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I sit here in the living room with Rachel as we intend to write an interim report for our Human Computer Interaction course project.

 

We are supposed to be working on a report, but we don’t always do what we are supposed to do. Rachel has spent half the day online chatting to a few folks, writing emails, and intermittently researching. I have spent the whole morning gathering dinner supplies, playing goop killing games on Ipod, and reading articles on why middle aged women suck at dating. Obviously we either have concentration issues or are particularly unmotivated.

I propose that we are unmotivated and hence we are unable to concentrate. Our brains are craving something, anything interesting that has no relation to what we are supposed to be doing. What needs to be done is not unbearable. Its not a difficult task to accomplish. So what is the issue?

Why is it so hard to motivate ourselves?

For one, we have noticed that whenever we are writing anything: a paper, a report, a blog post; the instant we get stuck and don’t know what to write, our fingers flick to the web browser. The web browser is territory particularly rife with motivation landmines. On the internet you can quickly loose your focus, and begin swimming in the oceans of information and useless time-consuming content. Before you look twice you have swum so far from the shore, that you can’t even see the coastline.

Secondly, you simply don’t want to do what you don’t want to do.  When I don’t feel like doing something, it takes either a lot longer to get done or gets done almost immediately. If it gets done immediately its probably a simple task to begin with or it gets completed somewhat shoddily. When it takes forever its because I am dragging my feet to even sit down at the task. Then it feels like the task takes EVEN longer to accomplish, making you want to accomplish the task even less.

Finally I must inform you that I rarely want to write reports and conduct research when there opportunities that are infinitely more fun. When the sun is shining and the wind is warm who wants to sit chained to their laptop? Not that this is a problem in sunny Dundee, which maybe the sunniest city in Scotland but that isn’t all that sunny.

How do we lay the smackdown on our motivation mojo?

To confront the problem of drifting off topic and off task on the internet, we must adopt self awareness and discipline. It takes some serious effort to notice when you are being a slacker on the computer or internet. I think, “oh, well I am sitting at the computer not watching movies or playing games, so I must be working.” LIES! This is patently not true. There are millions if not billions of ways to be online and not be productive. Just because I am sitting at the computer, does not mean I am working! When you sit down at the computer, you need to open only the programs necessary to work, and constantly self check what you are doing on the internet. Furthermore, just because I get stuck on my task does not mean I deserve a break to check facebook or upload and edit photos. Rachel and I just say “NO!” and smack our hand as if we were naughty children reaching for the cookie jar before dinner.

It is a significantly more difficult to force yourself do something you don’t want to do. I attempt to solve this problem one of two ways. When first tackling a task, I break it into bite sized activities, and figure out which parts I would prefer to do. Then I structure the work in such a way that I get to do a fun, productive task between the chunks of more unpleasant work. This works well when there is no other way to accomplish the task, but I have another method which I enjoy much more. There is a way to turn work into fun.

For example, I am assigned a report to write, and I really don’t want to do it because the topic is bland and the format stale. What can I do to inject it with some life? I look for some aspect of the work that can excite me. In every project there is a possibility to do something creatively or differently. If I can focus on this part of the work then it is easier to get motivated. I know it is impossible to make everything fun, but why not try? Only you know what is fun for you, therefore it is up to you to extract the fun. Turn on some music, find someone who you can work alongside, or just be silly while you work and formalize the work later for the final presentation.

If all else fails, I know that at least when the task is done I will be free, and focusing on that can really help. This is the only thing that helps when I am just itching to go outside and play, and instead I have a pile of work a mile high. My trick for this is simple: go outside and play. Sitting miserably over a pile of work, while your mind and heart long to be elsewhere, will not only make you feel worse but the work will suffer as well.

Rapid Review:

1. Don’t waste time online.

2. Find the fun.

3. Unless you have an imminent deadline, allow yourself to go outside and play.

I am still trying to tackle my motivation mojo problems, but its a slow process. It takes patience, perseverance, and mindfulness. I am learning to be constantly aware of what I am really doing, and not what I tell myself I am doing. They say practice makes perfect,  but I am not trying to achieve perfection. I am practicing because good habits can only be formed through practice.

Eight days ago was the first day of this new semester for the Masters of Design Ethnography course and the Masters of Design course. On this first day we were split up into teams of two and assigned the task of creating instructions for how to make a cup of tea for someone who does not speak your language.

Cora Albrecht teamed up with me and we were off and running. She thought the best format for our instructions would be a flip-book (a short book where the flipped pages create an animated image). I agreed with her and we sat down to work. We worked quickly and with no conflict. It was clear to us that we had to keep it simple and leave out the words because that would go against the constraint of language. I was immensely pleased with our final effort and Cora’s hand drawings gave the flip-book a nice personal touch. Later Cora photographed our work and set it to music resulting with this lovely video. Enjoy.

I think this was a wonderful example of our quick prototyping abilities and a good way to introduce us to the meaning of Strategic Information Design. It made us immediately consider the complexities that underlie the need for strategic information design and it was fun.

Alicia Dudek


Design Ethnographer
User Experience Consultant
Design Thinker
Play Advocate
Post-it Note Junkie

p.s. These are all my own words, not my employer's.

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