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10 best tricks of fooling myself to work

UPDATE July 28, 2011: If you need to trick yourself into writing (blog post, article, book, etc), then read the Accidental Genius summary.

UPDATE April 29, 2011: There is a new post Achieving Goals Like a Mad Klingon if you want to trick yourself into achieving goals.

In order to be successful, we have to work hard, no matter what. We can’t always be at the mercy of our motivation.

I am lazy. But that’s okay, because I have some tricks for fooling myself into working, every single day. Actually, I’m quite productive thanks to these tricks. I’m going to share the tricks with you now.

I will mention my own software, a task and notes organizer Swift To-Do List, in 2 of these tricks, but these tricks can be done with other programs (or pen and paper) too.

1. The ultimate trick

When I really don’t feel like working, and it would take a superhuman force to get me working, this saves me. Every time.

Actually, I think what follows is the best way of fooling yourself to work, because it works so well. It’s scary-effective.

So what’s the trick? Well, when I have a “Task X”, and I don’t feel like doing it, and I would much rather do anything else, but I know that doing this particular task is the best choice, I do this:

I tell myself that I will merely write down the steps needed to complete the task. Just a rough draft, at first, and that’s it. Maybe just 3 steps. I then add more steps, breaking the 3 steps into smaller sub-tasks. I then add some details, and thoughts, notes of things that I shouldn’t forget when doing this task. I just think the task through and write everything down. After a little while, I will be a proud author of “The Complete Guide To Finishing Task X for Dummies”.

(The actual way I do this is that I open my Swift To-Do List and fill the notes of the task I want to accomplish with all the steps and thoughts.)

Now, for some unknown reason, when there is nothing else to think about, and there is no way to screw this task up, because everything is laid out in front of me, I just start working on the task automatically. I might do just the first baby micro-step at first, but that’s OK. It follows to the next, and to the next, and before I know it, the task is finished.

When I am thinking about how to accomplish the task, I am already actually accomplishing it. And once I think it through, it seems ridiculously easy.

2. Not eating at the computer

I don’t know about you, but I have never accomplished *anything* while eating at my desk. I usually just read articles, or gaze at the code in Visual Studio while day-dreaming, at best. What’s worse, I even don’t enjoy the food that much this way, as my mind is split among 5 different things.

Oh, and did I mention that my keyboard used to be a huge mess? I swear that there was a delicate living ecosystem inside it. Even if I am really trying to be super-neat, some of the foodstuff will fall into the keyboard. It happens to the best of us.

So what I do now is that I always sit to an actual table, like a civilized man, and enjoy my meal without staring at the addictive hypnotic evils of my computer screen.

Now, while I am enjoying my food at the table, I also kinda miss the computer. I’m eager to return to it and do some real work. The fake feeling of productivity while eating at my computer is eliminated.

3. Rudder of the day

When I sit down to my computer for the first time in the morning, I immediately start working. Because my brain is still half asleep, he doesn’t fully realize that I’m actually working, so he won’t protest. Poor little bugger.

Whenever I begin the day this way, the whole day flows in the productive-tone. But if I start by messing around on the social networks and reading news and articles, the whole day seems lazy and I accomplish a lot less in the end.

This trick has probably the biggest ROI (return on investment) of all of these. What’s the investment? Well, it takes just a little spark of my willpower to start working in the morning. This little morning-spark can ignite an enormous day-fire of productivity.

Being the navigator behind the rudder is easy in the morning. Much harder during the day.

Whatever you do, start working when you sit at your computer for the first time. Even if just for a couple of minutes.

In my opinion, any work done “first thing in the morning” counts triple.

4. Real relaxation

Fake relaxation sucks. When I need a break, I do not eagerly launch Facebook, ICQ or solitaire, but I actually get up and get away from the computer! :-) I can go for a walk, read a book, prepare myself a fruit snack/smoothie/juice, take a nap, do some yoga, chat with a co-worker, or just generally chill out without looking at the darn computer screen.

When I return, I don’t do some random thing on “The Internets”. Oh no. I open my Swift To-Do List, see what’s next, and immediately start working.

5. “Back to work” mantra

I’ve learned this one from Brian Tracy’s Time Management and Maximum Achievement programs. I just keep saying “back to work”, whenever appropriate, until it starts humming in my mind automatically whenever something distracts me.

Completed a small task? “Back to work.” Someone interrupted me? “Back to work.” Answered a call? “Back to work.” Had to reboot my computer? “Back to work.” Velociraptor looking at me behind the window, then leaving? “Back to work.”

“Back to work” is my Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. I just feel great every time I tell myself “Back to work” and resume working.

6. Always knowing what to do next

Whenever I finish a task of any size, and I do not know what to do next, my productivity goes to the drain. So, I’ve come up with an easy way how to avoid this.

Whenever I need to know what to do next, I just bring Swift To-Do List up using a system-wide hotkey and I immediately see what’s next.

Not having some productivity software associated to a system-wide hotkey is like riding without a steering wheel. You will get somewhere, but not where you want to go.

I have many separate to-do lists (a couple for each project), and I’ve created a new Priority called “Next”, highlighted by a bright green color. I assign this priority to tasks that I want to accomplish next.

View modes, filters, sorting etc make this really easy. I can also manually reorder the tasks (see a video) to decide the exact order of my tasks.

7. Sheet of paper with the most important task

Although Swift To-Do List is awesome ;-), good old physical paper has an intricate quality that no software can offer: It exists outside of your computer.

When I have 1-3 super-important tasks, I often write them down on an actual physical paper, and put the paper in front of me. It will be a constant physical reminder of what I want to do. Works like a charm.

And don’t forget the exquisite pleasure of physically checking the tasks off, and joyously manufacturing a paper-ball as a token of your greatness.

This has the biggest effect when you prepare such a paper before leaving work or going to bed, because it will be the first thing you see when you get back to work the next day.

8. Eliminating distractions

It’s a fact of this age that focusing is nearly impossible if you do not have some personal distraction-management strategy. I’ve ellaborated on this topic in one of my previous posts Create more productive environment at your desk (10 tips).

9. When falling asleep…

When you are falling asleep, think about the most important task for the next day. Your subconscious mind will do half the job for you during the night.

This might sound bananas to you, but I swear that it works. Your mind is busy during the whole night anyway (we all have dreams), so why not give it something productive to ponder on?

What’s your trick?

I lied. There are only 9 tricks. However, here is the Captain You to save the day!

See that comment box below? I would love to hear your tricks of fooling yourself to work, or any other comments.

Bring it on. How do you fool yourself into work?

Related Posts:


Swift To-Do List 11

The ultimate to-do list and notes software for Windows.

79 Responses to “10 best tricks of fooling myself to work”

  1. Audie says:

    Setting a timer.
    I hate cleaning but you will be amazed how much you can get done when you only have half an hour to do it.

    Of course I’m the kind of person that without deadlines nothing gets done too…

  2. Robin says:

    Great tips. Thanks!

    Mine is to use the excellent Pomodoro Technique http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/ on tasks I don’t want to do. It’s very effective to tell yourself “just 25mins of focus”.

    Also I auto hide my taskbar and remove all pinned icons.

  3. [...] hard it is, you can always grind on. You may crawl like the tiniest worm, but crawl. Do the tiniest baby micro-step towards your goal, but freaking do it! And do it [...]

  4. Rebecca says:

    Many times the things I dont want to do are “cleaning” oriented. So I load up the iPod with some interesting podcasts (I like RadioLab, This American Life and Freakonomics) and then I’m lost in the earbuds while scrubbing away.

  5. Jiri Novotny says:

    I’ve written another similar post – “10 quick fixes of motivation”:


  6. [...] even if you use tricks to fool yourself into working, there is no guarantee you will keep doing that consistently. Year is a long time, and there are a [...]

  7. Pengujack9 says:

    Lots of software offer the ability of existing outside of your computer, by existing on your smartphone! Hah hah!

  8. [...] knowing this is rather easy: It doesn’t matter how epic or big your project is, you can just break it down into smaller tasks. A few hours of thinking/writing, tops, and you have a very detailed action [...]

  9. Danku says:

    YES! This is EXACTLY what I needed. Holy flying fuck, this article just made me shit rainbows. Thank you, Mr. Sir.

  10. Mattias Opitz says:

    You Sir, are awsome. Thank you so much. Shocked to realize how hard it is to work by yourself (always been a hardworking guy, but always amongst other coworkers/students).

    Will try your methods the following months, and then i will comment again about how the effect was.

    Again thanks.

  11. Nadeem says:

    Hey sir, thats really awsome, i had read a bunch of tips like rewarding yourself, listen to music during work and that kind of stuff but nothing ever worked, but you just gave me tips of my life. I really appreciate your work. Will remember you in prayers.

  12. Christinne says:

    Set a deadline for the small tasks. Then you will feel the pressure, for those who like to work under pressure.

  13. Jennifer says:

    So… you’re selling a $99 piece of software but one of the components is writing a list on plain paper?

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