**Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by: Benjamin Brandall
Maintaining motivation throughout the day can be tough.
I know it, you know it, we all know it.
But ultimately, it is possible if you approach things in the right way.
In this article, we’ll look at why it’s so difficult to maintain day long motivation and then talk through strategies to combat it.
The key strategies we’ll work through one by one are:
- Keeping up a good lifestyle and tailoring it to your productivity needs
- Prioritizing your work to make life easier for yourself
- Making strong consistent processes to keep you focused and hit your goals.
Why is it difficult to maintain focus?
There is no one reason why we struggle so much with keeping our focus throughout the day.
Ensuring our productivity is high and our focus sharp is a complex task. We’re complex beings and this should come as no surprise – it also means there’s no one single key.
But by identifying the problems and assessing the various solutions we can identify one specific trend which allows us to unlock our day long motivation.
Let’s look at two reasons we can put forward for why it is difficult to maintain our 100% for the whole day.
The first reason comes down to science and something we call our circadian rhythms.
In layman’s terms, these rhythms are about the relation between our cognitive performance and how many hours we’ve been awake for at any time. It’s basically a measure of how alert you are at different points in the day. These will vary person to person, but there are general trends across all humans which are pretty consistent. These flows of energy and awakeness can help inform us as to how to make the most of our time.
The basic trend is that your energy is very low when you’re sleeping – obviously. Then when you wake up there is a rapid acceleration of alertness. This will peak an hour or two after waking up. If you’ve not had much sleep, this peak could be lower than it is on a day when you’ve slept well. Either way, the nature of the trend is consistent on days you’ve had 8 hours and days you’ve had 4.
Once you reach your morning peak, you energy levels begin to gradually slide off. This normally results in you feeling sluggish or lethargic during the afternoon.
However, it isn’t a straight decline into the night. At some point in the early evening, there is a second peak of cognitive performance, but it tends to be lower than the morning one. This peak declines much faster than the morning one and its sharp decrease is what gets your ready for bed and a good night’s sleep.
What does this tell us?
It tells us our cognitive performance is higher in the morning and through lunch but that we’re performing at a lower level in the afternoon. If you’re someone who routinely drifts off in the afternoon then now you know why.
If you’re someone who routinely drifts off in the afternoon, here's why Click To Tweet
The second thing we need to learn about ourselves is pretty simple in comparison to the science behind circadian rhythms. In short, humans can’t focus at 100% for long periods of time.
The philosophy behind the Pomodoro technique is that humans struggle to focus fully for more than half an hour, so they recommend working for 25 minutes and taking a 5-minute break. Then perpetuating this cycle throughout your day with a longer break for lunch.
Whether you want to follow the Pomodoro technique or not, you need to recognize that you should be segmenting your time into periods of focus and periods of rest to keep your output high and your mind sharp.
So, we now know that we need to take into consideration the segmentation of our time and how we work at different times of the day if we want to boost our motivation.
Let’s see how we can practically make use of this.
Live a good lifestyle
Even though our circadian rhythms are consistent through the day regardless of how much sleep we have, the peaks of cognitive performance are higher when we’ve slept well than they are when we’ve slept badly.
So get some rest!
Stop eating late at night. Stop looking at your phone in bed. Keep getting up in the morning at consistent times. Don’t eat right before bed.
All of these things.
You don’t need me to tell you how to live. You know how to do it. Just make sure you stick to it. Suddenly, your peaks will be higher and your lows will be higher too.
If we know that our cognitive and energy levels are lower during the afternoon then we can look at what we’re having for lunch to try to combat that.
Avoid the light lunches that fail to provide you with the calories and nutrition to get you through the day. Give yourself some slow burning complex carbohydrates and eat vitamin rich food: fruits, vegetables, oily fish – whatever you prefer.
This nutrition will help you overcome your body’s natural afternoon lows.
Prioritize your time to get more done
If you know you’re going to be most alert and effective in the morning, then plan to get your most important work done in that period of time. Prioritize your tasks!
For me, I start my day by planning out my daily tasks within the task management system Trello. This uses a kanban system where each task is a separate card and I can drag and drop it into different columns.
I put all of today’s tasks in one column and order them in terms of what I’m doing first – like a to-do list. I normally put my writing tasks in at the top of this column. Because my cognitive performance is higher in the morning, I’ll likely get more of my writing done than I would have done otherwise – and hopefully to a higher quality too!
I then put my more mechanical tasks in for the afternoon. That way, even if I’m tired and grumpy, I can still work through my tasks without needing all my brain power to do them.
I don’t employ the Pomodoro technique for writing because I feel it interrupts my flow, but I do try to make sure I never work for more than an hour without squeezing in a little break. Even if it is just to look out of the window for a minute or two and think of something non-work oriented.
In a previous life, I used to follow the Pomodoro technique quite religiously. If I was to use it again now, I would use a little tool called Pomello which connects Trello to a Pomodoro timer. This connects the tasks you have specified in Trello with a 25-minute countdown to force you to take a 5-minute break once it buzzes.
If you’re in a job that’s suited to it, I recommend it.
Make processes to ease repetitive tasks
When it comes to those afternoon tasks where you really need to pump through the work but your body is slowing you down, you can employ processes to help drive yourself forward.
We have a rule to create a process whenever there’s a task we do more than twice.
That ethos means we end up with a big library of processes which document in detail the best way to approach each larger task, with it broken up nicely into small manageable chunks.
Knowing every step of the way what you have to achieve can take a load off your mind. It stops you worrying about what you still have to do or whether you’re doing things the right way or not.
I normally try to write my articles in the morning and then edit, or prepare it for publication, in the afternoon. I don’t need the same levels of cognitive performance to go through my article to check my links are correctly formatted, or to insert images. These tasks can be performed to the same high standards even if my mind is not at 100%.
By taking this approach, we protect ourselves against poor performance and poor output.
If you prioritize your tasks in the morning and attempt your highest effort tasks when your brain activity is at its peak, you will produce quality work. If you perform your manual tasks in the afternoon when you’re not as sharp you can still achieve what you need to as the tasks are less strenuous and you have a clear process to follow.
But don’t take my word for it!
Try it out for yourself and let me know in the comments below how it went! Your day long motivation is just around the corner!
Benjamin Brandall is a content marketer at Process Street, where he writes on startups, SaaS, and workflows. In his spare time, he runs Secret Cave, a blog about obscure entertainment and internet culture.