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Here's How to Get Motivated for Real

Ready to make progress in life? Find out how to create momentum and get things done.

Whether you need to organize a cluttered basement or stop putting off a project at work, it's less about disorganization or time management and more about the will to begin and then keep going.

Why is it so hard to get motivated? For some, getting started is just too difficult and overwhelming. For others, lack of structure is the culprit: without a detailed schedule and deadline, they can't muster the energy to start a sizable task, let alone see it through. And then there's paralysis caused by simple dislike or fear.

Override these common hang-ups and get motivated with this expert advice.

Forget about goals.
Instead, face fears. As best-selling author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss explains, we're better off "fear-setting" versus goal-setting when it comes to spurring action. Often, the build-up of negative anticipation is much worse than the task itself. So the next time you feel unmotivated, ask yourself, "How bad will this really be?" An honest answer just might fuel a positive breakthrough.

Turn on your mental GPS.
Figure out where you're headed before you hit the road. This is the equivalent of drawing a road map to help you navigate from point A to point B.

First, write down precisely what you want to accomplish. Get it out of your head and on paper, where you can see it. Research shows that if you write something down, you're more likely to commit to actually doing it.

Second, break it down. Dividing tasks into manageable pieces makes them less overwhelming and provides multiple opportunities for smaller successes (and the inspiration to stay motivated). So below "renovate kitchen," you'd jot "call contractors for estimates, pick paint colors, research appliances," etc. It's much easier to wrap your brain around accomplishing each of these steps, which makes them easier to initiate and finish.

Third, assign deadlines to complete each one and schedule appointments in your calendar to work on them. This step is critical. Designate these appointments as nonnegotiable. You wouldn't cancel a meeting with a teacher or your boss. Treat appointments with yourself with the same urgency and consistency.

Next, start simply. Begin with something so easy and small that success is guaranteed. One phone call to make. One email to send. Chances are that once you get started, you'll keep going.

Use a timer.
Setting aside a specific amount of time to work can help you stay on task. After all, it's significantly easier to commit to 20 minutes of attic clearing than to face the prospect of hours and hours up there. When you see time ticking down, you'll probably be more likely to get in gear—and stay there. Your phone's clock feature likely has a timer, so you can cue it up in seconds and be ready to get started.

Curate your space.
Environment plays a huge role in encouraging you to complete projects, so make sure you've created your "happy place." Simply put, if you don't like where you do your work, you're not going to get down to business. Paint your home office walls orange if that's your favorite color. Situate your desk or workspace near a window (research shows that natural light increases productivity). Aim to create an environment that will keep your energy up so you finish strong every time.

Stop the mindless scrolling.
In today's world, resisting the temptation to waste time online can feel like a job in itself. To spare yourself that wearying internal debate and free up brain cells for more important tasks, install a program or app that temporarily disables your online connection and eliminates that distraction. You can schedule blackout sessions in advance or start them on the fly. This means you'll have something to look forward to when your work is done.

Reward yourself.
Tap into the power of payoff and build rewards into your project (think a serving of frozen yogurt, an episode of your favorite show—whatever makes you smile). When a goal is met, that merits celebrating. You've earned it.