20 Minutes to Motivation

20 Minutes to Motivation

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I have always been an advocate for 20 minutes of productivity. It could be 20 minutes per week or 20 minutes per day. The idea was to get you into the habit of productive time spent in your quest to replace consumerism with productivity. Intuitively, I sought to make the journey easier by reducing the commitment to 20 minutes per week. Now, after reviewing behavioral techniques toward forming habits, I am convinced that we can build a daily habit. In fact, a daily habit is the only way to create enduring change.

Here is the revelation that I was not prepared for: Your problem is not motivation.

The problem is how you talk to yourself. First, let us begin to talk behaviorally, articulating tasks. Next, let us be sure that the tasks are as easy as possible. After that, let’s make sure that the tasks are appropriately triggered. Finally, let’s make sure that the task is easier still.

If you are failing after the behavioral work above, your problem is not that you need motivation. You have to find what project WILL motivate you. The truth is that no one can motivate you consistently. You must find the motivation within yourself. Nothing changes if you do not want it to change. But, I will not leave you despairing. I will provide you with some tips to develop your “want to.”

Making it Easy: The Pro-CAP Approach

Pro-CAP is short for the Project Collaboration Alignment Plan. It was originally created to identify project tasks and support collaboration among team members. It can be used for your organization even if you do not currently have your team identified. I mention it here because it is a systematic way to bring ease to your project by clarifying tasks, organizing goals, identifying know-how needs, conceptualizing outputs, scheduling a timeline, and investing in tools.

Tasks. Think behaviorally. The Pro-CAP, and the creation of behavior change, depends heavily on your ability to state your project in behavioral terms. Your tasks are behavioral tasks when they are stated as activities that you can complete. Resist the temptation to state things too generally like “finish the chapter.” You will want to be much more specific. For example write, “Sit and write for 20 minutes on scene 2.”

Goals. Organize your tasks by achievements or goals. Then, you can prioritize those goals to bring order to your tasks. These can be stated more generally, like “Complete chapter 1.” The Pro-CAP suggests limiting tasks to 1-3 hours. Consider that you may work on a single task in multiple sittings, each 20-40 minutes each. This is perfectly acceptable.

Pro-CAP Structure Worksheet

Pro-CAP Structure Worksheet

Know-how. Be sure to include learning as a task on your Pro-CAP. As well, be sure to communicate the new competence and ability that results from your learning exercises. When prioritizing know-how, honor the investment of time by treating it just as you would an investment of money. Be certain that the time that you invest will yield a return that enables you to complete your tasks and the project more efficiently. Otherwise, it may be better to outsource this task.

Outputs. Produce outputs not just outcomes. Outputs are abilities that you can perform or products that you can use. Outcomes are statements of value or achievement not tied to an ability or product. It is important that you think of what you do in terms of how it enables other actions. Train yourself to speak toward ease and ability.

For example, you may have completed training on biscuit making. Stating your results as an outcome you might say, “I learned how to make biscuits.” Stating your new competence more behaviorally as an output you might say, “I learned to set up my workspace, knead and shape dough, and bake biscuits.” Or, you might say, “I invested in tins, rolling pins, and dough cutters that improve my biscuit making skills.” The latter two statements articulate abilities and new capability in a behavioral or tangible way. Admittedly, these are cognitive habits. I insist that they work! Change your brain. Change the game!

Timeline. Look at your Pro-CAP and consider what time you MUST put in to complete task production and develop of know-how. Estimate the time that tasks will take and your level of interest in each task. Consider the time that you will put in each day. With tasks that do not seem especially appealing, consider creative or alternative ways to complete them.

Tools. Determine the tools that you will need to complete your goals. Review the proposed benefit as outputs from these investments. Seek a return on investment that is higher than your initial investment. For example, if you need a computer, be sure that your purchase of a computer yields new ability, connectivity, and market possibilities. Be certain that the purchase can be used beyond the current task—that it builds long-term capability. If not, borrow a computer or go to a public library and use a computer there. The wiser investment is sometimes not to spend your money.

Triggering Your Productivity

Routine. I have written before that your willpower is greatest in the morning. Before the day bombards you with all of its choices, you are ready if only for a moment, to conquer anything. If you took the time to create a schedule and routine, you could maintain this invulnerability for much longer throughout the day. The key to making your schedule is to make the choices of the day prior to that day–to plan ahead. This in effect reduces the choices you are faced with and extends your willpower. What’s more, your body and mind get accustomed to the routine. They coax you to maintain it. They act as triggers.

Timer. There is something instinctual about starting a timer. You will find that the simple act of starting the timer provides you with an external motivator. It doesn’t really matter how productive you are in the time because you will attempt the activity that you set the timer to time. Coupled with a routine, ease and a clear outline of tasks, a timer may equal motivation. The act of startimg the timer tells you that it is time to work. The timer buzzing rewards you for putting the time in.

Meeting. Another human trait you may capitalize on is that nagging sense of loyalty and obligation. Use it to your advantage. Schedule periodic meetings with a friend or mentor who is or wants to be productive themselves. At the end of each meeting, set an agenda and requirements for the next meeting. Even if procrastination creeps in, your refusal to let your friend down will result in productive activity. Another result may be positive competition. If your friend is producing and you are not, you may be motivated to produce more as well. The act of scheduling the date triggers you to begin work. Do not cancel or reschedule. You’re your friend and explain your reasons for failing to complete your assignment.

Making it Easier


Reducing the Time. I started with 20 minutes and 40 minutes only because of my comfort with even numbers. There is no special magic to 20 and 40. You can begin by scheduling 5 minutes or 10 minutes. The only requirement is that you are putting in time. If decreasing the time is what it takes to get you started, make that change and begin immediately.

Voice Recognition. As a prerequisite for your Pro-CAP completion, you may need to make strategic purchases. One such investment may be the purchase of a tablet PC or other device that enable speech-to-text. Note that the draft of this document was created using speech-to-text technology.

The obvious help provided by speech-to-text is that you do not have to type. The ease of voice recognition is that you can focus on your discussion rather than typing. With this tool, you can “write” while you soak in the bath or as you ride the stationary bike.

What may be more subtle is the freedom it gives to your mental processes. With typing, your brain has to originate the ideas, process the language, interpret the typing action, and review what is typed. With voice recognition, you only have to originate the ideas and speak them out loud.

Developing the “Want To”

The most important advice I can give you relates directly to your self-talk. Instead of saying, “I want a new car!” Begin to rehearse, “I want to save $50 per week toward savings for a new car!” Add, “I want to stop eating out each day for lunch. I want to bring my lunch from home.” I would also like for you to say things like “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch are great,” but I know if that’s a stretch.

What I just advised is that you make your wants behavioral. You need to speak to yourself in a voice that identifies clear tasks for you to accomplish. The proof is in the pudding. If the goals that you desire are more than just phantasm and smoke, you will respond to your new self talk with action. If not, accept that those goals are not really your goals right now. No shame! Just re-examine and find your real goals. Start with your actions. They will tell you what you really want.

[Michael A. Wright is mentor, life coach, entrepreneur, curriculum specialist, and Owner/President of MAWMedia Group. His interests span behavioral health, family systems, and wealth creation. Follow @MAWMedia ]