6 Easy Ways to Get Back on Track

by Kate Luther on 12 July 2011 2 comments
Photo: SD Dirk

We all have those days — days when we're feeling uninspired and unmotivated, when we just can't seem to get anything going and have the energy level of a snail.

Now, days like this aren't so bad if they happen every once in a while, but once you start procrastinating, it's really hard to stop. And suddenly, what started as an off day turns into a full-blown rut.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to reclaim your motivation. Here are six easy-but-effective ways to get yourself back on track. (See also: Goal Setting, Defined and Deconstructed)

1. Eat That Frog

This is actually just a clever version of some age-old advice. No, you don't actually have to eat a frog (much to my children's relief!) — you just have to pick the worst thing on your to-do list and tackle that project first.

Why?

Because until you do, it will sit there looming in your subconscious. You know you have to do it, and you're loathing every minute it's going to require. But as long as you're thinking about the frog you have to eat, you can't fully focus on anything else.

So eat that frog, and the rest is cake.

2. Jump the Shark

In the entertainment industry, "jumping the shark" means that a TV show has reached its peak. The actual "jumping" is a moment in the series when it's clear that the writers are really reaching to come up with something new and interesting for your favorite characters to do.

Obviously, jumping the shark usually marks the end for television shows. But in your personal life, jumping the shark is actually a solid practice. Unlike television series, we're not always spending time thinking about how to make our lives new and fresh week after week. Quite the contrary, we spend most of our waking hours going through the same motions we've gone through for years. Is it any surprise that we start to lose interest and focus after a while?

Jumping the shark is all about shaking things up — really reaching and exploring all the possibilities. What's the craziest thing you can think of? If you could do anything, what would it be? What's something you'd like to try but seems way out of character for you?

In a television series, the writers have limits on what their characters can do and become. But your character is still developing, and it's up to you to push the envelope and find your shark.

3. Make a Commitment

Sometimes all it takes to get going is one small step. So take that step. Pick out one task and commit to spending 30 minutes on nothing else. No breaks, no distractions, no multi-tasking. For the next 30 minutes, you're going to give this one project your full attention. When that 30 minutes is up, you can take that break and go back to procrastinating if you choose, but chances are, you'll find the motivation you need to keep on going.

Apply this same strategy to all the items on your to-do list, and see how many you can cross off using 30 minute intervals. The more tasks you complete, the more motivated you'll be to finish the rest.

4. Prioritize

When you've got a lot to do, it can be hard to figure out where to start. This is the perfect breeding ground for procrastination.

Instead, break your tasks down into smaller, manageable projects, and then prioritize. Which items really need your attention first? Which items can be completed quickly and crossed off the list?

Formulating a game plan gives you the starting point you need to move forward, and once you get going, the rest is easy.

5. Organize

It's hard to get anything done when you're surrounded by clutter. I'm speaking from personal experience on this one. As a freelance writer, I spend a large amount of time sitting at a desk that's often covered with papers, mail, books, and whatever else might find its way there. The result is that I spend quite a bit of energy and time moving things around so that I can work. And even if I'm not moving things around, I'm still aware of the clutter and that clutter blocks my creative energy.

The solution, of course, is to get organized. File those papers, put pens and pencils in a cup...you get the idea. Organize your work space — be it your desk, your garage or your kitchen — and you'll find that it's easier to tackle your list of to-do's.

6. Ask for Help

Just because the items on your list are your to-do's doesn't mean you can't ask for help. Quite the contrary, recruiting others to assist a great way to get motivated and get the job done. Ask your neighbor, your co-worker, your kids, or your spouse to pitch in. Make some of your bigger projects a group effort and then watch the work get done. Just be sure to return the favor.

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Meg Favreau's picture

"Make a commitment" is one of my favorite pieces of advice. I often find that if I make myself really focus on something for a little bit, I'll be able to keep on track after that time period is up.

Readers, are there other techniques you use to get back on track?

Guest's picture

These are such fantastic tips. My personal favourite is "jumping the shark," but I'm also a fan of making a commitment. The Pomodoro Technique is great for concentrating on one task at a time as you set a timer for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break, then another 25 minutes, with a 15 minute break every 4 "pomodoros." It's a great way to keep yourself on track, because who can't sit down and do something for 25 minutes?

This is a great, great post for anyone, especially businesses owners like myself.