Methods for restoring motivation and regaining momentum

The Gist

  • Embracing boredom and removing distractions can help increase productivity.
  • Setting a daily time frame or a flexible time span for working on projects can develop a habit.
  • Thorough planning and breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps can prevent feelings of underperformance.
  • Gamifying work through tasks and rewards can provide motivation.
  • Meditation can clear the mind and set goals.
  • It's important not to neglect other aspects of life and to take care of oneself.

Some inconvenient truths:

We are currently living in a culture full of distractions, surrounded by flashy lights and flickering screens as well as all kinds of media to garner our attention. A lot of us even consume multiple media at once, like listening to music while working, scrolling through Twitter/TikTok while watching TV/YouTube/Netflix, and so on.

This constant overstimulation of our mind, which isn’t designed for this sensory overload, can have many negative side effects, from eyestrain and reduced eyesight, to increased risk for depression, obesity, insomnia and other detrimental results on the health of mind and body.

But fret not! The human mind is very good at recovering from such negative behavior when you finally manage to adjust your lifestyle to a more healthy one: becoming more physically active, eating healthier and reducing your screen time. Thus, it’s never too late to escape this wheel of self-sabotaging behavior. Doing that will have a guaranteed improvement on your life and well-being and even make you a more focused, better developer.

One thing that has been lost in this sea of distractions though, is our capability to cope with boredom, which is actually a quite useful state of mind; it allows our inner self to have a little rest, come up with creative ideas and to find joy in the little things surrounding us.

Method 1: Boredom can be useful

So my first proposal is: embrace boredom! When you can’t motivate yourself to work on your current project, one solution could be to make your everyday life as boring as possible by lowering/stopping media consumption, lock yourself in your room, eat bland food, stare at the ceiling for a long time, literally watch paint dry, and other ways to embrace boredom, until the prospect of working on your project seems like the most exhilarating thing ever.

For this to work, you also need to remove all distractions, like checking your phone every so often, reading news articles or social media posts, and so on; at least for a certain time frame where you want to get stuff done.

I would also add that you should declutter your surroundings to achieve a minimalist’s approach. Everything that you don’t need on your desk as well as virtual desktop needs to be tucked away somewhere out of your peripheral view, as a messy room or work environment also results in a messy mind.

Method 2: Persistence is key, hesitation is defeat

Another proven way is to just do it and keep at it. Set yourself a time frame for every day in which you don’t allow any distractions and just work on the project, even when you sometimes dread it, until it becomes a habit, and you don’t even think about it.

I personally prefer a more flexible approach, where I don’t set a fixed time frame (e.g. from 1pm to 7pm) but rather a time span of around 6 hours, that I have to do complete every day no matter when, but with at least one break in between (ideally also with some minor breaks in between for relaxing the eyes and walking around or stretching - for this you should look up the 20-20-20 rule).

Method 3: Thorough Planning

Another method is to plan ahead of what you want to achieve on the next day and write it down as a checklist on physical paper, maybe even right before you start your daily working session and, at the end of the day, check off the completed tasks and use the remaining tasks as starting point for the next day. The key is to not feel like you’re underperforming when you don’t reach your daily quota. Sometimes a task takes much longer than expected, or it did require multiple smaller steps that needed to be done first.

Some pro-tips would be to see if any of the tasks can be divided into smaller tasks to really just make each task as atomically small as possible, and you can also try to estimate how long a task might take, from a few minutes to a few hours. Any task that seems to require more time is definitely too big and needs to be split up into smaller tasks.

Method 4: Gamification

Other ways are to gamify your work experience by writing/using a tool (or using a pen & paper) to give yourself XP whenever you complete a task, as the human brain is wired to be stimulated by numbers going up (just have a look at cookie clicker addiction or the idle game craze).

You can even google for a simple leveling formula to integrate into your own leveling system. When in a team you might even share your tool or system, so that others might do the same, and then you can compete with them, which one of you levels the fastest (even though that might result in uneven progression between the participants).

Method 5: Meditation

Time and time again I’ve also heard that meditation can be a good help to clear the mind and set your goals straight. Though just like most people I’ve never managed to “find the time for it” (i.e. just let myself indulge in it and not see it as a waste of time or esoteric mambo jambo).

If you don’t have any prior experience in that field and if by chance you do want to try it out, there are plenty of videos on YouTube and articles on the web that can help you get started with meditating and opening your third eye.

Personal tangent:

An important lesson I learned too late in life is to not get consumed by my own projects, until I neglect all other aspects of life (like family and friends, going outside, pursuing other hobbies and activities, and so on), as it leads to a deep spiral of feeling lost, neglected, unhappy, unfulfilled, dull, and listless. So it’s important to only work at and think about your project during that portion of the day and never outside of it.

Even when laying in bed I loose countless hours of sleep, thinking about my projects, what things I could do better or differently, which just steals time from the next day and leaves me feeling more sleepy.

Let this be a lesson to my other fellow full-time hobbyists, to not overdo it; treat your hobby as a hobby and always take care of yourself!

September 27, 2023