Motivating yourself

Yes that is me. Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco.

Ironically, as I am writing this post, I really should be studying German.  While I complained rather obnoxiously in the first week that class was going too slow, this week I am struggling to keep up with nouns (are they feminine, masculine or neutral??) and conjugating verbs.  Even so, I hold desperately to the belief that I will magically master the language by watching German childrens’ movies (e.g. learning with Professor Toto!) without ever learning any formal grammar.  Like I said, I am somewhat deluded.

This Tuesday to Friday German class, does, however, provide me with a certain structure I felt was missing in my day.  It affords me the opportunity of accountability (of being in class every day), routine (of being in class at the same time every day), and social interaction (seeing the same group of people every day).  This class and the structure it offers me, has in turn provided me with the motivation and energy to pursue my other goals (e.g. redoing my website, thinking about my PhD research, volunteering, seeking out new collaborations, writing papers, etc).

Walking past a store in Zurich, I saw the longest German word I have ever seen. (Not that I’ve seen too many yet).

I suppose this is the thing that most grad students or self-employed people struggle with – setting goals for yourself and getting them done.  This is something I certainly struggled with during my masters.  Though my “wisdom” on this topic is absurdly unwarranted, here are some lessons I have learned:

1.  Too much time == getting less done.  When I have a whole free day to work on something, I almost never get it done.  Quite often, I will laze about, procrastinate, and spend my precious time doing things that are neither urgent or all that important.  By giving myself a constrained block of time to do something (e.g. 2 hours), I actually get a lot more accomplished in a shorter period of time.

2. Having some sort of routine and structure gives you motivation and energy.  While Penelope Trunk would tell you to get a job (any job!) to get you out of a lethargic state, if given the choice, I’d rather spend my time doing something that will benefit my future career/life goals.

3. Find the fine line between not having enough to do and having too much to do.  When I don’t have enough to do, I feel restless, listless, and dissatisfied.  When I have too much to do, I feel stressed, overwhelmed and paralyzed.  Finding that elusive fine line and knowing when to say ‘no’ is the hardest part.

4. Be happy.  If you are not happy, you are less likely to come up with creative ideas.  If you are not happy, you are less likely to seek out or maintain meaningful relationships. If you are not happy, you probably don’t have the physical energy or motivation to accomplish your goals.  So, if you are already overwhelmed and choosing between getting more work done, or doing something that will make you feel happier (e.g. going for a run), do the latter.   In the long term, you’ll probably be more productive and originate more creative and higher quality work anyway.

(Though sometimes you do just have to suck it up and get it done!)

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