Saturday, July 26, 2014

Completing Work with No "Need" To Do So

In her excellent blog, Ana Canhoto asks her readers, "How do you motivate yourself to work on something, when you do not have to?" In her post, she note how it is easier to write about a given topic when there is a call for papers, or a where there is a co-author that you need to be held accountable to.

The problem of motivation is one that I have written about frequently in this blog, but often indirectly. Frequently, I write about accountability mechanisms and devices, rituals and routines, personal meaning and values, and how to remove the psychosocial barriers to writing productivity. All of these are part of the process of helping us be productive.

Yet, Ana's question really gets to the core of a different problem; how do you motivate when the stakes are no longer high? You have tenure, you have been promoted to full professor, you are known in your field, you are no longer interested in an area, ect, ect.  Or, as she notes above, you don't have daily micro "pushes" that keep you moving a specific topic or type of project going, although you may still be working on other things. How do you keep that line of research or area going?

While at the end of the day it really might come down to choosing work that is meaningful for us and using all of our tools, on a very practical level, sometimes we have to sit down and strategically come up with some very specific goals.

Example "I will publish three articles on immigration detention over the next two years."

Or, perhaps you start with a more amorphous goal: "I want to maintain or increase my reputation in international social work."

Now, based upon this goal, it is important to operationalize it into smaller, real world, practical goals.

"I will write a book and three articles on international social work within the next two years." Now that you have this goal, which MUST be read at least a few times week to have any meaning, you have to again break this into goals with actions attached, and time frames. These can be outcome goals or process goals. For example:

"I will write for two hours a week on international social work."

"I will work on an article on international social work two times a week."

"I will write and submit an article on international social work by X date."

These smaller goals translate our values into actions that we take on a daily basis, regardless of how we feel, and regardless of the stakes. Then, we build in accountability measures, as needed,  to keep us on track.

Easy breezy right? :)


  1. Thank you for the shout out and, most importantly, thank you for the advice.

    I have been thinking a lot about the path of meaning blog post + this advice, and decided to take some very specific steps to produce more work in the area of research that motivates me the most. For instance:
    - Find an angle to the topic that would interest other researchers
    - Approach researchers I would like to work with and who I know are productive / focused on writing
    - Agree on a potential project
    - Commit to submitting a conference paper by a specific date
    - Bid for some research money - not a lot. It's not for the money, but for the deadlines that come with it.

    So... there you are. In case you were wondering, someone is following your advice :-)

  2. Yeah!!! It is heart warming when I see people make mores toward work that is truly meaningful for them. Nice to see you take several steps- multi method approaches are almost always more in line with what we need than taking one action and hoping. Keep me posted on how this goes!!!