Getting Started: 5 Ways to Motivate Yourself

You’ve been there.

The essay is due soon and yet all you can seem to do is stare at the first half of a sentence for a few minutes before your mind wanders off.


Without motivation, the work becomes drawn out and slow even when it doesn’t need to be. This is why some students can write fantastic essays in a one hour class period but spend days on an essay out of class that doesn’t turn out as good.


How can you channel that productivity when you have a week or more to work?


If it was as easy as it seemed, we would all finish everything right away. But it turns out that for some of us, it’s hard to get going until it’s almost too late.


To avoid this pitfall, check out these tips for getting back on track to being productive.


Set a specific time to work long in advance, and stick with it


Say you have an essay due Friday. If you know you will have time open on Wednesday night, decide on a specific time period (down to the minute) on Wednesday to spend on only the essay.


This makes it harder to rationalize putting off your work.


If you are serious about your scheduling, it will be easier to distribute your workload and time spent doing homework will fall quickly.



Calendar* by Dafne Cholet CC BY 2.0

Set benchmarks

For large assignments, you never want to leave the majority of the work until the night before it’s due. You can avoid this by setting up arbitrary benchmarks, or mini due dates, for yourself.


Even if it’s not required, force yourself to finish a rough draft at least a few days early and include it in your other homework for that earlier day.


If you’re taking a large section of notes, split up the pages into groups and do the assignment over multiple days. This will ease your workload the last night and make your schedule more consistent.

Don’t multitask

Multitasking can make you much less productive. Many studies show that people who think they can multitask well actually work much less efficiency as a result of doing multiple things.


Instead of digging a grave with two shovels, set up a work-break system: set an amount of time to work uninterrupted and take short breaks between work periods. I recommend alternating 30 minutes of uninterrupted work and 10 minutes of entertainment, but split up those time periods however works best for you.


Be generous enough that you’ll stick to it, but remember that the purpose is to get work done, and the more time you can spend on that, the better.


Spa massage by Merlin Phuket, CC BY-ND 2.0

Create the right atmosphere

It’s hard to study, work, or write when your mind is distracted. To work efficiently you need to have the right focus.


Take a few minutes to get yourself in the right mind-frame to do an assignment before you start, especially if it’s something like an English paper that relies on the mood of a specific work.


Even if you’re doing math problems, it’s good to try to clear your head before you start. Try doing this with a specific kind of music, or by reading something academic (not a textbook, but something you find interesting) for a few minutes.

Don’t get too stressed out

Lots of students fall into the trap of stressing too much about an assignment at the last minute, panicking about it, and ending up with a lower quality of work than they could have.


You can avoid this feeling by planning ahead to give yourself a sense of control over how your school work is progressing.


Just knowing how an assignment is going to progress makes it far less stressful, even if it’s still a lot of work.


A lot of times it’s easy to sit over an assignment thinking “this is going to take forever.” That’s a waste of time itself… you can’t get anywhere before you start.


Motivation is a tricky thing

When it’s not there, it’s easy to fall behind, and when you’re behind on work, it’s even harder to motivate yourself. But it’s a problem that you can solve.


With the right frame of mind and the right combination of tools, you’ll be able re-energize your approach and attack your work head on.

Jeremy Baxter

Jeremy is a rising freshman at Cornell University. He graduated in the top 10 of his 500-member high school class and scored a 35 on his first sitting of the ACT. He is a recovering procrastinator who wants to share the methods he uses to get work done and succeed.