On Motivation

I have this little cube on my office desk. It’s a timer. You flip the cube over so that a number is on top, and then it beeps after that many minutes have elapsed.

This is useful in many ways.

Got a meeting in 15 minutes? Flip the timer to 10 min. You can ignore the clock and safely work on whatever you’re working on for 10 min. When it beeps, you have time to save your work, get a bio break, open your calendar, and get to the meeting on time.

Need to get up and stretch every hour? Flip the timer to remind you to stand up and walk around every so often.

My favorite use is sorta like the Pomodoro technique. When there’s something I’m dreading – answering a stubborn client email, writing ridiculous status reports, cleaning the house – I set the timer for 10 minutes and I just… start. How bad can 10 minutes be? Surely you can endure 10 minutes. Just start the stupid thing. You can quit in 10 minutes.

Usually, 10 minutes is enough to make decent headway into the task – as a project manager, I do a ton of smallish to medium tasks. Usually, 10 minutes is enough to prove to myself that this task wasn’t so bad after all. And usually, I’m done shortly thereafter.

The problem comes when you’ve already reached into your bag of tricks a dozen times, already pulled out the cube and every other tool you’ve got to get stuff done, and you still come up short in the motivation department. When you’ve exhausted your resources, and you don’t feel any better after your 10 minutes is up.

What then?

You put your head down and you slog through.

It reminds me of shoveling snow. (As if this post needed more tangentially related stories.)

In Rochester, you ain’t driving anywhere until the snow gets shoveled. And it’s no fun. And you’re tired of it after 10 minutes. But it’s got to be done if you want to eat something other than mayo, a jar with 2 pickles left, and snow for dinner.

And then the slog method fails. It’s not sustainable. You start to lose pieces of your soul, forcing yourself through the motions with no heart.

Something has to change.

Will it be you? Or your situation? Or both?