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I have my ups and my downs as everyone. Experimenting with techniques for getting stuff done, organising life etc. is my second nature and I love documenting my attribution in different conditions and phases of my life.

I set some goals and try to complete tasks by breaking them down. It can be an afternoon or a full day at work without doing nothing and I keep wondering why. Sometimes I feel tired because I've slept less than 6 hours trying to get more stuff done. But other times I feel full of energy and procrastinate.

Recently we had an incredible and demanding project at work of which I had no experience and the whole company was depending on my work. Actually it was an office relocation and I had to take care of everything (70 users, tenths of phone lines, workstations, servers etc.) in two days (weekend). Firstly, I was confused and disappointed. But next, I felt a strong sense of urgency that "this project HAS and MUST be done with the greatest success percentage that it could by Monday" which made me work like I've never done before.

I completed over one hundred of my tasks in two days. On Monday, everything was working at 99% and everyone felt happy. I was confused. If I am able to complete such a difficult project with 99% success, why can't I complete simple and easy tasks in days ?

How do I build this sense of urgency for myself ?

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A comic strip from "Calvin and Hobbes" comes to mind, where Calvin needs to wait for the right inspiration to write his school essay: Panic! –  awe Aug 1 '13 at 12:46
    
Scary but true ! –  RobDel Aug 1 '13 at 13:44
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4 Answers

I'm not sure you would want to keep the same level of intensity all of the time. Many people prefer more of a sine wave-- you have peaks of intense, deadline driven effort and you have valleys of normal work. If you run in high gear all of the time, you'll burn out.

It might be helpful to find the occasional high impact task or project and really focus on making it count. Also, as mentioned by DPS, deadline are a great motivator. But, make sure the task really has a deadline. You brain will know if you are just making one up to get some work done.

Give yourself permission to do normal quality, good work much of the time and knock it of the park on high-value or time sensitive stuff. It feels great (as you recently felt).

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There is nothing quite like a deadline for getting work done, unfortunately all to often when we set ourselves deadlines there is little or no downside if we change them. Sites like stickK (http://www.stickk.com/) allow you to incentivize your goals - e.g., if you don't do something you have to give money to a charity you dislike.

It is important, however, to recognise that procrastination can have some value. Just because you are not doing something doesn't mean you're not giving it some thought: If you get straight on and write a report, it will not necessarily be as good as the report that is written before the deadline. This idea is discussed more fully in Partnoy's 2012 book "Wait" - the subject of an article in the Economist here: http://www.economist.com/node/21558218

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The trend in motivation theory is moving toward emphasizing a certain set of factors that contribute to intrinsic motivation (as opposed to extrinsic - for example, conditioning). The list of factors can vary depending on who is authoring the model. One of the most popular (almost to a fad level like Malcolm Gladwell's books) models is researched by Dan Pink and accessibly covered in his aptly titled book, Drive. It boils down to:

  • Mastery
  • Autonomy
  • Purpose

It sounds like that project you had -- with 100 tasks in two days -- really struck your sense of Purpose (many people depending on you and they need to be moved in order to continue their duties) and Autonomy (sounds like you were working alone and given free rein). This is a really unique circumstance in which most people would ascribe your sense of Mastery at very low ("no experience") but others could argue it was high just by the fact that you were chosen to do this. Since you gained momentum and confidence quickly, that could increase your sense of Mastery. One could even argue that the two are directly proportional. Since I have not read the book, I can't elaborate on this any further.

You can't keep motivation at a stable level. Cheap analogy: being happy "all the time". Do you think you can find a way to be autonomous all of the time? Probably only if you're independently wealthy and don't depend on other people. A master of everything you need to get done? Impossible. The hardest of all would be purpose. You'd have to maintain a constant queue of meaningful activities to avoid loss of interest due to the treadmill effect.

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In such a situation, it is very helpful to make a comparison table between the elements/factors/character of the works that were done efficiently and energetically and the works that were constantly delayed or done without energy. In the case of the relocation, here is a possible column for it:

  • Deadline (DPS' answer has already pointed out to it).
  • Concrete/manual work (versus fixing a bug, for example)
  • Feedback / verbal or non-verbal reaction about the work (versus no one noticed the change, e.g. infrastructure maintenance work)
  • Direct impact on others
  • Social expectations that the work has to be done right
  • People seeing the work as it is done

This is just a sample list. Try to see what is missing from this/your list in your other types of work. Then try to add the missing elements to them.

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