Productivity is a good thing. I think we can all agree on that. Achieving productivity is a whole other devil though. Without the right motivation tactics, even people with the best intentions can fall off the wagon. No matter how far you go with getting fitter, working on an essay or doing revision, it always feels like you’re miles out from where you want to be, even if you’re really inches away. You’ll never get to where you need to go like that.
It’s lucky then that a new paper in the Journal of Consumer Psychology has shed some light on how you can summon the will to keep up the momentum of a complex project from day-to-day.
When and how to change the focus of your motivation tactics
Professors Olya Bullard and Rajesh V. Manchanda of the University of Winnipeg experimented with different ways of framing goals for their undergrads. What they found was that when it came to motivation tactics, timing was everything.
In their report, they write that early on in their projects, “individuals represent goals as promotion-focused.” In other words, you focus on what you’re going to achieve or gain. This works because you have nothing of your own work to compare your progress to. So, every time you move towards your goal, you feel good about yourself because it’s further from where you started.
As you start to wear into the task, however, the little novelty starts to wear off. And that’s when you need to switch it up. Bullard and Manchanda’s study says individuals represent goals as “prevention-focused”.
Basically, when you get to a certain point – close to the end, let’s say – where you can visualise the end of the task. At that time, you respond better to the threat of losing your current progress than you do to being inches away from your goal. Imagine climbing a mountain – reaching the top would be cool, but it would be way worse to plummet to a rocky oblivion before you do. A essay deadline works in pretty much the same fashion.
TL;DR – There’s a tipping point in all your work where what you stand to lose is more of motivator than what you can gain. Remember this when you’re trying to motivate yourself over the long term.
Once you’ve grasped that, you can apply it to your usual motivation tactics. Carry on with your ‘biscuit for every 200 words written’ regime, but don’t forget to sanction yourself with an extra hour of reading for every illicitly-watched YouTube video. Sounds weird, but trust us, there’s science to back it up.