Although I’m not in the TLQ group, I often follow along because it can be motivating to see other people’s efforts to get to the truly important stuff, and comforting to see how/when/why they have trouble getting to it (since I also often get distracted by the Urgent rather than focusing on the Important). This week’s topic made me want to write about something I started doing last week (that is, before this topic posted).
I don’t do well with external rewards, no matter what they are. Either I want the thing now, rather than later; or I’m going to do it later whether or not I am done with the tasks; or I find that I don’t really want the thing after all, in which case it’s a lousy motivator. And yet just having the satisfaction of having completed a task does not necessarily motivate me, either. It may feel like way too small a portion of the whole thing: I wrote a paragraph of my book, big whoop; how many hundreds of paragraphs to go? Or it may be something that provokes disproportional anxiety (hello, phone calls), so that the delight of having it over with is dwarfed by the agony of doing it combined with the feeling that I am doing-it-wrong because I can’t manage to think of this as the simple task it is for other people.
Okay, so having already admitted that I’m both perverse and pathetic, I will now tell you how easily I am motivated by a kindergarten technique: colored stars. On difficult days, I keep a list not of things to do but of things I have done, and I assign myself points for them and draw colored stars or flowers to celebrate having done them. I choose points depending on how hard it feels to do things. The easy routine things like administering cat meds are one point; writing 400-500 words is five points; calling the insurance company is at least 10 points. I don’t do anything with the points, like adding them up to win prizes of some kind. It’s just a way of acknowledging to myself that that task took some energy and so I should get some recognition for it. Drawing a star or flower or doodle takes very little time, a few seconds for a one-pointer, maybe a minute for something fancy to celebrate a ten-point task, but it’s a creative break from doing harder things. And getting a page full of colored doodles for things I have done is surprisingly motivational. I think drawing them myself is important. Stickers don’t have the same effect unless they’re part of a design I have made.
Next year I’ll see if this works for grading.