The Motivation Experiment

Life can be rough sometimes.

I’m still struggling to be productive since I moved back home recently. I have had spurts of productivity, but it feels as if I’m fighting an uphill battle. When you’re fighting an uphill battle, your motivational strength is sapped easily.

As I wrote about in a prior article, the key to using motivation correctly is to set smaller goals that you can accomplish. Once you accomplish a goal, you’re ready to tackle the next. This is an experimental post that involves an actual experiment.

The Experiment

I’m less motivated now than I have been in months.  It’s weird. It’s hard to pinpoint any one reason, but generally I’ve been failing to focus.  There is so much I want to do at this very moment that I’m being pulled in 568 directions.  When you are being pulled in every direction – you stay in the same spot.

So my experiment is to test the motivation method I talked about earlier. I have several hours left for the rest of the day and SO much I want to do.  Today, I have literally accomplished nothing so far (how’s that for honesty?).

An interesting tidbit is that the motivation article was not talking about intra-day motivation, but I am going to apply it in this way.  I also think that having this information online where hundreds of people can see it will serve as a motivator.

My goal is to build momentum by motivating myself to accomplish tasks one after another.  Each accomplished task will take me incrementally closer to my goal of regaining my vigor for life (which is typically there).  If all goes as planned, I will go to sleep tonight being very pleased with the day and excited about my success.

Here’s What I’m Going To Do

I’ll post a list of things I want to accomplish by midnight tonight (US Eastern). At midnight, I will update this page with my results and thoughts on this experiment.  If I fail…well, I’m not going to fail.

The motivation-building list (start simple and build up to more difficult tasks):

  1. Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes
  2. Read one chapter in a book
  3. List three items on ebay
  4. Clean my room to satisfaction
  5. Write 1,500 words in the e-book I’m working on
  6. Organize my bookmarks toolbar to satisfaction (such a mess right now – flooded with links)
  7. Transfer MS Word blog post ideas to Excel SS

I have a whopping 8 hours and 10 minutes to do this.  I’m gonna go for it. You know what?  Just making this orderly list and setting clear daily goals has my motivation climbing rapidly.  I’m excited! I’ll update this post a little bit after midnight with results.  🙂

Wish me luck!

The Update (8 Hours Later)

Readers, I just had an incredible day.  Even with the terrible start, the finish was so incredible that it made up for the first half.  In short, the experiment was a ridiculous success.  I essentially combined shock treatment and my motivation technique with an added focus on momentum building to have one of the most productive 8 hours I’ve ever had.

1. Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes  √

Yes, I am using the square root symbol as a check mark.  😛

For this I jogged 2.5 miles in 30-40 minutes.  Part of the way I ran while dribbling a basketball.  I wanted to start this list with exercise as it is suitable for the “shock treatment” aspect of this equation.

It worked wonders.

Not only was I out the door running 5 minutes after I published this post, but I literally had about 20 ideas for blog posts and websites during the run.  It makes me want to hire an assistant to run alongside me and take notes next time.

The run increased my motivation and positivity.  I haven’t mentioned this yet, but being positive is essential to being creative.  Knowing that, it wasn’t too surprising I came up with several good ideas.  The increased blood flow to the brain helps too.

2. Read one chapter in a book √

I read chapter one in The Hobbit.  It’s developing into a nice story.  I had trouble getting into it in the very beginning, but towards the end of the chapter I found myself very engaged.  Nice job, Tolkien!

After completing task #2, I was very encouraged by my quick reversal of a bad day.

Affiliate link above – by the way, nearly everything I link to that can be purchased will be an affiliate link to because I love Amazon, they sell everything, and affiliate links don’t cost you any money (but can help me a tiny bit).

3. List three items on ebay √

I did this quickly.  I could really sense the momentum from tasks 1 and 2.  It took me 30 minutes total to list three items.  This might be standard for most people, but I usually take longer with ebay when I should just focus on quickly getting rid of items for cash!

4. Clean my room to satisfaction √+

Here is the surprising MVT (Most Valuable Task).  Not only did I go well beyond my initial ideas for cleaning – I deeply organized – but cleaning up my work area resulted in an epiphany.  I believe my room being messy was the cause of my unproductive skid.

As I was talking with Tom about productivity (see it in the comments below), he mentioned that cleaning my room was busywork.  While the work itself is busywork, it unleashed a gargantuan amount of value upon completion.

Now, I can see why I instinctively placed a high priority on cleaning my room – because to me it is a cornerstone of productivity.  When my “sanctuary” is messed up, so is my life.  A cluttered environment gives me mental blocks and makes me unhappy.

5. Write 1,500 words in the e-book I’m working on √-

This is the failure in the list, but not really.  I only wrote 750 words in the book.  I’m not sure I should have set a specific word count to begin with because that can force terrible writing.

As I reached 700 words, my mind just wanted to move on to something else.  Eventually, I stopped fighting for the sake of reaching an arbitrary goal (a valuable lesson).  What I did write was quality content, however, and I look forward to finishing the book and setting it loose.

6. Organize my bookmarks toolbar to satisfaction √+

This had the same completely refreshing effect that the room cleaning did.  Life is twice as good because of this. Now my internet world is organized.  I even organized my computer files for extra credit!

7. Transfer MS Word blog post ideas to Excel SS √

This was wonderful.  I organized my blog ideas on a spreadsheet (still more to do here).

Conclusion of Experiment

I highly recommend trying this.

  1. Compile a list of tasks that you believe you have enough time to accomplish (if in doubt, aim a little low, but not too much that you can slack off!).  It is good to have a little bit of pressure that gets you focused, but too much will just overwhelm you.
  2. Once you have the list of tasks, organize them from easiest to hardest.  You’re building momentum with the small easy tasks and using that positive motion to help you complete tasks that you have been putting off.  It is a confidence-building process.

I like to start off with exercise as it serves as the shock treatment and sets a great tone for a productive day. After I ran, I was much more decisive than usual – something you need for getting things done.  I believe it had to do with increased brain activity and that “go go go” mindset carrying over from my run.

If you do decide to try this, please let me and the Deep Existence community know.  It’s cool that there is a community here.  Deep thinkers unite!  🙂

Until next time,

Stephen The Experimenter

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Jarrod Dunham

I wish you well on tackling your list. One of the greatest lessons a mentor of mine taught me was to start each day with a list of three things you want to accomplish even if you have a thousand things to do. This way I never feel overwhelmed and if I can complete the list before the day is done I can always add another task.


Hi Stephen,
I think Jarrod is spot on. I know that this is not your entire do to list but still try to cut it to three things. That way you’ll focus on only the most important things and you won’t get overwhelmed and discouraged by a long list. The other thing to consider when using the three things technique is Parkinson ’s Law. Instead of making it three things today make it three things before lunch. That way you will force yourself to find a way to get it done quicker but you will still have some flex in your schedule if something takes longer than expected (Hofstadter’s law). After lunch you’ll already be feeling productive for the day and instead of worrying if you are going to get anything done today you’ll be work on some extra task that will be bonus productivity above and beyond what you had planned.

Now back to your list, first thing I notice on there are two things that shouldn’t be there. Exercising and reading shouldn’t be on your to do list, you need to turn these into habits, things you do everyday and don’t have to think about let alone put on do to lists.

Next thing I notice is the busy work, cleaning your room, sorting your bookmarks and rearranging your blog ideas. This is the stuff you will use to put off doing other more important things that you know you should do. Make these the afternoon bonus tasks.

One last thought, I fully expect you to get all those things on list done because you have shared your commitment with your readers on this blog. That accountability will motivate you for today but I don’t think it will work longer term since you are not going to share you to do list with the internet everyday.

I know is said last thought before but I had another. I am no productivity expert, probably more of a procrastination expert. It is easy to look at others and see where they could do better but much harder to do the same sort of analysis on yourself, thats what I like about your blog, keep up the good work.



That’s great Jarrod. I love the list idea in the morning. But why three? Why not two or four? I believe I read on zenhabits that Leo B. recommended three as well. Is there research that supports this number? Thanks!


Hi Tom,

Thanks sooo much for that comment. It was very thought-provoking.

Like with Jarrod, I want to ask “why three”?

My thoughts about that are partial agreement and a partial desire to clarify what my mindset was in this. As for three things vs. 42 things, I don’t believe it makes a difference for one reason – how many things can/should you do at a time? Just one. If you’re really trying to get 42 things done in a day, then yes, it is a problem.

When I put out this list, I (roughly) estimated the time it’d take to complete it in order to push myself to work productively, like in your three before noon example. At no point in time did I look at the later numbers in the list and worry about completing them. That’s just not how I think – I love to focus!

I realize that that last sentence looks odd considering in this very post I said that I had “too many things to do.” A huge part of that was actually a massive amount of *new* unprocessed tasks and ideas were flooding into my mind (outside of my Getting Things Done system) and it was overwhelming me. All of my other tasks are in my GTD system and I can easily look at all 100+ of them and pick individual ones to do.

Two more things…

Reading and exercising are things that I want to do and enjoy. I don’t want to exercise every day (4-5 days/week max with active lifestyle) but I would actually like to read every day. Just so you know – I wasn’t forcing myself to do these things.

As for the room and bookmarks – I simply cannot operate in a cluttered environment. It creates severe mental blocks and drives me crazy. I think my room being messy was involved in this bout of nonproductive behavior. So I see both of these as priorities of the highest level.

Honestly, this instance of not being motivated and being unproductive was very rare for me (but more common since moving). I wanted to document and share how I bounced out of it. In the past several months I’ve been the most productive I’ve ever been. So I see this as jump-starting a car that left the lights on once instead of jump-starting a car with a dead battery.

I’m not a productivity expert either, but I hope to be. 🙂 I love Hofstadter’s law by the way – not accounting for that is a major flaw in many rigid productivity solutions. I think I have an understanding of that law built into my personality. I like flexibility.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this. Thanks Tom and I’m glad you like my blog!



Why three? I’m just bouncing an idea around here but I think the small number is intended to force you to ruthlessly examine you priorities. It is supposed to make you uncomfortable but not too uncomfortable. It would be much more difficult to pick just one thing and you’ll probably end up worrying if you picked the right one. Plus if you line up a couple of things from the start you’ll be able to jump straight onto tasks two and three without stopping to pick a new task which would interrupt your productive mindset.

Excellent point you make about the tidying up tasks. I think you might have found the cause of your motivation dip. Having an environment that reflects and reinforces your goals and values is important.


I’m about to update this soon with the progress I’ve made, but I think that was indeed the cause.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the GTD system, but David Allen suggests that prioritizing is something we do naturally given our current circumstances. If we’re tired and the next most important task is to read, we might rather do something else that doesn’t cause us to fall asleep. With three tasks, you could choose what order to complete them in. I do like that idea – thank you! I think I will try it out tomorrow actually.

You’re right on about the environment! I feel like a different person now! 😀 Thanks so much for your insights Tom.

Barry | A Leader Quotes Success

Good luck on knocking out your list, Stephen!

One approach I’ve had success with, too, is based more on momentum than a task list. If I’m reading a book, and I’m interested in continuing reading, I’ll just continue reading my book and organize my toolbar tomorrow – probably when I feel more like it. This covers my reading obligation for tomorrow (when I’d rather get into the flow of toolbar organization), and makes the reading itself a more cohesive experience. What do you think?

Chris Kahler @ Bloggeritus

The feelings expressed here visited me about a week or two ago…. probably because I overloaded myself. Taking a step back for about a week allowed me to reexamine things.

I found that my area I was struggling in was not focusing on the correct things, not so much that I didn’t have focus. This realization forced me to redirect my focus towards what matters and what I need with my blog as of now: quality posts, not quantity.

The good thing about what I’ve done so far though, even though after reading back through my posts and comparing them with the new ones I’ve written using the two day blogging method (checked out your article, it was AMAZING and will be referenced in my book), and they are pitiful! I’ve started scrapping some, and have set out the task of completely overhauling every piece I think has a good topic. A whole new blog will be the result.

One thing I’ve found that is helping me so far is how I communicate with myself. I was having a difficult time deciding what kind of person I am… I feel like I’m very analytical about stuff. I’ve always been the rational observer of situations.

But, I’ve always aspired to be artistic, just have never taken the time to develop any skills in that area. During the week that I took a small break I purchased a Bob Ross paint set and have been painting wet on wet style oil landscapes.

This has not only helped me realize I really do think more from a right brained perspective than I originally thought, it also has allowed me to realize that I better communicate with and relate with artistic personalities.

So, I’ve changed how I write out my task list and include visuals as well as make it more free flowing. Opening up my ability to communicate to myself in such a new way has re-inspired me more than I can say. It has really allowed me to create a better push and drive for myself, simply because I respond to the new personality I have come at myself with so much better than the other one. It’s really weird, and I haven’t shared that with anyone, so I don’t know if it’s just me, or if we ALL should pay attention to how we self talk.

We tend to like certain personalities, but who’s to say we talk to ourselves with a personality we are fond of? What if the personality we have with ourself isn’t one we react to the best? I think paying attention to this helps response and reaction be more positive.

What are your thoughts on this?


I approve of that momentum-based technique you suggested. I think that’s just smart to work with yourself instead of fight against yourself.

My thought about that is it is superior to do that than to follow a list to the letter IF…you can trust yourself. By that I mean knowing that you in fact will organize your toolbar tomorrow. I remember trying to do this and then doing it the next day to the point that I’m always putting off certain tasks that I don’t usually feel like doing.

So I really like the idea (and use it sometimes), but having some structure can be useful too. I actually did this today with my e-book as I only wrote 1/2 of the planned amount…I just didn’t want to force myself to write when it was clear my mind was elsewhere. I plan to write more tomorrow.


Very interesting Chris. I have to give you a golden (or silver if you prefer) star because your thoughts were very deep!

Thanks for the Problogger article compliment! I appreciate that (and the inclusion in your book).

I think the two day blogging method really depends on the piece. This article for example, was more of an experiment report type of article where I was just relaying my thoughts and information. As such, I think it turned out fine with each half only being one session (and it was time-sensitive). Just a thought about that…

One thing I’ve noticed is that our definition of artistic can be very narrow. I am artistic in the way I write, think, and create things. Others might go for painting. Isn’t everyone artistic in some way? I even see some basketball players as being somewhat artistic with their play style (probably a stretch, lol).

I think it’s great that you’re attempting to engage both sides of the brain. I would like to do that too! I wonder if mind-mapping and such is an effective way to do that. You’re responding better too. That’s great!

I have one or two article ideas on how we “self talk” and communicate with ourselves. There are many ways to do it and we don’t always use the best ways. What we’re talking about is pretty theoretical, but interesting to explore. I know there is merit to it because of how much perception matters.

I’m not sure if that was the type of response you were looking for. Those were just the thoughts that came to mind.


hi Stephan,

Congratulations on your success in the day. It is a great thing that you have been able to keep the promises that you made to yourself. It is a great start , keep it going.
By the way, I have read “The Hobbit”. It is too good a book.
Best regards,

Jarrod Dunham

I’m not exactly sure. For myself, three is an easy amount to deal with while not feeling like I’ve set too easy a goal. The other bonus is that if you have a large task it can be broken down into easier chunks this way.

Chris Kahler @ Bloggeritus

That was exactly the response I was looking for! After I posted that comment I started to think that maybe my topic of comment was off the point of discussion (being motivation and all), but oh well. Deep existence goes beyond the boundaries of a single posting topic, anything can happen at any time!

Yeah, I do understand that we all have artistic, or creative tendencies. Honestly, anything you “create” pulls from “right side” thinking and involves a level of artistic development you have. Even basketball players that redefine the game used creative thinking in the formation of new techniques.

People use the right side of their brain regardless if they notice or not. I think that actually spending time to develop creative abilities helps. My big question regarding this idea is this – does it help your primary skills to develop unrelated sub skills which engage the same level of creative thought?

After painting a few pieces, which actually turned out REALLY good for a beginner, (I catch on pretty quick and Bob Ross is THE MAN for teaching people how to paint) I have began to view my blog posts totally different. They actually LOOK different, not just like a bunch of words. I see it almost as a “canvas” for where the post should go, and feel as if it needs to be “composed” just as much as it is written.

Now I am including a creative strategy with a logical strategy. Am I the only one who actually VIEWS it this way? I know other bloggers realize this, and that’s why they provide QUALITY content… but usually when you get on the subject of quality content, most people just think about the WRITING, and not the creative strategy of how the post is composed.

This creative thinking process goes for almost ALL of life. This may sound weird, but I have been trying experiments with my perception with general day to day activities.

This is all theoretical, as are most “ideas” about how to improve oneself starting with the mind. It really boils down to personal preference I guess – whichever specific “theory” works best for yourself. I do think this is a great place for having such discussions though.

You say you’re a deep thinker? Are you a deep discusser?

I could go on forever on MANY more topics than some of the one’s we’ve already talked on. My brain fires ideas constantly, but (going to critical advice mode) the deep thinking here is somewhat limited to the posts and their topics… meaning we eventually have to wait until a topic is brought up. I think you could greatly benefit from engaging your community in a more direct way.

Have you ever thought about buddypress? Just a suggestion… I know I also sent an email through you contact form yesterday for thinking about a forum. But, buddypress would work amazingly with your blog’s topic and you would get a faster growing and more engaged community I am sure.

This is definitely something that you would have to test and review, maybe even set up a poll for those who frequent the blog. As I see it, the only direction you have to head is FORWARD so you might as well embrace it and stay AHEAD of the curve, ya know?

Sorry this is such a long one!
Take Care,

Riley Harrison

Hi Stephen,
Steven doesn’t some form of prioritization have to be built into the equation. If one completes all the tasks on his “to do” list with the exception of the most important one, would you place that experience in the win column. I like immensely that you have found a way to rescue the day. When I get off to a bad start, I have a tendency to say screw it, tomorrow is a another day and do nothing substantial for the balance of the day.

Martyn Chamberlin

Wow this is awesome man, which just proves that lists work for things besides blog posts.

P.S. Once 25 people like your Facebook page, you can go to and change your page url from the weird one it is to something like

As soon as I hit 25, I’m doing the same. 😀


You mentioned “sub skills” and developing them to help your primary skills. I think that is a sound idea. It makes me think of Myers-Briggs, where they say you have dominant traits and secondary traits. As you develop your secondary traits, you become more of a well-rounded person as the traits complement each other. In a similar way, I think secondary skills (like art) can activate different, yet relevant areas of the brain to improve your writing overall.

I pay a great amount of attention to the layout of my blog posts. It doesn’t come as easy to me as producing the content, but it is important!

It isn’t weird to experiment with perception – I do it all the time. Perception is such a powerful tool that can help us or harm us, so it makes sense to tweak it.

Deep discussing comes with deep thinking (unless the person is completely introverted), so yes. I also have many more things to discuss – about 100 post ideas that grow faster than I can write them. I have thought about setting up a forum for the very reasons you mentioned. I did get your email and meant to respond to it, but got distracted. Sorry about that.

BuddyPress is something I’ve heard about. I actually installed the plugin and didn’t know what I was doing with it so I deleted it and moved on to other things. I think a forum could definitely be a great idea for this site and I appreciate your suggestion. If I decide to implement it, it will be later on when there is greater awareness of Deep Existence. I want the blog to be the focus for now (for me and the audience).

I’m sorry that it is limited to posts/discussions at this point, but I like that in a way because it creates greater focus. If someone wants to engage with the community here, then they have a certain number of posts to choose from – and fewer options means greater depth. Depth is what I’m all about! That said, a forum wouldn’t really take that away and could increase interest in the site. I’ll keep this in mind.

Thanks for your deep response, Chris.


Thanks Ashvini! I look forward to finishing the book. It is getting pretty exciting already as Bilbo and a dozen dwarfs are off to find treasure guarded by a fierce dragon (I love fantasy…very much :-)).

And yes, it was very satisfying to come through and turn the rotten day into something wonderful.


Prioritization was built into my list. This seems to be a very key and interesting point actually, as a few of us have different views on how prioritization with lists should work. I might write a post on this sometime to dig deeper.

As for missing out on the most important task – if it is absolutely vital to do it, you can move it up the list. If it is something you really want to do, wouldn’t you be very motivated to move down the list to complete it? It might depend on personality and preference. As long as we’re productive, we’re doing fine!

Yes, I have done the “screw it, there is tomorrow” routine also, but this was MUCH better in my experience. Because even if your day is better tomorrow, you still have to face that you wasted your day today. I wonder if those with rock-solid morning routines ever have bad starts…


Thanks Martyn. Lists are power!

I did implement your advice. I was planning on doing it sooner, but you know how life can get hectic… 🙂

Riley Harrison

Oh I would never defend the “screw it, there is tomorrow” routine. It’s a terrible counter productive habit. Unfortunately it’s a life-long habit and hard to break.


Just to clarify, I didn’t perceive you as defending that philosophy. I was just thinking about the differences between that and the intra-day save. I hope you can break that habit.


750 words sounds quite reasonable in the middle of a busy evening!


I had no problem with it for that reason. Also, I don’t want to force out poor writing!

Archan Mehta


Great post, as usual, and thank you.

You should read about the daily schedule of Henry Juntilla. Henri is from Scandinavia and owns the blog, Wake Up Cloud. Please go ahead and check out his latest post. You will thank me for pointing it out. You could also subscribe to his blog for notifications and alerts.

I have been a fan of Henri’s blog for the longest time: his tips and techniques prevented me from turning into a Cromagnon man and living in a cave in the great state of Montana.

(By the way, I have noticed that you take my comments too seriously, whereas actually I am only trying to crack jokes and make you laugh. Unfortunately, I am such a disaster as a writer that most readers think I am serious when I am only being wry and sarcastic).

I think in order to be more productive, it is necessary to know your priorities. Prepare a check-list or to-do list in advance in order of priority from one to ten. And then mark it off as you complete each task. This gives me a sense of accomplishment. Also, I need to keep a note-pad and pen in my pocket. Otherwise, I have a tendency to forget and can’t even recognize my own mug in the mirror. Ugh! Keeping a diary is a saving grace for folks like me.

I also tended to lose my focus. I have lost focus my entire life. Then, I discovered meditation. Now, I have so much focus that people have to escort me out of the library because I tend to stay later, that is, after hours. I tend to forget that a library is different from a bar. Another thing I will have to mention in my note-pad. Wish you great success. Cheerio.


Hi Archan,

Thanks for the kind words.

I have seen Mr. Juntilla and his blog. He seems to be doing pretty well over at Wake Up Cloud. I’ll have to go revisit and check out his routine. Thanks!

I think I can sense your sarcasm most of the time, but it can be challenging to know with just text written by someone you don’t know in person, ya know? Part of it might be that I expected a portion of your comment to be serious and relevant to the topic at hand – but you may have joked the whole way through. 🙂 Of course, it may have been the wine I had last night, hahaha. I’ll try to be keen to your sarcastic wryness in the future. 😉

I’m split on priorities. Sometimes it seems like a good idea, but other times it seems limiting to have to do one particular task next when it might be more logical to do a different one.

Focus is huge! Meditation seems like a good practice. I might try it sometime. Thanks for your thoughts and insights Archan.

alfa 4c

Motivation and equilibrium are both important for success. I might say that equilibrium plays a much more important role, because if you are unbalanced at the psychological level, then your motivation will drop. So it is important to find some balance in your life, avoid or ignore stress factors and only then go to deal with your motivation.

From what you said here, I can see another important factor for success: time management and organization. I have read recently that people who are stressed or overwhelmed at work by different many tasks, develop a work-phobia, and the best known treatment is organization in two directions: organize your priorities and schedule them according to your available time.

Another issue, which is important for motivation, is diversity of activities. If you do something and it turns into a routine, you might lose the right rhythm and eventually fail. This is why you have to diversify your daily routines, have more different activities.

But please keep in mind that for some highly stressed individuals having to organize themselves might just be an extra stress factor to work against motivation.

I used to be a highly motivated individual as I was younger, especially when I had precise goals, and motivation, patience and perseverance helped me to achieve goals others thought to be impossible. But, unfortunately, as the time passes I find it more and more difficult to find things that inspire and motivate me. There is of course the case of negative motivation, when you put all your energy into something just to avoid the consequences of not doing it. Overall, your motivation experiment proves perfectly some of the points I detailed here. Thanks.

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