You can achieve more if you stop letting it slip away.
I’ve been trying to write this article for two hours, but I keep switching tabs to browse Facebook.
Most people would consider me “busy.” I have a full-time job, work out most days (and take my time at the gym), freelance, and run my own website. And still have time for myself. People often ask how I have the motivation and focus to do everything.
I think, probably, I have the same motivation as everyone else. But I’ve done my best to systematically cut out stuff that steals my motivation and keeps me from getting things done.
Of course, there are days that I slip up and spend too much time procrastinating. I paused to check Snapchat after writing that sentence.
On days like today, I’ve failed to stop the motivation thieves. I didn’t get enough sleep, or forgot to prep my day last night. I’m disorganized and scattered, and it’s hard enough to get through an 8-hour day — let alone follow it with two hours at the gym and some writing time.
Do you ever get tired at the end of the day, and tell yourself that you’ll make up a workout tomorrow? What about put off work, even important work, because this article your friend posted on Facebook just can’t wait.
There may be solutions beyond just “trying harder.” Cut out the biggest motivation thieves and every pet project becomes easier.
Thief Number One: Lack of Sleep
When I’m having a bad day, one question needs to be answered: did I get enough sleep?
Most of the time the answer is no.
Lack of sleep makes you think less effectively. It turns simple cognitive tasks into difficult ones. It makes you ruminate on problems and increases stress. It can even make you choose unhealthy foods over healthy ones.
The importance of sleep has become almost a cliche, but there are still people that don’t believe the research applies to them, or don’t realize just how important it is. Even people that are at a severe cognitive disadvantage because of sleep deprivation claim to notice no difference.
In truth, sleep has a profound effect on everyone. And no, coffee is not a substitute; caffeine can make you feel more alert, but it can’t restore your cognition like sleep does.
Getting more sleep will recharge your motivation and make it easier for you to tackle the tough projects that need doing.
At the same time, recognizing the impact of sleep can help you deal with lack of sleep. Last night I didn’t get enough sleep, and I’ve been kind of a grump today. Of course the problems I need to deal with are real, but recognizing that they only upset me because I’m already tired helps me respond to them more effectively.
And I know that I’ll be in a better mood tomorrow.
Thief Number Two: Food
There’s a reason the word “hangry” exists.
When you are hungry, it’s much easier to get irritable and much harder to focus. Today I skipped breakfast (oops), and was less productive all morning — and in a worse mood!
I usually have lunch prepped in advance, but I didn’t have it together today and ordered a huge bowl of heavy, cheesy pasta. And then I was nearly comatose the entire afternoon.
Seriously, I have to emphasize how not good today has been.
When you don’t have enough food or gorge yourself on low-quality food, you are hurting your motivation and productivity. If you’re hungry and trying to hit the gym after work, it becomes all the more tempting to just go home and eat dinner.
Usually, I prep my food in advance to avoid this problem. Manage your nutrition and life gets easier.
Thief Number Three: Nagging To-Dos
I’ve learned I can only really do one “to-do” per day.
I can go grocery shopping OR do laundry. I can clean OR cook. Whenever I’ve tried to do too much on a given day, something bigger slips through the cracks.
You are probably better at taking care of cleaning, shopping, or calling the cable company than I am, but that isn’t the point. The point is that there is some number of to-dos that maxes you out for the day.
To run with our gym example, if you want to go to the gym but also need to go grocery shopping and cook, you might not be finished with your day until bedtime, with zero time to unwind. Nobody wants to live like that.
Putting systems in place to manage everyday tasks frees up your mental and physical energy for other tasks. When I cook, for example, I make sure to have leftovers so that I have the energy to do laundry or yell at Comcast the next day.
The more things on your to-do list, the easier it is to avoid doing things that are truly important (but not necessarily urgent). Manage your everyday tasks to tackle bigger projects.
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Stopping motivation thieves opens up a world of productivity that’s hard to appreciate until you’ve experienced it.
And everyone slips up sometimes! Today was a bad day for me, true, but those days have become less and less common. Even when they do happen, they are less severe than they used to be.
If you struggle to go to the gym consistently, or want to meditate, or are constantly pushed up against deadlines because of procrastination, getting these thieves locked away will make your life easier.
If you want to take an extra step, I put together a free guide to help you stay consistently motivated (at the gym, but also for anything else). You can check it out here.
Originally published at medium.com