Do you ever have those days? When you have your to-do list ready to go with important and/or urgent items on it, and you are just not motivated to do any of it? Even the smallest task just seems like too much – too hard, too boring, too required?
According to Gretchen Rubin’s framework of tendencies, some people are Rebels and this is their ongoing relationship with their to-do list – no list (even one they’ve made themselves) is going to push them around. They’ll do what they want when they’re good and ready.
I’m not a Rebel (I took the quiz!) but I do understand that feeling. While I can usually get done the things I need to, especially if there’s accountability to someone else involved, there are definitely some days when I just don’t want to!
So what do you do on days like those, so that you don’t let your lack of motivation derail not just your day but that of your whole family? Or not just this one day, but the whole week of work that’s related to it – if you have projects that build from day to day?
This is definitely something I’m still working on, and so this is by no means a definitive solution. But this is what I do.
- First, I pause and pray. “Thank you Jesus for this day and all the blessings and crosses I will encounter today. Help me to turn to you whenever I need help.” Often, this will shift my mood enough that I can get started, or at least get to step 2.
- Next, I make a list. Or, if I already have a list, I pull it out and see if it needs reordering or prioritizing. Or maybe I’ll add a couple of throwaway tasks on it just to get that feeling of success from checking off a task. (Note to self: next time, add “pause and pray” to the list!)
What I do next depends on what kind of task list I’m staring at.
- If it’s just a regular day and the sheer monotony of it is what’s keeping me from getting started, I figure out a rewarding task I can add to my list for after the more boring tasks are done. Usually that’s a new book to read or maybe an art project, or even a computer game (if that’s what it takes).
- If there’s one task that I’m really reluctant to do, I might opt for the “eat the frog” strategy and try to get that done first so that it’s out of the way. For me, the task I most dislike involves making phone calls, especially phone calls related to paying bills, so I tend to put those off. But when I decide it’s time to eat that frog, I’ll gather all the papers I need, and starting with the most straightforward one, call each one and deal with it until they are all done. The first one’s the hardest, but once I’ve done that, I can usually keep going until I’m done with all of them.
- On other days, it’s the sheer volume of tasks that is overwhelming. In that case, I tend to start with doing the easiest things first. If I have already checked off a bunch of items, even small items, I psychologically feel more up to tackling something harder or more time consuming. Also, I try to not add more than three major tasks to my list every day. I do have my daily and weekly task lists that are all the routine stuff, but I try to make sure that I’m not adding so much extra stuff that those basics don’t get done.
- Usually, the overwhelm comes from tackling a big project – or not tackling it. For example, my schoolroom reorganization is my current project, and it’s on hold at the moment because I figured out that the next step is one that needs to be done by my husband. So every time I walk by that room, I get a little bit overwhelmed by the clutter in there because we took down all the stuff that wasn’t working and we haven’t relocated it yet. In that case, I try to find a small step I can take to make progress even if it’s imperceptible to anyone else.
The biggest danger on days like these is to let things slide and write the day off, figuring you’ll pick up the slack tomorrow. Lack of motivation is a bad reason for not doing the work because motivation is so fleeting. If we only work when we want to, well… we might end up where we want to, but the chances are lower than if we work whether we feel like it or not.
Especially with homeschooling, where things tend to have squishy deadlines or commitments involved. Often no one else knows what we intended to accomplish versus what we actually did. This is a good thing in that we get to set the course of our studies, but it can be a bad thing if we let ourselves coast rather than pushing ourselves higher and farther. Momentum will get us further than motivation will, and keeping that momentum going by pushing through the hard days is the best way to build our perseverance muscles.
Of course, if we’re having to push through every day, that could be a sign that something needs changing, and we might have to reevaluate our plans and our priorities. That’s a topic for a different post, though.
How do you get past lack of motivation and do what needs to be done? Especially when “need” is a squishy term that doesn’t reflect actual deadlines or consequences?