4 Science-Backed Ways to Stop Yourself From Dragging Your Feet on a Task

We’re all probably a little too familiar with this feeling: You know you have piles of stuff to get done, but you can’t quite bring yourself to get started.

Your inbox is overflowing and your to-do list is miles long. But, just the thought of sitting down and starting to chip your way through it is almost too much to bear.

Your motivation is at an all-time low. However, that doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way. Here are four science-backed ways to give your motivation a much-needed boost and get moving on those tasks of yours.

1. Start With Something Small

If you’re already groaning at the thought of having to park yourself at your desk, you’re likely not going to want to jump right in with that overwhelming project you’ve been putting off for weeks.

Instead, it’s better to start with those smaller tasks—think answering emails or wrapping up an almost complete project.

Why? When you’re feeling low on motivation, research says that you need to get yourself into a flow state, which happens when you become so involved with your work that nothing else seems to exist. When you’re in a flow state, you’re totally focused and performing your best.

However, it’s not something that you can just dive right into. So, by getting started with those bite-sized, easier to accomplish tasks, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to ease into “work mode.”

2. Set Scary Deadlines

All too often, lack of motivation and procrastination go hand in hand. It’s hard for us to feel inspired to make significant progress when we feel like we have ages to complete a task. Without a deadline breathing down our necks, we have almost no reason to get to work.

This is why science says it can be helpful to set your deadlines in days, rather than weeks or months. So, rather than telling yourself that your report is due in one month, establish a deadline of 30 days.

According to research, setting your deadlines this way better connects your future self to your present self, which will inspire you to start working—even in those moments when you feel totally unmotivated.

3. Work in Blocks

When you’re already feeling unfocused and uninspired, the thought of needing to suffer through work for hours on end can often seem unmanageable. But, the good news is this: You shouldn’t plan to do that anyway.

As it turns out, working in blocks of time—with short breaks in between—is much better for your motivation and productivity.

Whether you want to utilize a system like the Pomodoro Technique or take a cue from science and work for 52 minutes with a 17-minute break, splitting your work time into smaller chunks will make the whole process seem far less daunting.

And, while taking breaks might seem counterintuitive when you have a lot to do, it turns out science is on your side there as well. There are plenty of benefits associated with giving your brain a quick rest—including better memory.

4. Enlist an Accountability Partner

Still feeling unmotivated? It might be time to call in some reinforcements—in the form of an accountability partner.

For example, tell your co-worker that you plan to have that big presentation completed by the end of the week, and then ask him to hold you it. Nobody likes being nagged and hounded, but we can all admit that it makes for an effective kick in the pants.

In fact, a study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, found that participants were 33% more likely to actually accomplish their goals when they wrote them down, shared them with another person, and then checked in with regular progress updates.

We all need a little help every now and then. So, don’t hesitate to lean on other people when you require some added accountability.

We all have those moments (or days) when we feel a little lazy, unfocused, and uninspired. But, it’s nothing you can’t overcome. Implement these four research-backed strategies, and you’ll crank your way through that to-do list in no time.

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