Sometimes You Don’t Need Motivation

Lately, I’ve been thinking about some projects I’ve been procrastinating on. Overall, I’m a pretty motivated guy, but I don’t apply motivational techniques to everything in my life that needs to get done; to everything that I’m procrastinating on.  Why? Because I know that if I do, it will only be a quick fix and the project will end up right back in my lap again, only to then have to deal with it at a later time. Even if I get it done, it won’t address the core issue behind my procrastination.

Let me give you a real example. My office desk, and my entire office, really, is a mess. Boxes of unsorted files on the floor, tons of 3×5 cards with project lists, blog post idea, resource lists, to-do items. There are random musical instruments here and there. I have, at last count, something like ten in-boxes. I’ve got books on the floor, books on my bookshelf (is that where they go?).  I’ve been wanting to get organized for a while. Now and then, I make a push and things start to look pretty again. Then, almost overnight, I find random mail, computer parts, and edited pages all over the place. And maybe even throw in a live farm animal or two hiding in the rubble.

Even though I’ve tried to get organized before, everything ends up looking as it typically does–unorganized and very un-Zen-like.  I know I could come up with a really spectacular motivational technique that would have my office looking spotless in a matter of days. But, to be honest, I don’t want to do this. The reason is, I don’t need motivation to clean and organize my office. I need to understand the behavior that supports having a disorganized office. Since my office is consistently disorganized, then it’s safe to assume that my behavior patterns are consistent as well. I’m great at collecting data that needs to be tracked but my routine for processing through and keeping track of projects is inconsistent, to put it mildly.

What’s the Solution?

Sometimes, you don’t need motivation. You don’t need to use any special techniques to get yourself to finally take action. In some cases, you need to identify the real obstacles that are preventing you from taking action. It might be a single thing or multiple obstacles forming one, giant mega-obstacle. It may also be one very small, easy-to-overcome obstacle that’s a little out of focus, which prevents you from taking action due to the confusion about what the next step should be.

The solution is to identify what the obstacle or group of obstacles is. Once that happens, you need to determine what course of action will correct or remove the obstacle, which may mean you’ll have to break it down into smaller steps or simply get some clarity in the area that’s out of focus.

In my example, the obstacle is lack of a plan. First, I don’t have a place or clear plan for processing everything that shows up in my in-box, so it just sits there. When my in-box gets full, I place things next to it. Before I know it, I have piles appearing wherever there’s space available. To solve this, I’m exploring various systems for collecting information I need to keep track of, and better ways to sort, file and review my open and one-time projects. With a good, usable system, I’ll have no trouble keeping on top of my in-box. Clearly, for me, it’s not a motivation issue.

Sometimes desire is enough motivation, especially when you remove the obstacle. No fancy techniques are needed. Just being honest with yourself is enough to trigger your natural inclination toward self-improvement. As a result, your motivation will automatically kick in and you’ll clean up your act.

NOTE: The image of the messy desk with this article is a picture of my actual desk (part of it, anyway). Does your desk look like mine?


  1. When you mentioned, “Boxes of unsorted files on the floor…” I laughed out loud. I am so happy there is someone else out there with those boxes. And yep, my desk looks the same way for the same reasons. And I’m a woman and we are supposed to be neat – even worse! I am planning to follow your blog on “discipline” because I can completely relate to that too!! Looking forward to it!

    • Kim,

      Well, I can tell you that it’s going to be an adventure. But I’m happy to know that I’m not alone in this. Good luck to us both!


  2. My desk used to look like that, Ok… it still sort of does in places but, I’m getting better at keeping on top of organization. It’s just a new habit to learn.

    • Darrell, I’m right beside you on this one. It’s all about making it a routine that you can depend on. And I’ve learned that it takes time to replace one habit, that you had for years, with a new one. But as you already know through your own experiences, it’s not impossible. Thanks for checking in. Be well!

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