A lot of productivity advice seems to focus on giving you tips to stay focused on and get motivated to do things you don’t want to do. I’m actually not into that sort of thing.
I think that if you are doing a lot of work where you have to “goad” yourself to get it done, you are probably in the wrong job. Plus, a lot of the detailed tactics for self-motivation don’t work long-term. It is far better to make procrastination a non-issue, which is what my first point gets at.
1. Love what you do
The best motivation is to love what you do. It’s far better to tackle the “problem” of motivation at the higher level so that you don’t even need to deal with the more detailed and specific motivational tactics.
The three components of motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If you find yourself needing to be motivated, rather than identifying tactics like “reward yourself after you get done with a hard task,” take a look at whether you believe in the purpose of your tasks (and, before that, actually know the purpose!), whether the tasks are too hard (or too easy), and whether you have the freedom to do them in your own way.
The best type of motivation is to want to do the things you have to do — to be pulled toward them by a desire to do them and make a difference and serve others — rather than to be pushed towards them through carrots and sticks (rewards and punishments). Intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation every time. When you like your work, procrastination typically becomes a non-issue.
Now, at the same time, there will always be tasks now and then that we just find ourselves entirely dis-inclined to do. Maybe it’s even a task we ordinary love, but we are extremely tired that day and yet are on a deadline and need to get it done. Or maybe there are other factors interfering. In these cases, tactics can sometimes be useful. Here’s one I’ve found useful.
2. Take Breaks After Starting the Next Part of a Task, Rather Than In Between
When you take a break, don’t take your break at a natural stopping point. Instead, get to a natural stopping point, and then start into the next segment of the task. This gets you into it a bit and gets your wheels turning. Then take your break. While you are on your break, your mind will be inclined to get going again, since you’ve already started in to it. So it will be easier to come back from the break and avoid letting the break turn into an extended period of procrastination.