Some Ideas for Surmounting Lack of Motivation

Below are ten ideas for surmounting lack of motivation. Please chime in with your ideas by commenting. Many blessings!

Scenario: Say it is time to conduct the analysis of your data so that you can present data findings, write up a discussion, and write up your conclusion. But you’re stalled. You just DON’T have the desire to work at your research project anymore. You’re burnt out and only kind of care. What to do? Well, after taking a few days off to REST, REJUVENATE, and RECHARGE . . . and perhaps adopting James Hayton’s attitude and strategies . . .

Idea #1

Try this psychological move: List everything you need to do in successive to-do lists. First start out with a high-level level list such as:

#1: Analyze the data.

Then turn that list into a list that is a LITTLE less high-level

  1. Analyze the data.
    1. Load the data into the data analysis program.
    2. Code the data.
    3. Combine/revise codes.

Then turn THAT list into a list that is even a LITTLE less high-level.

And so on and so on UNTIL you have the list at a level where when you read an item on your list, instantly your brain knows what to do.

The second-level list above, for example, is not broken-down enough. Your brain would have some substantial decision-making to do before being able to just dive in.

But if you have a list that functions like INSTRUCTIONS to the brain, then you are, psychologically, less likely to engage in avoidance.

Idea #2

Up your accountability for TIMELY work on this.
You can do this in various ways. You can work with another student whose opinion of you you slightly to strongly care about. You could work together side-by-side in a place conducive to working, like near undergraduates who are working madly.

This has worked for me like NOTHING ELSE with the exception of creating accountability at and of using Liquid Planner: You could create a blog (via tumblr, wordpress, etc.) that functions as a diary of what you aim to accomplish each day and what you HAVE accomplished each day, and you could ask people whose opinions of you you care about to follow it. You could post a weekly goals post, and then do a brief daily update all week that week. A final “summary for the week” post could round it out.

If you view the blog as kind of like an instruction manual for someone who will come after you and attempt to do the same thing, then that might be a focusing tactic.

Idea #3

You could re-create the detailed to-do list in Liquid Planner, saving the most detailed level for the “checklist” area of each task to which those detailed sub-sub tasks belong.

When you do this, a finish date will be calculated. That might motivate you. As the days pass with you recording work completed or not, the finish date will update itself . . . and the time distribution of the tasks’ due dates will automatically redistribute . . . based on your completion of tasks OR NOT. This may motivate.

In Liquid Planner, you are supposed to start the TIMER when you begin a task, to time yourself on how long the tasks takes you. Pretty sobering and motivating as the time just keeps ticking along.

You can apply for a free subscription to Liquid Planner (they process these apps pretty fast, from my experience).

You could invite folks to be able to see your Liquid Planner work space, and that would up accountability.

Idea #4

Instead of, or in addition to, setting up your tasks in Liquid Planner, you could set them up at Watching those tomato images (indicating 25 minutes of work) just rack up and rack up next to the SAME task gets sobering. Seeing subsequent tasks remain undone with NO TOMATOES next to them gets sobering.

Idea #5

Without using the following to guilt yourself or beat yourself up, and without looking down on ANYONE, you could let the following INSPIRE (and not guilt or chastise you): So, you could think of the people who have not been as blessed as you are to be able to pursue graduate studies and engage in the work that you have. People who would take the opportunity and just run with it, and make the most of such a dream opportunity. Or you can think of people who honor their opportunity to pursue graduate studies and conduct research, but have very, very, very difficult obstacles and proceed anyway, honoring such a privilege. They don’t have access to databases or advisors or the technology or time away from paid work that you do, but they are excited just “to be there,” and they are producing good, useful, educational research. They work. They honor the privilege. They take care of themselves to ensure that they do not allow psychological snags to destroy their opportunities. They see things through. You are no different. You know that you can, too. You have even more resources. So you can do the work that it takes, including the psychological work necessary, such as sleeping, having down-time, working calmly, working joyously or at least invested. (I’m talking to myself, here. :))

Idea #6

You could visualize working briskly. You could visualize being done. You could visualize sharing your results with your advisor and beginning to talk them over with your advisor.

Idea #7

You could join PhinisheD (remaining anonymous as you like) and work in chat for accountability. The 50s room works well for me when I am properly focused and committed already. The tomatoes room works better for me when I am eking along, having a hard time focusing because . . . I guess . . . I’ve just been at it so long and have gotten perhaps a little despondent, burnt out, disenchanted, or what have you.

Idea #8

You could force a deadline by setting up a physical meeting with your advisor (or Skype session if that’s not possible) to discuss the analysis notes, files, etc. that you will have submitted to your advisor. Even if you don’t meet your full expectations for submitting, you will have advanced further than before.

Idea #9

You could determine a set of “starting up” activities that get you going from NOTHING (zero velocity) and result in your gradual performance of analysis work.


  1. Turn on the computer and open the data analysis program (or gather my data sources, or what-have-you).
  2. Get my tea.
  3. Write a paragraph on an index card, in pencil by hand, about where I left off yesterday and where I will start today.
  4. Stretch. Browse PhinisheD.
  5. Write a paragraph on another index card about what it would be good to get done in the next ___ hours today, regarding the analysis.
  6. Log into PhinisheD chat,, Liquid Planner, or what have you.
  7. Start the timer and work for 25 minutes, documenting stops, distractions, etc. It’s okay if only 10 minutes of work got down. That’s 10 minutes that wasn’t done before. Know that you will simply move on to the next tomato, seeking to do 12 minutes, perhaps, out the 25.
  8. Stretch. Report your progress in chat during the 5 minute break, or what have you.
  9. Repeat the cycle.
  10. At the end of the day’s work session, leave a note to myself in Liquid Planner or on an index card or my Smartphone or what-have-you about what was accomplished and where to start when I next sit down.

Idea #10

Type up a level 1 and level 2 outline . . . and a level 3 outline if that’s possible . . . of the WRITE-UP of the analysis. Then convert the outline to a word processor version of the outline . . . as headings, subheadings, and sub-subheadings. Put blank spaces in there where your writing will go.

Then . . . print out and POST this un-filled-in blank document where you see it often. If it’s six pages in length, then tape them up in your home office, or put them in sheet protectors in your dissertation/thesis binder and DISPLAY them just before you start working.


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