Six Ways to Trick Yourself into Working Harder

Struggling Uphill Man With Ball Showing DeterminationI suspect that, like me, you’ve had times when you’ve thought if only I could work a bit harder…

Maybe you’re worried that your only claim to fame is going to be “World’s Greatest Procrastinator” or “Biggest Farmville Addict”. You’ve got some great dreams and ambitions – but you secretly doubt whether you can work hard enough to achieve them.

I’ve got good news for you. There are a bunch of great little tricks you can use to encourage yourself to work harder.

No sweat, no tears.

These aren’t just for your paid work or your small business: they work for any goal you have in mind, like losing weight or quitting smoking.

  1. Use Your Competitive Spirit
    I’ve got a huge competitive streak. Give me someone to compete against, and I’ll find reserves of energy and motivation that I never knew I had.

You might well be wired the same. Perhaps you love the idea of competitions like National Novel Writing Month (just rope in your friends and see if you can beat them to 50,000 words) or maybe you’d be great at losing weight if you were competing with your partner.

Look for a way to turn your work into a competition: this could be something informal with your friends, a competition that you find online, or even something you start up yourself.

  • Tell Yourself “I’m Just Going To…”
    You’re keen to write a book. The problem is, you never feel like starting. Every weekend, you promise yourself you’ll spend two hours on it … but somehow, you never find the time and energy. 

Instead of trying to make a huge commitment, start ridiculously small. Tell yourself “I’m just going to open up the document,” or “I’m just going to spend five minutes writing.” Usually, you’ll find that initial resistance vanishes once you get going.

This works for almost any goal, too:

  • “I’m just going to tidy this one shelf.”
  • “I’m just going to put my jogging kit on.”
  • “I’m just going to pick up my guitar.” 
  • Set a Timer (and Try to Beat It)
    This is one of my favorite methods at the moment (I’ve got a timer running as I type this!) When you want to squeeze out a bit more work in a bit less time, one of the best ways is to race against the clock. 

Give yourself a challenge: if you think that cleaning the kitchen will take a half an hour, set your timer for twenty-five minutes.

Using a timer encourages you to stay focused – partly because you know that time is ticking away, but also because you know that after half an hour (or whatever), you’ll be done!

  • Listen to Music (Fast or Focused)
    If you exercise regularly, you’ll probably know already how useful music can be. A fast paced, powerful album can get you working harder in the gym than you’d otherwise manage. 

The same goes for almost any work that you’re doing. If you’re trying to power through your emails or get your filing done, fast and energetic music can help you feel awake and energized.

For more cerebral tasks – like writing, designing, programming – you might prefer music which helps you to feel calm and focused. I won’t give specific recommendations as my tastes in music may be very different from yours: experiment, and see what works best for you.

  • Be Accountable to Other People
    Have you ever worked hard just because you knew someone else would be checking in with you? Perhaps you hired a personal trainer who asked about what you’d eaten during the week, or maybe you worked with a life coach who helped you set specific goals. 

Accountability is a really powerful motivator. It can be incredibly simple to put in place, too: perhaps you’re planning to do a certain amount of work on a website you’re designing, so you put a quick message on Twitter or Facebook to say what you’re working on. You’ll find that you want to do the work because the world is watching! It’s a great feeling when you can let your friends know that you did do what you said you were going to do.

You can go further with accountability, too; perhaps setting up a small, focused group of friends or colleagues who meet regularly to discuss progress and future goals. By being accountable to one another for the work you’re putting in, you’ll all find that you’re more motivated and focused. 

  • Give Yourself Rewards
    Although completed work is often a reward in itself, it’s sometimes the case that the pay-off seems a good distance away. If you’re dieting in the hopes of being at your ideal weight in a year’s time, then it’s hard to stay motivated from week to week. 

By giving yourself small rewards, you can make difficult tasks seem much more desirable. If you promise yourself a long bath after you’ve cleaned out the garage, or a new video game once you’ve lost 15lbs, then you’ve got a short-term reason to keep going.

(You can even combine this with some of the other tricks – like competing in a competition which has a prize as the reward, or asking a friend to take custody of your reward until you’ve done the work that you’ve committed to.)

Do you have any extra tricks to add? If so, share them with us in the comments!

Written on 11/16/2010 by Ali Luke. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life (get the RSS feed here). As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. Photo Credit: jronaldlee
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