How to be productive when you lack motivation

A common misconception people have about me is that I have TONS of intrinsic motivation because I really do THE ABSOLUTE MOSTest with the time I got. Perhaps more than the average person, I make use of every little minute I spend on something and I’m hyper aware of being intentional about my choices.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Annie Dillard

One of my favourite TEDx talks of all-time is about being intentional about your life and your day-to-day decision-making. Making choices to use the days, hours, months you got for the betterment of yourself, your near-and-dear, your professional network, or your local community, will hopefully lead you to a happier and more fulfilled life. At least, that’s what I know to be true for me.

Now, I’m well aware that it’s not the easiest of choices to get up in the morning and just BE PRODUCTIVE. Especially if you, like me, tend to have ZERO self-motivation to get stuff done. Hence, I decided to write this blog for all those of you who would like to know the secret to how I get so much done in a day/week, and how you can apply some of the tools I use to keep yourself organized and productive, while still having time to have a social life (we all sure need some time off once in a while 😉 )

This blog will break down my top 5 tips on how to be a productivity wizard.

1) Organize, categorize, track progress

Easier said than done, my top tip is to get some of your life in order! Organize your life by starting with a list of all the tasks and assignments you have been procrastinating on. There are several organizational notetaking apps available but my personal favourite is Notion! I keep my whole life on Notion – my weekly agenda, my daily and monthly goals, my New Year’s resolutions, my work schedule – you name it and I got a Notion page for it!

Now, my advice would be to write down all of these tasks and rank them or prioritize them by either the closest deadline or by personal urgency. Make this process easier for you by automating a lot of the habit tracking as well as the notetaking, keeping page templates that you can just duplicate at any moment you must start a new lecture or class study!

Some of us are also fans of carrying around a physical (sic analog) agenda so if you love bullet-journaling and writing down things with pretty colourful markers and colour coding, then using a physical paper may be more of your thing!

2) Choose your environment wisely

You have definitely heard this one before – it’s all about the environment! Creating your own or finding different spaces for chilling, studying, working, indulging can be quite a challenge if you’re the kind of person that can easily find yourself working on your laptop while in bed! If this resonates, make sure you take the time to figure out your own way of working and what kind of environments are more conducive to productive work and study for your personality.

Personally, I try to keep my bed associated with sleeping only, so that my brain knows to turn off when I get under the sheets. On the other hand, I prefer to write these blogs in some of my favourite moderate-noise cafes around Stockholm, for example, Ms Humble and Mr Frank or Kaferang.

Figure out what works for you and have fika in different places while you’re at it, ’cause coffee and a little sugar are always a good idea when you’re trying to be your most productive self.

3) Follow a well-established productivity technique

Here, you have several options:

a. Pomodoro technique – my version of it is to use a kitchen timer (NOT your phone if you can help it) to time intervals of 25 mins of uninterrupted productive work; after each block, take a 5 min (non-tech) break; and after 3 blocks of 25 mins, take a 20 min break (food, pee, check some SoMe if you must)

b. Paper clips if you got a repetitive type of task you must do at least 50 to 200 times, say write a page at a time for a report or read a scientific article at a time for your literature review, you can use 2 transparent jugs and fill one of them up with however many necessary paper clips for the total you need to reach (e.g. 200 pages). Then, as you complete each of the pages or tasks or whatever quantity you are counting, you move one paper clip from the full cup to the empty cup.

It is satisfying to watch your progress amount to a new pile in the previously empty cup and that visual reward alone can keep you going for the full duration of the activity. However, if you need an added motivation, I suggest you replace the paper clips for jelly beans so that every time you finish one page (for example), you eat a jelly bean out of the full cup.

The general rule for maintaining your own system of productivity habits is to:

Make it visible + Stimulate your senses + Reward yourself

James Clear

More on other study techniques can be found across many Youtube productivity guru channels.

4) Find your accountability buddies

Finding your people – be it your partner, your friends, your study mates – is CRUCIAL to a successful and productive use of your time! People who are self-driven, passionate, positive, uplifting and encouraging can help you go further with your goals, especially if they are there for you on days when you don’t feel like doing anything at all.

Likewise, the right kind of people will hold you accountable when you start to slack off and lose interest or drive for the things you set your mind to, and they will bluntly and honestly remind you of your shortcomings so that you can self-reflect and get back on track.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to count the number of times that the potential shame of looking like a fraud or a disappointment to my friends and family was the thing that got me to move my ass on days when intrinsic motivation was running low. My people have always held me liable for the things and roles I’m responsible for and I’m so grateful that I have such wonderful accountability buddies in my life!

Finally, if this topic got you intrigued, feel free to check out some other of my top TED talk recommendations on:

Hope that this blog helps someone not feel like a lazy pumpkin, and instead motivates you to get up and go after your wildest dreams, whatever they may be <3

Francisca Leonardo - Molecular Techniques and Life Sciences

Francisca Leonardo - Molecular Techniques and Life Sciences

Hej! My name is Francisca. I come from the faraway land of the supreme maple syrup, aka Canada. I’m the blogger for the Master’s Programme in Molecular Techniques in Life Science at Karolinska Institutet. I love to write about my experience as a student in my programme, a newcomer to Stockholm, and a rookie at life in general. In my free time, I enjoy playing tennis, making music, sketching the city’s landscapes, and reading about anything and everything that interests me.


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