I used to be really great at sticking to a schedule. Lately, this hasn’t worked as well. My days keep throwing me curve balls. I have too much to do and not enough day to do it all, and so often I’m just tired.
On bad days, I sometimes hear a whiny voice in my head saying “But I don’t want to!” How do you keep going when you just don’t feel like doing anything?
Different things work on different days. Some days, I can offer myself a reward for getting started. As I’ve said before, peanut butter sandwiches, naps, phone calls… whatever works. Once I get started, it’s fun enough that I can keep going.
Other days, I make the tasks to do smaller. I only copy a corner of the painting or do a thumbnail to expand on later. Maybe I cut out some of the tasks altogether on really bad days.
Remembering my goals and dreams is motivating. I imagine writing and illustrating a book that I want to read over and over. I imagine creating a world that seems like it really should exist somewhere. I imagine painting a picture of my children that I want to hang on my wall and make prints of to send to all my family and friends.
On bad days, I tell myself my growth spurt theory over and over. “It’s hard today because I’m just about to hit a growth spurt,” I tell myself. “If I push through and keep going, my work is going to get so much better. I can’t give up before then.”
I remind myself that the times in the past where I stopped practicing I didn’t feel any better. Quitting didn’t help. In fact, it made things worse because the guilt didn’t go away. Once I whip through the practice for the day, the burden lifts, and I can move forward with confidence. And maybe the momentum of finishing something will help me get even more things done.
I set a time and a small task. At 10:00, I’ll do this small exercise. I set everything out on the bed in little piles and set a time for each pile. When the time comes, I try to talk myself into doing the first pile. Just really quickly. It doesn’t have to be my best work. If I just manage to do something, that’s enough. And, if the first task goes well, sometimes I can tack on a second or third and readjust my schedule.
There are some things that I want to add to my schedule that haven’t happened yet. I think of them often and try to talk myself into them. Right now, things are busy and my motivation is just barely covering what I’m already doing.
But, I’m biding my time. Certain times of year are great for schedule building. Everyone else is starting new things too and there just seems to be extra motivation in the air. There is a feeling that the time is right now. The start of the school year or the new year or the summer. The first day of spring or fall or winter. Birthdays, anniversaries, small holidays.
I once read an article that said that people are more likely to quit smoking if they set a date. If it works for something that difficult, surely it can work for something small. And I think it works better if there is some meaning attached to the date. And if it doesn’t work the first time, I’ll keep trying. You don’t fail until you quit trying.
I like to write a date next to my practice work. Having a long chain of unbroken days is motivating. I don’t want to break the chain. But then, occasionally, I do. That’s really demotivating. So, as soon as possible, I make up for the missed days and date them as though I had done them on time. “It didn’t happen,” I tell myself. “See? No missed days.” And then I’m motivated again. Looking back, I have no idea which days I missed. It didn’t happen.
Having a website like this is motivating because of the accountability. Even though not many people check it, the idea of disappointing the people who do is motivating. It’s like breaking the chain of unbroken days, but in a public setting where I can’t pretend it didn’t happen. I can’t fool the site stats by back-dating my posts.
Sometimes, after looking at work I admire, I feel like giving up. “I’ll never be that good. Why am I even trying?” I remind myself I’ll never know if I give up. I remind myself that they are them and I am me and it isn’t a competition. And then I try to trick myself into practicing anyway.
In “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones, the wizard Howl says, “I’m a coward. Only way I can do something this frightening is to tell myself I’m not doing it!” Sometimes this works for me, too. I set everything out, and when I have a moment where I’m not doing something else, I’ll tell myself, “Well, I guess I might as well do this, just for right now.”
Perhaps this seems strange to read about. I don’t know. It works for me. Sometimes. Some of my friends admire my self-discipline. I feel a little like an impostor, because it’s not really self-discipline. It doesn’t feel like it anyways. It feels like I’m flying by the seat of my pants, frantically trying to figure out what will work this time before the day is over, in between all the other things I need to do each day.
Maybe I’ll get that regular schedule back someday. I’d like to. I’m not going to wait to practice writing and painting and drawing for that day. And so, I’ll just keep doing my best each day.
Do you have a hard time motivating yourself to get things done? What works for you? How do you add new things to your day? How do you stick to a schedule?
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