Question from a reader -
One thing that I'm wondering, and figured that I should send before I go to sleep and forget it...
For certain kinds of tasks (having discussions about more abstract goal things, writing emails to friends, commenting on LW, etc.) I'm really motivated, and need to be restrained from doing them.
With other tasks, I'm nowhere near as motivated, and have trouble starting them. Since I'm still a student, not doing this kind of work just isn't an option.
In the long term, I'm hoping to just do more of the things I'm motivated for, and fewer of the ones I'm not. I'm willing to buckle down and do work in subjects that I'm less motivated for if I see how it clearly relates to my goals (last year I spent a few hours trying to work out the geometry kinks for a robot part -- it was a mess).
Right now, I'm just reminding myself that its really not hard once I start it, and that it goes quickly if I just do it.
Is there any other advice you'd have to offer?
First, I agree with your general plan - try to minimize things in the long term that you don't want to be doing. Time tracking is good because it can show you just how much time is going into unpleasantness, and then you can ideally work to cut that down.
But in the short term, when you decide you want to get something done, I don't think there's any really guaranteed quick fix answers. Rather, I think the reasons the work is unappealing could be a few different things, and you could use a few different strategies to deal with it. There's not really a one-size-fits-all approach, you just try to get at it from a variety of different angles until you find something that works.
So, here's a few potential things you could use that might be relevant:
*Batching: Do all tasks of this type at the same time. Lay out your materials so you can do them all in order. Try to do them as fast as possible and get through it all. This decreases the activation energy to starting repeatedly, and brings a lot of satisfaction for doing all or most at the same time.
*Momentum: Similar to the above, but you can sometimes get momentum by doing something you like more, accomplishing on that, and continuing on to work you like less afterwards. For me, doing any sort of work makes me more likely to do work I don't like next. At least, far more than surfing the net.
*Controlling your environment: This one is surprisingly good. Go somewhere that the only thing you've got with you to do is the work you don't want to do. If you're in a plain, spartan cafe with a computer that has no internet access, no games, and no fascinating media, and you've got your schoolwork or whatever, then your options are - (1) stare the wall, or (2) do your work. Usually even unpleasant work is better than staring at the wall. This is what I do when I get really stuck. Just turning off the internet can help a lot, too.
*Reminding yourself you don't have to, you either choose to or choose not to: This helps a lot. There seems to be a natural mental pushback against things you "have" to do - I try to remind myself I don't have to do anything, I can either choose to do it or not do it. Paradoxically, that makes it easier to do. Try it some time, seriously.
*You can always opt not to do something and accept the consequences of not doing it: Like the above, except sometimes you actually do triage whatever it is. I remember seeing a Steve Pavlina post from back when he used to write almost exclusively on productivity. He had an A grade in one of his Computer Science classes, but he felt the final project wasn't going to teach him anything, was going to take a long time, and he'd still get a B if he didn't do it at all. So he didn't do it. It's always an option to decide against doing things if you have too much going on, so long as you can accept the consequences to that.
*Pay to have the task minimized or removed: There might be software or somewhere that you can contract out some of the project to. This might be not acceptable in an academic setting, but it works in the real world.
*Break it down into smaller actionable steps: A lot of times, projects are overwhelming and big and it's not clear what to do. So changing "Write the 10 page essay" into "Go to Google, search for XYZ topic, read the Wikipedia page, find five good articles on the topic, take a guess at what my first thesis will be, take a crack at writing the opening paragraph of the essay" - those are all much smaller steps, so it's easy to do one of them.
*Do it the first time you look at it, so as not to build up an "ugh field" around it
*You could try rewarding yourself. Something like, "After I do this task, I'll go eat some fruit/chocolate/whatever" or buy yourself something you've wanted or some such. I don't personally do this, but some people swear by it.
*You could try saying "I'll just work on this for 30 minutes" (or even 10) as a way to get going. Don't go away from the task until that time.
*Risky, but you can wait until the deadline is almost there and you've really got your feet to the fire. If you've got the basic competency and high quality isn't an issue, this can work. It's a risky strategy though, because if unexpected things happen you could miss the deadline.
I really think there's not any one particular answer, but you can try a mix of things and one of these might help.
Your suggestions for A in the comments?