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How To Motivate Yourself and Improve Focus, Organization and Productivity to Reach Your Goals

At one time or another, not to say all the time, we are faced with a task whose outcome promises to yield many rewards, but whose execution is, to say the least, prone to procrastination. So if the project’s payout is attractive enough, what can we do to overcome the laziness that slows us down?

Let us first agree on one basic premise: everyone’s definition of success is different, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Due to the subjective nature of success, the truly self-motivated will often redefine success over time, setting new goals based on the milestones reached and especially the checkpoints missed. If our drive to success takes us down the path of one of humanity’s most abused metaphors – a long and winding tunnel sporting a brightly lit exit – then our motivation is similar to a GPS navigation tool’s ability to retrace the most efficient route every time we take a not-so-brightly-lit exit out of the tunnel, or in this case, out of a project.

Put more simply, motivation is what allows us not to lose focus while remaining pragmatic. In that sense it will forever nurture its relationship of interdependency with one’s definition of success, whereby one is useless without the other and whereby Les Brown is right in stating that “Wanting something is not enough. You must hunger for it. Your motivation must be absolutely compelling in order to overcome the obstacles that will invariably come your way”.

At the end of the day, motivation is a straightforward chess game with one unusual twist: one faces off against oneself. As one should do ahead of every strategy game, we have identified the steps that will allow you to keep focus, retrace the most efficient route after every missed exit as well as pick and win your battles on the exciting road to victory.

Consciously realize that you can’t escape or outrun the task.
When people have undesirable work they need to complete, their minds sometimes persuade them subconsciously that if they wait just long enough, they won’t actually have to do what they’ve been dreading. It’s as though there’s a shred of hope secretly at work; if I don’t take out the trash, start this business or work on my class paper, some external event might eventually require me not to go follow through. It could start raining, so I’ll take the trash out in the morning; a competing business might implement my idea, so it might be too risky to invest time and money; and a classmate might have already written a portion of my paper, so why do double the work.

Unfortunately, these are just fantasies. Tasks or goals never get any easier with procrastination; they accumulate and become more stressful as time pressure increases. You must realize that you can’t outrun anything and should adopt a “now is the best time” mindset instead.

Always give yourself a prize for beginning the task and a prize for finishing it.
Personal favorites of mine are to promise myself a reward, such as a Chai Latte, before I start writing an article or post, and to promise myself a 15-minute break from work every hour I spend focused and committed to finishing my writing. Use whatever prizes you enjoy most, and whatever is inexpensive and mostly likely to motivate you. These promises should be guaranteed and set in stone, because if you don’t actually reward yourself when you promise yourself you will, you will be less motivated by the Prize Promise the next time you have a big task to do.

Break it down into micro-steps that are easy to do.
Let’s face it: nothing is more terrifying than having a huge task looming in front of you that will take a hundred hours to complete. An easy way to combat this is to break it down into accomplishable micro-steps. How tiny does the micro-step have to be? So insanely tiny that it would be ridiculous to your brain not to do it.

For example, resolve to spend 1 minute writing your PhD dissertation’s thesis. Promise yourself you won’t write the whole dissertation today – you’ll just write an outline, and you’ll only spend 20 minutes maximum on it. Your mind will be deceived into being productive. For most people, once you get into the rhythm of your work, you can easily spend 2 hours focused on accomplishing more than what you originally set out to do.

Make the task more pleasant in creative ways.
When someone is unmotivated, they understand the benefit of doing something but fear the emotional unpleasantness it entails. Through past conditioning, your lazy side has categorized your responsibilities as “bad”, “tedious” or “horrible”. An easy way to combat this innate categorization is to make the unpleasant task a source of genuine enjoyment with the addition of a little creativity. For example, you know you’re supposed to eat your greens. You know you’re supposed to exercise. But it’s not fun, and it’s that initial “getting up and going to the gym” that prevents you from working out.

So use Pavlovian conditioning and watch it work its magic. Try listening to your favorite music on your iPod while you go jogging, or switch to an exercise routine that you actually enjoy, such as Zumba, yoga, or swimming, instead of forcing yourself to do something you think you hate.

If you always do your homework in a cold, dark corner of the library, pick a coffee-shop that has a nice atmosphere and your favorite cookies you could look forward to. And instead of forcing yourself to stomach a bitter spinach salad every day, try making a cucumber smoothie with cucumbers, frozen pineapple chunks, and coconut milk – it will have just as many nutrients as the spinach salad, but taste leagues sweeter.

Soon enough, your friends will wonder why you’ve lost 20 pounds and your skin is glowing, and you’ll realize you’ve suddenly been eating a lot more veggies than you used to. This end result will combine positive reinforcement to encourage you to continue your good habits.

We’re starting to make some progress getting motivated.  Keep reading for tips that will help you stay focused and motivated so that you can reach your goals.


Connect smaller To-Do’s with big-picture goals.
Sometimes, it’s hard to see how small, annoying items on your to-do list add up to anything greater that will improve your life. A key success strategy I’ve used is to make a vision board that allows you to see the Big Picture you’re trying to create in full color. Put the vision board up in your room where you’ll see it every day, and make sure your mind soaks up the images you’ve chosen. If you aren’t so keen on a “Vision Board”, try pictures, posters, drawings and imagery that exude motivation.

Making a vision board doesn’t have to be complicated. You can cut out photos from Forbes, for example, or any other magazine which is likely to inspire you, and create a collage of your ideal future. Simply tape or glue these graphics onto a poster-board from CVS to make a fantastic visual inspiration you can gaze at every morning when you wake.

While looking through your to-do list, ask yourself how these little things add up to create the vision you have on your wall. When you can concretely visualize the end result, like that dream house you’ve been saving up for, you’ll be more motivated to plough through any resistance.

This strategy has personally helped me build When I started Gajizmo, I just wanted to build a site to educate my generation, Generation Y or the Millennial Generation. However, along the way, I started doing nice things for people here and there, and figured why not tie it into the site’s mission. My intention wasn’t to build a site and donate all the ad revenue to charity or use it for random acts of kindness, but that end-goal inspires me to continue writing articles and growing the site so we can take on larger projects or causes and try to affect greater change.

Always remember that the idea of work is worse than the work itself.
There’s a big difference between the Mt. Olympus of the Greek gods and the actual Mt. Olympus in Greece. One is a magnified, mythologized version of the other. Similarly, the idea that is constructed in your mind of “That Thing I Can’t Make Myself Do” is far worse than the actual task. Demythologize it, remember that it’s something you can accomplish in no time, and do it.

Abandon all traces of perfectionism.
If you’ve acquired the habit of having to do something perfectly, trade it for the popular mantra of ‘progress, not perfection’ instead. Being realistic and self-compassionate will take you farther in life than perfectionism ever will. The “ideal” can only ever exist within your imagination, but “excellence” is within your grasp.

Find out what you’re missing. What are the true roadblocks? It might not be what you think.
Consider if there might be tools, contacts, or crucial information that are missing which are stalling your goals. For example, maybe finding a high paying job without a degree isn’t the real problem – perhaps it’s hard to get a good job because you haven’t spent any time actually looking, or when you do get the chance to be hired, you don’t spend time preparing for an interview.

Likewise, if you just moved to a new city and find it hard to stay motivated in your quest to make new friends, maybe the real problem is a lack of money for a night out instead of shyness. Making friends is a financial investment as well as an emotional one. Analyze what’s stopping you and create a plan to fill in the missing resource, and you’ll come out on top in no time.

Final Word
In the end, Chris Babson is right in stating that “If you don’t know exactly where you are going (and why), that is exactly where you will end up.”

The idea of motivation and more specifically of self-motivation is one that has been discussed since the dawn of organized societies and will keep on being discussed as the world continues to be shaped by humanity’s transcending dedication towards a free economy, devoid of imposed limitations, within which one can prosper to the extent of one’s true capabilities.

Moreover, the American dream may have moved on from its days as an immigration pamphlet and evolved into a full-blown inland promise that anything is feasible, but self-motivation remains the one and only tool advertised as necessary and not included in the do-it-yourself, easy to assemble, product packaging that we now more broadly define as “success”.

Written on 9/18/2013 by Costa Exintaris and Gary Dek. Gary Dek is the founder of, a site focused on personal finance, career and education advice, and self-improvement tips. Gary previously worked for an internet company on their M&A team, as well as investment banking and private equity firms in California.

Photo Credit: Nono Fara

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