Losing motivation halfway through a task?

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The beginning of the year can be filled with excitement at starting a new year, hopefully motivated and regenerated from some time off over Christmas. However, before you know it, those tasks that you have started start to become less exciting and seem harder to complete. Ever wonder why that is?

In a recent research experiment, participants were given the task of proofreading nine essays to see assess their pattern of motivation over the course of the task.

At first, participants found an average of 0.122 typos per second. Halfway through the task, this decreased to just 0.092 per second. Surprisingly though, toward the end of the task they found an average of 0.124 typos per second, making it their most efficient moment in the task. The research consistently revealed a U-shaped, ‘stuck in the middle’ pattern of motivation over the course of a task.

The bottom line? At the beginning of a chore, people tend to be motivated by their progress in relation to the starting point; at the end, they’re spurred on by their proximity to the end. In the middle, their motivation flags because their attention shifts from the starting point to the end point.

So knowing this, what we can do to improve our efficiency and avoid a waning motivation? Break large tasks into smaller goals that can be achieved. After all, it is actually not the work that is needed to be done in the middle of a task that is the problem. It is the perception of progress.

Learn your preferred way to remain motivated through the less exciting, middle parts of a project. For example, in my experience I have found that bringing in other people into the parts of the task that you anticipate being more tiresome, in order to retain your enthusiasm for the areas that need it the most. It can also be simple things such as leaving the office and working from a cafe for the middle part of a task, only returning until that component is complete.

What do you do to retain motivation throughout a task?

Source: Stuck in the Middle : The Psychophysics of Goal Pursuit


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