Blog Post

Five Steps to Get Yourself in a Mood to Work

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Sometimes it’s okay to surf the web all day — you’re learning new things and connecting with people, right? — but other days you need to get some real work done. Maybe you’re on a deadline. Maybe you won’t get paid unless you produce something tangible. Maybe you just want that sense of accomplishment that comes from having moved a project significantly forward. [digg=]

Here’s a five step process for putting yourself in a productive mood. Modify it to suit your needs and temperament.

1. Shine your sink. Just metaphorically speaking, of course. This idea comes from Marla Cilley, a.k.a. FlyLady, a productivity pundit for the homemaking set. She recommends that her followers start with a shiny sink — it gives a sense of control and motivation with a minimum of effort and time.

When you’re getting ready to do your web work, you need an initiating task like shining your sink that gives you a boost of confidence and a small sense of accomplishment. Choose a task you do every time you start to work — at the beginning of the day, after a lunch break, whenever you’ve gotten distracted — that sets you on track for productivity. You might choose emptying your inbox or straightening your desk. Choose something you can get done in relatively short period of time. Then make sure you keep that sink shiny: keep the inbox empty or the desktop clean.

2. Turn off your email notifier and shut down your email. Don’t worry; you can turn it back on shortly. This tells your email-mad soul that it’s time to do something other than respond obsessively to whatever arrives in your inbox.

3. Declare yourself. Tell your world you’re working. Set your IM presence to unavailable with a description of what you’re working on. If you’re a Twitterer, tell your friends what you’re planning to accomplish. If you have a Tumblelog, write it there. Now you’ve made an external commitment, and, if you set your IM presence appropriately, people will know not to bother you.

4. Set the mood with music or other sounds. Which music or other sounds work best to get you in the mood to work will depend on many factors, including your current emotional state, your temperament, and what kind of work you need to get done. Some people like loud, energetic music that motivates. Others do best with ambient tunes like you can find on the Internet radio stations Drone Zone or radioAmbient.

I’ve been experimenting lately with nature sounds as a relaxing cue to work. Suzanne Doucet and Chuck Plaisance have recorded a number of great CDs in this genre. Alternatively, if you need to drown out other sounds like construction across the street or the loud talker in the next cubicle, you could try white noise. You can buy ambient white noise CDs, often marketed for managing insomnia or soothing babies. On the Mac, you can use Blackhole’s Noise application.

5. Start your timer. Seems like every productivity guru I know recommends using a timer for motivation. Merlin Mann of 43Folders suggests eight minute timed procrastination dashes. Gina Trapani of Lifehacker says she used 60 minute work sessions while writing the Lifehacker book. FlyLady recommends 15 minute cleaning increments.

If you have a particularly unpleasant chore ahead of you, set your timer for only five minutes and promise yourself you can take a break afterwards. In bits and bites, you’ll get your work done, and you might even find you want to keep working after the timer rings.

You can use a kitchen timer or set something on your computer. The Mac OS X Egg Timer 2 dashboard widget is pretty cool — it will say a custom phrase when the time goes off like “take a break.” Windows users could try TimeLeft. Or try a free web-based timer.

Now you’re ready to work. If you get off track again or have just taken a break for a cup of tea or coffee, start again at step 1.

44 Responses to “Five Steps to Get Yourself in a Mood to Work”

  1. Very useful but I beleive there must be some attention to what actually is the cause of the lack of motivation or the reasons behind the need for the good work-mood..

    Some of these would be:
    – Having certain worries and concerns. For example, for some people to feel that deadline is closing and nothing yet is finished. The timer thing could magnify this concern for these people.

    – Not beleiving in the work to be done, or feeling that it’s not interesting.

    – Having a blury plan or no clear target which makes the work seem very difficult or unpleasant. It happens also if the work is not broken down into smaller units/goals.

    – Having a subliminal disturbance (Bad noise, wrong kind of music, surrounding bad-mooded people, disturbing views or annoying wall-pictures..etc

    – Feeling guilt of overdue tasks, unhappy customers, incomplete job or any thing related to the work that may cause some level of guilt. That of-course includes feeling guilt of not spending time with family cuz of work.

    – Tending to be perfect: perfectionists usually have difficult time getting in the mood to work because everthing has to be perfect! That also applys to everyone of us to some degree.

    I wrote these ideas of a personal experience, and I thought someone would find them useful.. because when one knows what is causing the bad-mood it would be easier to find the solution.

  2. This is some great information. I have found that to get the motivation to get started that it starts with the list of what you want to get done. Then you can create the plan on how you will get every thing done.

  3. I have found that, perhaps on a more macroscopic level, David Allen’s (2001) suggestion from “Getting Things Done”, to make a quick task list and then put down the very next physical action to move the project forward.

  4. Ah, making yourself work– especially at things for which you have no enthusiasm. Personally I’ve never had the talent for it… I basically blog to avoid work. Then again, most things I do, I do to avoid work… :)

  5. lisacronista

    Sooo good. Thanks! I haven’t tried the sink idea yet, and considering how badly my sink needs shining, I need to get to that one right away!

  6. Briggie

    Whether you work in a busy office, or from home, getting in the mood to start your day requires a action plan that is both effective and flexible. When I left the “workforce” after 16 years to work from home so I could spend more time with my family, I thought all those years of motivation workshops, effective time management courses, how to create an efficient workplace seminar, and work smarter not harder classes, would work in my home office as well. HOW WRONG COULD I HAVE BEEN? I spent the first year floundering around trying to find just the right time to start work, finding the right spot to work from, how long would I spend on work and what I should get done each day. I finally took a small corner of a spare bedroom and set up a work station, but when my son would have leave (he was in the navy) I would lose my office. If you are going to work from home I recommend doing the following before you do anything:
    1) find a room or area in the house where you can set up your office.

    2) get a computer desk (even if you use a laptop get a good workstation) comfortable chair, filing cabinet, bookshelf, good lighting, cd player and any necessary office supplies.

    3) make sure you get a good all in one printer so you can fax, scan, copy and print, have a dedicated phone line just for your work and a 2-line phone that will let you pick up your personal and work lines.

    Now that you got all that out of the way – and trust me, you will not be sorry that you took the time to do this; you can begin planning how your day should flow. All the ideas in this post and all the comments are great and I would only add one other thing: get out of your pj’s. you don’t have to dress in a suit, but I have found that the act of dressing for work helps you actually start work. When I would try and work in my pj’s I found I had a lower expectation of my work product and effort and I would be easily distracted. My favorite excuse was, “I have all day long to take care of that, so I’ll make time for it later.” Problem was, days would go by and I still didn’t take care it.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to blab on like that, I got carried away with myself.

  7. Thanks, Anne! As a college student, I’m a master of procrastination and rationalization. I’m planning to print out this set of suggestions and try them the next time I’m stuck.

  8. mysmallworld

    Oh wow!!! This is something I can totally identify with…
    Just hope to put the steps into action really really soon!!

    P.S. I would include turning off my cell phone as another step…the most distracting object in this entire universe!!!!

  9. Albert F

    Great tips for getting in the mood to work! And to Om’s point, people weren’t meant to sit in front of their computers for 8, 9, 10 or more hours a day, and now that we’re all connected to email all the time whether on a laptop or a cell phone, it has gotten out of hand. I have found going for a walk during the day and not turning on my Blackberry during that time helps a lot. You really just have to turn that stuff off…hard as it may be.

  10. I love step number 4 coz that’s what I do every morning when I wake up. I always want to hear loud good music. Music that could make me sing and smile the whole day. It works to me.

    Thanks for reminding.

  11. What works for me (usually):

    I set my timer widget to 45 minutes and start my time-tracking app (TimeEqualsMoney from This commits me to working but tells my inner slacker that I can do whatever I want after just 45 minutes.

    When the timer goes off, I pause the time tracking, get up, and *leave the computer.* I tidy up, play with the dog, whatever for about 15 minutes. Then it’s back to the computer for another 45-minute unit. Surfing is allowed after a set number of 45-minute units (depends on my workload).

    To avoid distractions, I ruthlessly filter email. All ezines, association news, etc. get routed immediately to folders that don’t trigger the new mail alert. I’ve assigned a sound only to email from clients; almost everything else sneaks in without me noticing.

  12. Things that tell me I’m ready to work…nothing. I hate work…I always have, but I also have a powerful need to eat, a wife who insists that I am productive, and children who must be clothed and fed. I comprimise with myself, by mentally tying myself to the desk, project or assignment until complete. I then reward my self with “me” time.

    Ever since I was a child in elementary school, I used the “potty break” as an excuse to walk away from my desk. My teachers were sure that I had a severe medical condition, but I would find that after I had walked away from the problem, I could then come back to it renewed. I don’t think that I have a set work time block in my head , but usually it drifts between 15 – 20 minuets at the low end, to 2 hours at the top. My breaks tend to be maybe half as much as the time involved in work.

    I don’t know why, but it works for me.

  13. 1. nice and calm music in my headset
    2. big cup of strong coffe
    3. written down and clarified tasks , so I can strike them out one by one
    4. plans for the evening!

    these four things motivate me when I need to get the job done!

  14. Great tips here, particularly the one about setting a timer. I find that I go through manic modes of checking e-mail obsessively, checking web stats, refreshing things that don’t need to be refreshed, all in an effort to avoid setting my mind to a larger task. The old writer’s bit from Adaption really applies: do you treat yourself with a muffin and coffee before accomplishing the task, or wait until after?

  15. Anne,

    as you very well know – this is a big problem for us who sit infront of computers for a long time. I think our brain is constantly seeking stimuli from new new things and that does have an impact on our productivity.

    I think to get myself in the mood, i found that the best thing to do is just print out the stuff i need to refer to, get a scratch pad and go sit outside. the thoughts become more coherent and clarity comes within minutes. by the time you are done with the outline, you are suddenly in the mood to work and that surge is more real.

    Frankly, I just am beginning to hate email, and i groan at the sound of more email. It just is the biggest productivity killer. What start-app apps are to windows, email is to productivity.

  16. I am glad you mentioned the Flylady; I have used the 15 minute timer thing to keep me from using housework to procrastinate over doing my work work. Similarly, I’ll do a long administrative chore like cleaning my inbox or processing closed accounts for the duration of a single album on iTunes and then stop, feeling that I’ve accomplished something. Either “timer” method, I’ve found that I am much more focused and in a sense, racing against the clock to see how much I can accomplish in that short span of time.

    Something I do with my painting is to listen to a single album for the duration of a piece, on continuous replay. Putting on this music cues my brain into painting mode, since this is the only context in which I listen to some of the things in my collection. While this doesn’t work as well for me personally with my daily computer grind, it may work well for someone else tackling a project when they want some good zen going in the background that they can either listen to actively or tune out because it has become synonymous with the task at hand.

  17. rick gregory

    I’m internally motivated, so timers and other external things don’t work well for me. So what I do is plug the macbook into the LCD, hook up the external mouse and keyboard. That way I’m Siting At The Desk vs lounging on the couch.

    Now, the desk and the couch are in the same room… but sitting at the desk means work… the couch means casual time.

  18. Good stuff here –absolutely resonate with item 2. Even if an incoming email is obviously low-priority auto-feed msgs from assorted business groups, I STILL will open it and thus distract myself.

    For me, another trick to getting myself ready to work is to set expectations, ideally writing them down but most importantly setting them intentionally low. This way you know you can likely get the task done without the of fear putting time in and still not finishing, AND anything you complete beyond that bar is gravy. A sub-trick here is to not explicitly inform your conscious mind that the unconscious set a lower bar. I almost always end-up doing more than the low bar, and feeling great about it !