This article suggests several ways people can try to motivate themselves to get down to doing things they find boring, or difficult to concentrate on for some other reason.
Not everything will be possible for everyone to do, for various reasons, but it will hopefully give people at least some ideas they can try.
Some bits of advice might seem basic and common sense, but people still might come away with some new ideas.
There are a few stories about people who found ways to make boring jobs more fun or interesting, and about one or two other things.
Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article.
It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
Let perseverance be your engine and hope your fuel.
--H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Difficult things take a long time, impossible things a little longer.
--André A. Jackson
Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.
The drops of rain make a hole in the stone not by violence but by oft falling.
The greatest oak was once a little nut who held its ground.
Fall seven times, stand up eight.
When the world says, "Give up," Hope whispers, "Try it one more time."
Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.
I do my work at the same time each day — the last minute.
There is nothing so easy but that it becomes difficult when you do it reluctantly.
--Publius Terentius Afer
Procrastination is opportunity's assassin.
The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places.
If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.
There are several ways motivation can be increased, though different things might work better for different people, so a bit of experimentation might be necessary.
If something can be turned into some kind of competition, it can boost enthusiasm and increase a person's motivation to do it. Sometimes that could simply mean a person setting themselves a personal challenge to do better at something than someone they don't like. Or even challenging themselves to beat their own record.
One woman who had a mind-numbingly tedious office job several days a month where she just had to fill in forms with figures and statistics decided she had to make things more interesting for herself to keep her morale up, so she decided to get a bit of an adrenaline boost by competing with herself to see how many forms she could get done in a set length of time; she'd count how many she got done in the morning, and tried to beat her record in the afternoon. Then she counted the number she'd done that day, and tried to beat her record the next day. Soon she found she was filling in more forms than anyone else with the same job in her department.
She found it wasn't just at work where making the job more fun made her feel a bit more perky; she would leave in a better mood, and that gave her the energy to enjoy her leisure hours more too.
A boy had a job he found boring and hated in a school, washing plates, scrubbing work surfaces and dishing out ice-cream to other boys. He would love to have been outside having fun in the playground with others. But he managed to make the job more interesting; he decided to study ice-cream - how it was made, what ingredients were used, and what made some ice-creams of a better quality than others. He was studying chemistry, and decided to find out all about the chemistry of ice-cream. As he grew more interested in the subject, he did better on his chemistry course, and it led to him even deciding to go to college and study food chemistry. He won a prize for a paper on the best uses of cocoa and chocolate.
Later, he was finding it difficult to get a job, and started his own private laboratory in the basement of his house. Not long afterwards, a new law was passed saying the bacteria in milk needed to be counted. Not a job most people would fancy, but for some reason, he liked the idea, and was soon counting bacteria for all the milk companies in his town, and had such success in getting work that he had to employ two assistants.
It's possible that he wouldn't have had that success in life if he hadn't tried to think up ways of making his washing-up job more interesting.
The success he went on to have might be an exception, but still, thinking about whether there are ways of making part of a job more interesting could make it more endurable, and even sometimes lead to future success.
One man who was bored of his unstimulating job, standing at a lathe, turning out bolt after bolt in a factory, felt like leaving, but was worried he wouldn't get another job if he did. So he decided to try and make his job more interesting instead. He had a talk to the mechanic working beside him and they decided to have races, to see which of them could work the quickest, when one was cutting a bolt to the right diameter and the other was trimming off the rough surfaces. They would switch machines occasionally and see who could do the most bolts. As well as making it more fun, they got faster.
The foreman was impressed with the speed and accuracy of the man who'd thought up the idea and soon gave him a better job. In the coming years he got promoted several times, till he even ended up as the president of the company three decades later.
So making his job more interesting didn't only benefit him by making him happier.
Again, he must be an exception to have become that successful, but still, even if trying to bring a bit of fun into boring jobs simply leads to more happiness, it'll be worthwhile; and it might lead to more than that.
A man who got a job as a door-to-door salesman for a while that he hated at first livened it up by pretending he was an actor performing in front of an audience. He enjoyed pretending to do that so much he grew to love the job.
It might be that some jobs can't be made more interesting no matter what; but it's probably worth anyone who's bored with theirs at least trying to think of ways they might be able to make it less of a burden.
Telling someone whose opinion you care about that you intend to finish something by such-and-such a time can help with motivation, since you'll know they might ask whether you've done it and you might be ashamed if you haven't.
Also, setting deadlines can increase motivation to get things done, even without anyone else knowing about them. For instance, you might think, "If I can get this done by the end of tomorrow, I'll give myself such-and-such a reward. If I don't I won't."
Setting artificial deadlines does have a downside, since people can become discouraged if they don't manage to finish in the time. It can help to experiment and judge which motivational suggestions will work best.
Sometimes it helps if you decide to do a thing for only half an hour or an hour at any one time before having a break or rewarding yourself in some way. That way, something you're about to start can seem less daunting than it would if you just think of it as a mountain of endless slog in front of you that you really don't fancy starting to climb.
Taking a complete break to do something totally different and enjoyable some days can refresh people so they feel more like getting down to doing something than they would if they were slogging on for days and days without varying what they do because they want to get it finished.
Reminding yourself of the reasons you have for wanting to do the thing can help, since it's easy to lose sight of them while slogging through doing it so they're not providing any inspiration to carry on. If you write down as many as you can think of, and then often read what you wrote, it can refresh the memory, and so provide fresh enthusiasm.
Sometimes, telling yourself why it'll be better for you if you just get down to work can help. Sometimes, people feel grotty while they're sitting thinking about how they can't be bothered to do something, but once they've got engrossed in it, they find they're feeling much better.
One man who felt restless at work didn't mind his job as such, but it was summertime, and he longed to be out hiking with his girlfriend in the sunny warm weather, or sailing, or having picnics with her; she was a teacher, so she was free for weeks during the summer. He kept thinking about it. As soon as he got to work in the morning, he thought, "I don't want to be here!" He thought things like that throughout the day, and he just got more and more miserable the more he thought them. He felt distracted, and more and more resentful at having to be there instead of out in the sunshine. Each day seemed to drag on endlessly. He found it difficult to get on with what he was supposed to be doing and got further and further behind with it. Then when he left work at the end of the day, he felt tired, and guilty about not doing as much as he knew he should have done. He dreaded going back there the next day, so he just wasn't in the mood to enjoy his spare time like he would have done if he'd left in a better mood.
He knew something needed to change. He tried changing the things he told himself in his mind; he tried talking back to the thought, 'I don't want to be here' with the phrase, 'Well you're here, idiot. Now get down to work!' but he found that didn't make him any more cheerful! So he tried something else.
Someone trying to help him asked him what he'd say to a younger person who felt the same way as him about his work. He said he'd say, "You'll feel better if you get to work."
The person trying to help him asked how he thought it might help him personally if he said that to himself, and how it would help if he did what he was recommending and got back to work. He said he'd get more done, which would mean he'd leave at the end of the day in a better mood, not feeling guilty about doing so little. That would mean he'd enjoy his free time more.
He decided to write the phrase, "You'll feel better if you get to work" down on a piece of paper, and stuck it on his desk in a place where only he could see it. That way he would often be reminded to think it.
It took him three weeks to stop thinking all the thoughts about how he didn't want to be there and would prefer to be out in the sun instead. When he had, he felt much better, and was doing his work more efficiently, no longer getting behind and leaving feeling guilty and dissatisfied.
Related to competition, having a sense of vitality can help. That can be increased by taking a break every now and then to play a little game, or spending some time during non-working hours playing one - a contest of wits or some game where you have to pit your skill against another person or a computer, that'll get the adrenaline flowing and end up with your brain feeling more active and you feeling more alive. Life can seem a depressing drag if no fun's being had and a person's abilities aren't being tested so they can start losing faith in them. People can thrive on a bit of challenge, as long as it's pleasurable. Playing just a little game lasting a few minutes every now and then can get the energy flowing and a person feeling more alive and more fit to do whatever else they have to do.
If it's difficult to tear yourself away once you've started doing the more enjoyable thing, it might help to promise yourself you'll come back in an hour or so if you get enough work done.
(Gambling games, though they can give a great adrenaline buzz, are liable to make people feel worse in the long run, since worries over the loss of money that's almost inevitable can outweigh any high that's being gained. Far better to gain the high by doing things that exercise the brain at no cost.)
Doing something that tests the brain or feels fulfilling or fun can put people in a better mood to then get down to doing something they don't enjoy so much.
And trying to find somewhere outside working hours or something that won't take long during them where some imagination and creativity can be used for a little while can do the same - getting mental energy flowing so people feel more alive; not doing anything like that can leave people feeling their brain power's not being used; and the more it isn't used, the more sluggish and depressed people can feel. Using it for pleasurable things that keep the brain feeling as if it's being challenged in a nice way can keep mental energy and alertness at a higher level, so it's easier to get on with things that need to be done but aren't so pleasurable. Even if they're a drag, at least the thought that the brain will be used again soon can help keep the spirits up so they're easier to get through.
It's best to put a time limit on what you're doing if it feels like a slog, for instance saying to yourself that you'll go for half an hour longer and then have a break. Then you won't be so discouraged by feeling the task's endless.
One thing that might encourage you is if you look back over how much of the task you're trying to get through you've already completed every so often. If you've completed quite a bit, you might feel pleased to know you at least won't have to do that bit any more and that you're making progress.
You could try to put yourself in a more optimistic frame of mind in general in the hope it'll generate more enthusiasm to get on with a task if you try to develop friendships with positive people who are going places and like to talk optimistically about their plans, or their ideas about how things could be improved, or at least about good experiences, or things that are thought-provoking in a pleasant way. Not just face to face, but on places like Facebook, if you get to know people like that. If you often see statuses from people that give you a lift and make you feel more optimistic, you'll be in a better mood to do what you're doing, whereas if the statuses that appear most on your Facebook page are from people who whine or backbite or can express irritating opinions or are making a mess of life and so on, it could have the effect of making you feel a bit discouraged and hopeless about life or depressed, and that'll sap your enthusiasm to get things done.
Try and observe what effect various things are having on you. If you notice, for instance, that you don't feel like getting down to things after you've been on Facebook, put off going there and catching up till later in the day, when you've got less to do.
It can also help if you find a source of news articles about things such as scientific developments that make you feel more optimistic about life; that might well put you in a better mood to make progress yourself. But it can help to avoid reading or listening to news which will almost certainly be bad and might get you down a bit so you don't feel like doing so much, at least till later in the day when you've done the important things.
If you're around negative people and you realise their negativity is rubbing off on you and you're feeling discouraged and not in the mood to put effort into things, if you can't change your environment so you're with new people, it might at least help if you try to find things to do or read in your breaks that'll put you in a better mood, such as reading about new scientific developments, nipping out to a park to watch children play, or looking at something amusing on the Internet; and try to avoid doing anything you realise drags your mood down, such as spending time brooding on the faults of others with the negative people.
If you feel as if your job is a boring slog but it'll be hard to change it, at least try to do something on your days off that gives you more confidence in your abilities, and something that gives you a bit of exercise so as to get the adrenaline pumping so you feel more energetic, and is fun.
Exercise can increase the adrenaline flowing around the body so it can give you more mental as well as physical energy, which can help motivate people to get things done. A little bit of exercise every now and again throughout every day can help too. In fact, regularly taking time out from something you're struggling with to do something that refreshes you can mean you get more done even though you're spending less time doing it, than you would if you were glued to it all day, trying to slog on with the brain's resources on half power because you're not getting any adrenaline boosts or variety that might help refresh and re-energise you.
On the other hand, if you notice that after doing something like exercise, chatting to people and so on, you find it difficult to settle back down to work again, it'll be best to do it less often. Observe yourself to see what works for you.
It's best to vary your work as much as possible; slogging on with a soul-destroyingly boring task for hours can be depressing, but breaking it up to do other things that need to be worked on in between spells of doing that can make it seem more bearable.
Also, it could help if you save your favourite work task till last, if possible, so you've got something to look forward to, which might help keep your spirits up while you're doing the others.
Try to bring more variety into your life in general, if you think it would help. Trying to slog on doing the same old thing all day will be a drag, but if you can take time out at least some times during the week for some escapism, for instance getting engrossed in a book that takes your mind right away from what you're doing, or having some fun, coping with doing what feels like a slog might seem easier.
Again though, if you're doing something you enjoy so much that it makes it hard to pull yourself away and focus on what you're trying to work on, it might be as well to do less of it for a while. Again, often think about your recent behaviour to see if you can get a clearer idea of the effect various things you've recently done have had - whether they've slowed you down or sped you up. Then plan to do more or less of them, or at least to do some of them at different times of day, as appropriate.
If there's anything that can make your work more enjoyable, you're more likely to want to do it too; music in the background might make you work more cheerfully, for example. Again though, if some turns out to be a distraction, you're better off finding something else. Or if slow music makes you feel too relaxed, putting on fast music instead might help keep you more alert.
If you're doing something soul-destroyingly boring or depressing, sometimes listening to music with sad or angry lyrics can make it seem less of a chore; the songs can be an outlet that helps people release the feelings of boredom, frustration and so on that might be preventing them just getting on with things; feelings can be partly vented/drained away because they're being spent on identifying with the person singing about feeling miserable so they're not all concentrated on feeling the boredom and negativity that can be a hindrance to completing the task in hand; and also when people feel they have company in their misery, it can be consoling, and the consolation can be cheering. So the task can be completed more willingly.
Naturally that's only true up to a point; songs about real tragedies would likely just make most people feel worse.
Listening to unfamiliar music can also make things easier sometimes - as long as it'll likely be pleasant of course - as the brain has something new to focus part of itself on, which can make things seem a bit less boring. Alternatively, familiar old favourite songs can create a sense of cosiness that can be comforting, so they can help more sometimes.
If you notice you're falling asleep, try and find out if there's anything contributing to it that could be easily changed, such as a big meal in the middle of the day. Sometimes eating more, or eating certain things, can make people feel sleepy or lethargic, partly because of the chemicals in some foods and partly because the body's energy's being used to digest the food so it isn't so available for brain power. A balance needs to be found between feeling too hungry to concentrate, and so full it makes you too lethargic to want to.
There are things that can sometimes help people stay awake, such as a fan blowing cool air on the face, music, and anything that livens the environment up.
Talking of food though, it's important to eat healthily, not just for physical health but for the mood, since not having a good balanced diet can mean you can become deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, and one symptom of some vitamin and mineral deficiencies is depression and other mood disorders. Hunger can also cause mood problems, for instance irritability and edginess, so skipping meals altogether can make working more difficult.
It can help boost the morale while doing a thing that isn't enjoyed to chew on something nice - perhaps chopped raw vegetables kept in a big bowl beside you - they're low-calorie enough that you could have loads of them and not put on weight. Some can be bought ready-prepared from supermarkets. Or sugar-free chewing gum's a way to have a nice flavour in your mouth all day without either getting fat by eating lots of things or damaging the teeth.
It's important to work in good light with a good fresh air supply if possible, because if the air's stuffy so the quality of the oxygen being breathed in is poor, it can sap vitality; and that, especially combined with poor light, can start sending people to sleep, because the body thinks it must be getting near bedtime.
As well as light deprivation, sleep deprivation can make people tired during the day, or irritable or a bit shaky and light-headed, so they can't concentrate so well. As everyone knows really, it's important to get a good night's sleep most of the time, though some people need more hours sleep than others before they can feel good the next day.
Think about whether your surroundings could be improved to make you feel better:
Is your chair comfortable? If you're getting back ache or some other problem like that, it may be that the chair isn't suitable and trying to find another one would be best. And if the surroundings look a bit bleak, bringing something in to make them more bright and homely might make you feel more cheerful and so more like working. Being too hot or too cold can be a distraction, so it can increase motivation if you try to fix things so you're not.
Sometimes, moving to other surroundings altogether where possible can help. A couple of examples:
A friend of my brother's often used to get low grades in school exams. Then he realised that while trying to revise, he was constantly distracted by having things he preferred to do readily available; and also listening to music and other things made his mind wander. He decided to study in the library from then on. He discovered it made a big difference, and got high grades from then on.
I myself have found I can get a lot more work done if I can sit outside in the sunshine.
You could find it helpful to think about your habits, and try to work out or observe over the coming week whether any of them is resulting in you becoming less efficient. Even little things can sometimes have big consequences. For instance, going and making a cup of coffee at a certain time of day might mean meeting up with people who go there at the same time and ending up chatting for ages, and regretting taking the time out afterwards, whereas making the cup of coffee a mere ten minutes earlier Could mean you don't delay nearly so long so you have a more productive day. Or spending too long over getting ready in the morning might give you time to start brooding on things about life you're not happy with, making you feel discouraged and irritable, which affects your work performance for hours. Or taking a few minutes out to play a particular computer game might mean you're so hyped up with adrenaline you find it hard to settle to work again, so you lose much more time than you'd intended. So you could experiment with doing other things to de-stress for those moments.
Habit can be a powerful reason people do what they do, so changing habits that are less than helpful can help. Trying to work out what you're really trying to gain from a behaviour can mean it's possible to think of other ways of getting it that don't slow down work performance so much. For instance, if a person on a diet worked out that the reason they got up at a certain time every afternoon to go and buy a chocolate cake and eat it in a nearby cafe was actually because they were craving a bit of company and a lift in mood, rather than the cake itself, they could try to think of other ways of getting that at that time, for instance by just reading something comical at their desk and sharing the joke briefly with a colleague next to them before getting back to work; and within a few months, they might have lost some weight because they no longer ate so much chocolate, and might have got a lot more work done, because they were satisfying their craving for company and a lift in their mood by doing something that didn't take anywhere near so long to do.
It's important if possible not to be under-stimulated or over-stimulated. If the brain doesn't feel challenged for a while, boredom and lethargy can set in that saps motivation; and if the body hasn't been stimulated by exercise for hours on end, it can become lethargic too so it becomes more difficult to concentrate and be bothered to work.
But over-stimulation's just as bad: Feeling overwhelmed by having too much to do, too much responsibility or pressure to get things done can lead to worries that make it hard to concentrate and get absorbed in things; too much going on in the mind is a distraction, for one thing. So solving the problems of life, where possible, can help increase motivation to stick at something.
If another person's been annoying or worrying you, instead of not being able to concentrate for brooding on the problem, it can help to stop for at least a little while if possible and at least note down possible ways of dealing with the problem or points you want to think through, and save them for later, knowing you'll remember them since you've written them down.
It can help to get involved in at least one thing in life that gives you the sense that you're doing something worthwhile and a feeling of optimism that progress is being made; coming to a task more cheerfully because that sense of optimism is lingering can give people more mental energy to do whatever it is they're trying to do, whereas starting off something you don't want to do feeling depressed might mean you only feel worse as it goes on and so less motivated.
If work's a slog, try to develop interests outside it that help you feel life's worth living, so at least life itself doesn't become a drag. And more than one, if possible. When people think they're only living for one thing or person, they can have mental crises if something happens to that person or thing; if they're living for more than one, at least they've still got something to live for if something happens to one thing.
Planning beforehand what time you're going to do something the next day can help with motivation - if you determine to do something first thing, for instance, you might well do it, whereas if it's a bit boring or complicated, you might otherwise put it off and put it off and it might not get done for ages.
Some people find to-do lists help them get things done, where they plan the day before what they need to do, and write everything down in order of importance, or when each thing would be best done. If people have a definite plan in their minds about what they're going to do when, it saves the time they might spend distracted and procrastinating while they make up their minds what to do next or worrying about what most needs doing.
If you're finally getting down to something you've been putting off or finding boring, and you're getting on well with it, it can be better not to do anything you know you find distracting, since once distracted again, it might be difficult to get back down to what you'd finally managed to get down to after having struggled to. So you could maybe close your email program so you won't be tempted to look at emails as soon as new ones come in, and quickly do anything else you can think of that makes it less likely you'll be disturbed or distracted.
Naturally it's important, though, that you don't take too long taking time out to arrange distraction-free time, since by the time you have, you might have become distracted and lost the urge to get down to what you'd just managed to get down to doing.
Sometimes lack of motivation caused by lethargy can have a physical cause that can be improved if medically treated, for instance an underactive thyroid or anaemia, or a deficiency in vitamin D or another vitamin or mineral. Anyone who persistently finds it hard to motivate themselves could consider seeing a doctor.
This article is part of a series on self-improvement on this website, which mostly features articles on overcoming conflict in marriages and with others, recovering from emotional problems such as depression and anxiety, and coping with other difficult life situations. To see what's in it, Go to the list of articles.