Do you want to be more productive and crush your to-do list, but your projects feel like millstones around your neck? You know that these are essential tasks that you need to tackle, from writing essays or starting group projects to answering your professor’s emails. If you don’t, you could be in danger of hurting your grade, or worse — your overall educational experience.
You might be putting tasks off and procrastinating until you “feel” like working on them. Unfortunately, you might never feel like working on them, especially if you continue to view the tasks as burdens that have been unfairly placed upon you.
What if I told you there was a quick, easy way to change your mindset, make these unsavory tasks much more appealing, and be more productive?
It all has to do with identifying your higher purpose.
1. Find Out What Motivates You to Be More Productive
By “higher purpose,” I mean: What motivates you?
Think of a time when you jumped out of bed in the morning because you were excited to work on a task or goal. Or, think of an instance when you got lost in your “flow,” losing all sense of time because you were so deep into a project. You didn’t have to push yourself to be more productive, because it came naturally. What were you doing? More importantly, why were you doing it?
Everyone is motivated by something different. For some, it’s purely the creative process of working on something or trying something new. Others are motivated by scoring a big win or coming in first place. Still others like to be a part of something bigger than themselves, whether that’s an organization or an idea. And some are motivated by money or another kind of reward. Sometimes the motivation depends on the task, and sometimes it is a combination of different kinds of motivation.
Not sure what motivates you? This article from Lifehack on types of motivation might be able to help you pin down your motivation style.
I’m personally motivated by being a part of something bigger than myself and using my knowledge to help others. If I’m doing that, even in a small way, I feel like I’m achieving my higher purpose. Which leads us to…
2. Reframe Your Task According to Your Motivation Style/Higher Purpose
Identifying your “why” can be so much more powerful than knowing the “what” or even the “how” of a task. Perhaps you have to write an essay. The “why” shouldn’t be simply “because my professor told me I had to write it.” While this is true, in order for you to be properly motivated, you need to view the task through the lens of your personal motivation style and tailor the task to you as much as possible.
Your “why” for writing the essay might be one of the following, a combination of these motivators, or something else entirely:
- Get a good grade that will help get you into a desirable program or school
- Learn something new and exciting about the subject
- Get a good grade that will put you at the top of the class
- Learn information that will help you in your future career
- Show your professor that you are serious about the class
- Explore a subject you care deeply about
- Share your thoughts and opinions on a subject about which you feel passionately
The sense of motivation is much deeper when you read these phrases, isn’t it? This helps you be more productive because now the task is personal.
If you continue to struggle with your “why,” reach out to your professor. Perhaps the subject matter does not interest you at all or does not align with your goals or motivations. Maybe there is a way that you can tweak the assignment to meet both your needs and the needs of the class. It is always worth asking!
Bonus: Learn how to talk to your professor about writer’s block and procrastination, with an example email!
3. Write Out Your Higher Purpose on Paper
Writing out how a task relates to your higher purpose, even in the smallest of ways, can be incredibly powerful and help you be more productive. This shifts your mindset from “I have to do this task” to “I get to do this task!” Read: Jumping out of bed in the morning to get started.
Recently, I was stuck on a writing project. I had zero motivation to get started — it just seemed like drudgery and I felt no creative spark. I’m not always motivated by simply checking another item off of my to-do list, because my to-do list is always a mile long! I knew I had to reframe my motivation and higher purpose for this task.
Because I enjoy helping others, I used that as motivation to reframe how I thought about the task. I went from, “I must write this piece because I was told to write it” to “By writing this piece, I am positively impacting someone else’s life, perhaps for years to come! This piece could be a real life-saver for a reader.”
Put pen to paper and describe how the task relates to your higher purpose. Write it on a sticky note and put it on your computer, your planner, or the stack of materials you have to read as a reminder. You don’t have to do this task — you get to do this task.
And the more gratitude you can infuse, the better. In fact, this article from Berkeley, which has conducted research on gratitude, notes, “…we have found that gratitude is not just a pleasant, passive emotion but rather an activating, energizing force that may lead us to pursue our goals and become better, more socially engaged people.”
4. Make it a Habit to Be More Productive
Once you have discovered what motivates you and your higher purpose, write it down and put it somewhere prominent, where you see it every day. This is a great compass to use when you’re feeling down or stuck, or when you have a big decision to make. Soon, you’ll be making decisions based on your higher purpose without evening having to think about it, allowing you to be more productive with far less effort.
I also recommend adding notes on how your purpose aligns to daily tasks on your to-do list or in your planner. Personally, I like to add a note next to my top task of the day, the one that needs to be tackled the most urgently. Because every task is different, it helps to get really specific about what is going to motivate you to accomplish it and why. Some of my past “purpose reminders” to myself have been:
- I am writing this piece to help tell a story that someone cannot tell themselves.
- I am working on this project to help empower someone to make a positive change in their life.
- I am giving this task my time, attention, and energy to show the recipient that I value their trust in me to complete it.
If you are still feeling stuck, focus on how this task can make you feel in a positive way. Does it make you feel accomplished, helpful, or successful? It might take a little practice, but by coming from a place of abundance and gratitude, you can reframe how you think about your to-do list and be more productive.