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I have been trying out various ways of self-motivating systems, strategies and methods to motivate myself to complete my private projects in time. I often end in a swamp two-thirds in, having trouble to motivate myself to to the final part and finish the task.

One I came across might seem a bit aggressive, but for me, it works.

It's quite simply putting myself in a potential harms way, unless a specific task is being done.

In example: Promising others that certain projects (in my case software development) will be ready at a specific point in time.

Knowing that people will be hugely disappointed at the ETA gets me up and working.

The question : It might not be an elegant system, but does anyone know if there is a more refine, perhaps tested or documented version of this ?

Also, when I try explaining it to some, it sound quite horrible, fear-based or self-stressing. To me, it isn't, but at first glance I can see why people would think this.

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4 Answers

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The solution you've found so far is to take your personal private projects, and externalize them so that other people can hold you accountable for them.

That language is a bit less dramatic than the original question, but is what I understand the situation to be. And the question is "How do I motivate myself to finish my personal projects without getting other people involved?"

My answer is "Why?" If the system works for you, use it. The same theory (externalize commitments so others can hold you accountable) is behind all of the goal setting web sites and self-help or support groups all over the world. It works for many, many people. You might consider reducing the drama in your description if it worries you, but otherwise do what works.

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I'm inclined to say this is a destructive practice. I definitely don't think it's the best way to approach your work. I used to have similar behavior patterns and I would say they contributed directly to many problems. When you place so much emphasis on pleasing others, it feels unbearable when you fail to meet the challenge.

If you really have to promise things to other people in order to get down to business on your work it means you have a procrastination problem. Lots of smart people get pretty far in life doing what you describe, always feeling anxiety about the stuff they should be working on and rushing at the end to finish up so as not to disappoint the people they are accountable to.

I think it's important to keep the locus of control within yourself; ideally, you should take pride in your work and do it because you choose to -- not because you have to. Don't depend on the opinions of others to stay motivated.

There's a book out called The Now Habit by Neil Fiore that describes the reasons that very smart and successful people procrastinate; it's worth skimming through if you can find a copy. According to Fiore, most people procrastinate because of anxiety or uncertainty surrounding their work -- not because they are lazy. Think about it.

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A very popular variation of your method is blogging one's goals to the world, even the long-term ones. There is also a risk of becoming embarrassed, but it's more anonymous and the motivation and feedback you receive can be huge.

Another very popular method in the self-development world is the so called mastermind groups: periodic meetings (every 15 days or a month maybe) where people discuss their goals, and explain the initiatives they have taken on then since last meeting... A bonus is that sometimes, some of the attendants happen to know someone who can help you. There are two 'schools', btw, about mastermind groups: one says it is better to gather alike people with alike goals, and other that says that, the more different is the people who gather, the most creative and original support one gets.

Hope something of this inspires you. It is kind of what you do but taken to a different plane, I think.

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I am surprised that promising project completion time is not the norm in your world. Every project and every identified task within a project must have a completion date. There is no task that is open ended unless it is your own personal activity. If there are others waiting for it, it must have a deadline.

There is nothing destructive or horrible about being organized and disciplined. First we promise a realistic and achievable date. Second, we plan our daily activities accordingly. Third, we execute our plan faithfully. If we do, we feel great about ourselves and look forward to the next project. Isn't that how you are feeling now?

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To clarify, this is not for my work, but for my private / indie projects :] –  Nils Munch Jan 5 '12 at 10:08
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