You’re on professional crossroads – ready to make a change.
This is a Big Goal probably the biggest one in your life so far. You want to win a big promotion… quit your job… grow your side business to a fully functioning source of income… get an MBA.
This is a major step in your life. You know you need to work harder than before. You know you need to up your productivity and smarten your time management strategies. You know it all.
And you’ve been working your butt off, juggling your day job, family commitments, and lots of other stuff. You’ve made a plan, visualised your success. You get up earlier, use productivity apps and keep inspirational quotes on your desktop, but –
It’s still not enough.
Your to-do pile seems to grow back when you’re not watching. Your motivation comes and goes as it pleases.
You’re frustrated because you can’t finish your jobs on time. You feel anxious and worry that you will never achieve your Big Dream. You’re confused why your tried and tested methods are not delivering results you expect. You work harder and harder, but there is something that blocks your progress and makes you feel like a failure.
It’s as if you hit an invisible ceiling.
You think there must be something wrong with your motivation, or your productivity system. So you try to ‘motivate yourself’ and tweak your time management skills. But no matter how many inspirational posts you read, or how much you visualise your success, how many productivity apps you use, or minutes you save – it only helps a little. The Big Goal still seems distant. You’re feel deflated again, struggling with yet another confidence crisis. So you flog yourself into the motivation cycle, seeking boosters to keep you going and new productivity tricks to help you move ahead.
Don’t get me wrong, these strategies aren’t bad. After all, they have worked for you in the past. But they don’t take into account the reality of what you are facing right now. This is different – this is your Big Goal.
Motivation-based strategies waste your time and energy
The goal-setting gurus and motivational speakers tell us to reach for the stars, go larger than life, uncover the fire (or giant) inside us in order to achieve our dreams, and keep that motivation always at the forefront of our minds. Popular mainstream approaches to long-term goal achievement rely on feeling inspired and ‘pumped up’ and encourage us to constantly seek those feelings.
Yes, having a bigger-than-life purpose, pursuing a noble goal is what drives humans, to achieve the unachievable. And understanding WHY you want to pursue your dream is the first step on your journey. But motivation is fickle. It waxes and wanes. This is the way it is.
Given the above, using the limited energy you have to ‘get motivated’ is a very ineffective and wasteful way of achieving that long-term Big Dream goal.
The key to true success is to find out what REALLY drives you in life (not what others say you should be motivated by), and to make sure this powers your goal. Sadly, this is not always obvious, and many people make mistakes, pursuing their goals for reasons that don’t really light their fire. But once you’re clear what you DO care about, build a goal-achievement strategy that runs on autopilot.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Self-discipline is great, but only when you have it
Ever planned to work on your Big Project, all excited about the reward awaiting you on completion? You broke the steps down into manageable tasks. You planned it well ahead, knowing this needed time and energy… You got down to work, all organised and disciplined. You have made headways, but at some point, maybe during a stressful period in your life, your motivation plummeted and so did your self-discipline. And no matter how much you’ve tried to rekindle that fire which was driving you in the first place, you kept procrastinating, feeling it was too hard, too big, too confusing…
Self-discipline is another common strategy recommended when working on long-term goals.
It relies on willpower – your ability to make yourself do what you want to do. Self-discipline has been proven to be the biggest predictor of success in life. It’s great if you have it, but…
Self-discipline is becoming a rare thing in modern times, where instant gratification of our needs is possible and the world is abundant with temptations of all kinds. And then, there is life – when you’re tired, stressed, sick, sleep-deprived, making the right decision is hard. There are times in our lives when our willpower runs low and this is when we need a better strategy.
When the payoff is distant and you’re in an acute need of an instant gratification, resisting temptation– a nap, a round (or three) or your favourite mobile game, or an evening of mindless TV watching in favour of a couple of hours of hard work on your project– is very difficult.
What can you do now to make sure your future self does the right thing? Anticipate how you will self-sabotage in the future, and come up with a solution to defeat your future self.
Being aware that your willpower may experience outages is the first step to a better productivity system. Understanding when and how you give in to temptations is the next one. With these in place, you’re in a better position to build a productivity system that is failure-proof.
You’re really facing the limit inferior issue
A long time ago I read a sci-fi story about a society divided into classes based on intelligence, numbered from seven (the lowest) to zero (the highest, most intelligent). At some point, the main character discovers that what he thought to be the smartest, most powerful class – ‘0’ is just the lower limit of what’s possible. That there are people out there (well, aliens really) who are even smarter and more powerful than those in the top class.
And this is how I felt on one sunny Saturday morning in 2013.
A few years ago I decided to do an MBA. At that time I had a full-time job with senior management responsibilities. I was sitting on a couple of boards/ advisory committees, doing some voluntary work, writing a novel. I also had a family, friends and generally speaking ‘a life’. I was managing it quite well and thought I was productive, driven and successful.
And then, I met my new MBA classmates.
MBA students and graduates (in general) are a specific and interesting bunch. Very driven, very successful, very hard working. It was an executive MBA class, so they (we) all had full-time executive level jobs with lots of additional responsibilities.
At that time, I had a start-stop, motivation-based approach to my productivity.
I would get involved in something I was interested in and work on with passion and stop when my interest/motivation dropped. And then wait for another bout of motivation, or try to rekindle the interest to get me to do another piece of work. I had worked for me for many years, but…
On that morning, in 2013, having spent the previous evening studying the materials for the day, I was staring blankly at the board, swallowing back my tears, while everyone else was getting on with an accounting case study. And after the lecturer repeated his explanations for the third time especially for me, and it still didn’t help, a sudden realisation hit me: I was one of the least driven, least successful and least hard working of my class and more importantly,
What’s got me here was not going to get me there.
Of course, it hurt my ego, but I realised that in order to achieve my goal of completing the MBA, I had to find a different way of learning, working and overall dealing with my productivity and effectiveness.
I had to shift gears in my productivity.
And so I did.
I started creating systems that rely not on my motivation or willpower, but on my environment to get me to do work I need to do. This freed up a lot of time and energy to do the jobs that needed to get done, and– to find new, faster, more effective and more efficient ways of learning and working.
When you make the more mundane aspects of life routine, you free up brain power and time.
Writing this post is hard, not only because I didn’t sleep well last night, and have a lot of worries that play on my mind. It’s also hard because it’s hard to write about these things for me. Yet, I’m writing. And it’s a constant battle with my internal instant gratification monkey who would rather spend time with my daughter, have a chocolate, clean the sink, or check my emails. Yet, I keep writing, because
I’ve got a productivity system that keeps me on track with my work, regardless of my motivation level and regardless of multiple distractions.
A productivity system that does not need to ‘get motivated’ and relies on my weaknesses. A system that takes as much decision-making out of my day as possible, so I don’t run out of willpower at an unexpected moment. I’ve made the writing of this post as easy and walking away– as difficult as possible.
This way, I have extra energy and time I can use to work on my project – a project that normally feels too big, and too overwhelming. Writing this article would have taken me several days, but I’ve set out to finish it today. And I’m on my way to achieving it.
What’s got your here is not going to get you there
I don’t know about you, but changing the way I approached productivity and long-term goal-attainment really helped me shift gears. I shattered that productivity glass ceiling I was facing back at the beginning of my MBA. No more motivating myself, no more big, heroic all-nighters to finish that great project. Focus on just getting on with stuff that needed to get done.
It might have made my life more boring and predictable, but I finished my MBA with quite good grades. Now, aware of my weaknesses and previous failures, I continue building systems that work every day, whatever the weather, my motivation level, or the mood of the day. Systems that take care of the basics, so I can use my time and energy to achieve goals I used to dream of achieving.
Stop wasting your time and energy on motivating yourself
This approach can help you, too. Stop wasting your time and energy on motivating yourself. Discover what really drive you in life and embrace it. Make it the source of fuel to power you on your journey to the Big Goal. Break that lower limit and accelerate your success.
You will get that big promotion (and thrive in your new, bigger role). You will find time and energy to make your side business thrive. You will get into the MBA program of your dreams and you’ll be the one whose productivity and effectiveness others admire.
Wanna achieve that super-level, raise above the lower limit?
Shift your thinking, shift your gears. Build a system that uses your time and energy smartly.
Your Big Goal is waiting for you.