinner at 6 pm. Giving yourself a boundary or rules to follow help you stay on track rather than decide at the moment.
- Make a list of what you can delegate to help you do your best work.
Keep on keeping on with sustained attention
There is hyperfocus and not enough focus.
- Limit distractions by silencing devices and blocking pop-ups. Use an internet blocker to stay on track.
- Use the Pomodoro method of alternating work and break times to maximize attention.
- Body doubling can help you stay tethered to your tasks. Invite another person to work in your space while you work on your project.
- When your attention wanes, look for positive ways to gain traction with productivity. Take a walk, get some water, and re-assess your next steps.
Knowing your WHY can be the most important factor in motivation. If you feel your work is compelling or interesting, it is much easier to get started. Take a look at your assignment and see if you can make it more interesting by approaching it with curiosity.