Routine vs. Motivation

Today is one of my weekly quiet days, it’s also my weekly blogging day. I wasn’t sure what to write about though, so why not combine the two?

What spurred this on was reading of an acquaintance who had found themselves out of work. They wrote of how they were hoping to maintain a daily schedule regardless, but also spoke of the struggles with motivation.

I can certainly relate to these two things, and I’m pretty sure I’ve wrote about them before. I encouraged them to indeed keep a daily routine but also to put this ahead of “motivation”.

Routine can trump/overcome a perceived lack of motivation.

I’m not sure why, but I often think back to my school days when each term we would be provided with a weekly schedule that was filled with lesson periods of the varying types, along with set break and lunch periods. I think, unless you were a “skiving” individual, it was near impossible not to stick to this schedule.

When I started college I was presented with a similar schedule, but it had a lot of blank areas of which we received instruction on how to fill this, namely with “study time”, but also with “free time”, i.e. time for ourselves.

This didn’t work for me. There was just too much freedom and my school years had done little to prepare me for this.

Around the same time of starting college I purchased my first PC, and with the internet being a new and exciting thing for me, I became distracted and absorbed into the online world of Yahoo! Chat [chasing girls] and building web pages of stuff. I also had a part-time job in order to fund my college activities, phone bill for time online, and a car which I was learning to drive.

My life since actual school had quite drastically changed, and I only realise that now, over a decade later. I battled with what I deemed to be “a lack of motivation” towards my college work, and after the first year I began to slip behind in my studies. Any free time I had designated as “study time” was just an ongoing battle where at best I stared at book and note pages, wrote up notes, or made myself do “lines”. I even tried to combine my studies and my enjoyment of creating website by creating HTML pages of my notes; I don’t think this helped, it was just a way to convince, or portray myself, as studying. At worst I just gave up with a study period and did whatever I wanted to do in that moment, deluding myself with the promise that I would do the work later. Of course “later” mounted up to an impossibility.

A year at university and a further year at another college fared little better. To be honest, I had always struggled with “motivation”; I remember whenever I had homework from school to do I would generally leave it until the last minute, much preferring to play outside where I could build dens and do other fun things. Often I would lie to my mum to achieve this by saying either I would do the homework later, I didn’t have any, or I had already done it. It’s not that I never did the homework, but I generally left it until the last minute and rushed it through, approaches that hampered my progress or even aided in me getting behind. This was a learned behaviour that has stayed with me ever since.

To this very day I still play outside or go online to distract myself from studies. Even though I’m not enrolled in any official school, college or university (other than that of life) I still find myself being studious and in the pursuit of topics of interest – some of those have been on my plate since my school days. Indeed, perhaps this is a latent mindset from my school/college days, where I tell myself that “I must study” to be a good person, and this is still related, subconsciously, with doing battles with motivation and self-inflicted* distractions.

Often I still try and juggle both the distractions and the studies by being logged in somewhere while I tackle something “studious” or “constructive”, even though I know full well things take far longer when we fail to focus on one thing at a time. The flicking between two pages/screen/windows, not only make things take twice as long, but there is the additional time required to return to where we were and regain focus.

*It is somewhat harsh to call them self-inflicted distractions since much of the world, especially the online one, is geared to get you hooked; Facebook (not that I’m a participant in that platform) is designed that way; it, like other platforms such as Youtube, with their crafty algorithms, seek to keep your attention and continually learn how best to achieve this. The more eyes on screen at any one time generates more advertising revenue (I’ve heard ex-Facebook and Google employees explain such things).

With this distracted mind at play, receiving stimulating things, it’s not hard to see why a perception of a “lack of motivation” is felt with regards the things we “should be doing” or “want to be doing”. The mind gets hooked on the dopamine fix and the systems at play in the world know this; it has been practised time and time on lab rats, and now we are those lab rats (bear this in mind as it can help you fight against it).

A schedule and routine is a tool and a weapon in this fight, although being so used to employing avoidance tactics, it certainly takes me a lot of effort and perseverance (you could think of this as training or practising your art with this tool or weapon), but I’ve noticed it paying off. It’s very gradual, and very slight at times, with many steps backwards.

Often I put too much on my plate; I write up long To Do lists each day that have little chance of being completed in a day. This practice runs the risk of having an adverse effect, due to the sense of failure. I’m learning to let things like this go and instead, with the aid of journalling, I focus on what I have achieved in a day.

Over the past few months or so I’ve been developing a weekly schedule where I’ve listed the key projects, such as blogging, vlogging, video editing, reading, yoga… etc, and I have designated days and times for each of them. The time spent on such things can vary from just 10 minutes, to an hour or more, but the act of “showing up” really helps, not only with the satisfaction felt from that achievement, but that over time I see things progress and overall my habits changing.

I also quite like the form of the schedule on paper, drawing it up, and spending some time each day mulling over it:

Essentially I have a morning period and an afternoon period where I stipulate (with the use of those boxes) which task I should be doing. I can then put a tick in a box, or anywhere, where I have achieved a task. The schedule is flexible in that I can choose to do a task on a different day, or even skip a task (since sometimes other things like work get in the way) but I can see my progress developing and where I need to perhaps make more of an effort. Every fortnight, or month, I asses how the schedule has worked and fine-tune it further for the next. I’ve tried to balance out which two key tasks I focus on each day, being sure that they don’t conflicts, such as “running 5 miles, cycling 50 miles, and hour of yoga, followed by other exercises” would be quite a gruelling day and either be unachievable or leave me lacking energy (for anything*) the next day.

I’ve noticed that over exerting myself on any one day can leave me lacking the motivational energy to stick to the game-plan, such as towards the tail-end of that day, or the following day. This can even be detrimental for days ahead (something I’ve come to learn partly through scheduling in this way).

I also avoid “beating myself up” for not sticking to the schedule by instead coaxing myself back on track and trying to understand what lead me off-track and employing a different tactic in future. The use of glaring red crosses for where “I failed” is also not a positive approach.

Also, I try to avoid scheduling in things I perhaps do habitually, or actually seek to cut out of my life somewhat, like “watching too much stuff on Youtube”, rather I focus on (and occupy my schedule with) the positive things I do want to do, instead of constantly telling myself what I shouldn’t be doing.

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