Psychological Pairing: Forget Motivation – Actually Get Stuff Done

Motivation is constantly being chased by apathy and rarely wins the race. So? How do I get stuff done? Psychological Pairing.

What is Psychological Pairing?

“In relation to psychology, pair by association is the action of associating a stimulus with an arbitrary idea or object, eliciting a response, usually emotional. This is done by repeatedly pairing the stimulus with the arbitrary object.” Wikipedia

Motivation isn’t tangible. It’s allusive. It hides from you. Motivation is too hard to nail down. So what do you do?

Basically, I bribe myself.

Eat the Frog

One of the sayings in productivity is to “eat the frog.” This means that you do the one thing you don’t want to do first. Everything after that tastes good. Having spent 30 years doing secretarial work, this is how I’ve lived my life. I still do it.

So, you eat the frog. Now what?

Set Limits

It’s so easy to get distracted working at or from home. As I write this post, I’m a bit down so I’m in bed. This is a rule I generally don’t break. I have a desk in my living room (no TV in there). That is where I work. When I get up from my desk, I am done working.

Limits help set expectations for yourself and for your friends and family. This especially helps if you have people living with you like family or roommates.

Work like an employee. Block out your time. Take scheduled breaks. Write down what you’ve done. Make a task list but put it in your calendar. Tasks take time. If you don’t understand how much time you’re spending, you will underbid projects and overtax yourself. But that’s another blog post.

Work From a Calendar: I have recently picked this one up: to work from a calendar instead of a to-do list. What I find useful is that a calendar forces me to rethink my work from tasks to time units. It is a small change, but it increases the chance of getting things done.” Ye Chen

Reward Yourself

Okay. This isn’t about time management. But it is. So, essentially, psychological pairing is about doing something you don’t like doing and then rewarding yourself with something you do like.

To motivate yourself, pair a task with a reward. Small task, small reward. Build. Do. Accomplish. It’s that simple. Share on X

For example, after my husband passed away, I needed to donate his clothing. It was overwhelming emotionally and physically. So I decided I could fill two plastic bags and then take it to Goodwill. Each time I took those donations to Goodwill, I went to In-N-Out for lunch. I treated myself for doing something I didn’t want to do.

It doesn’t have to be that dramatic. Write a blog post, watch a movie. Do two hours of client work, have a cup of tea. Send a proposal, go for a walk.

The key to psychological pairing is that you are self-aware enough to know what motivates you and that you break down the tasks. Achievable. Do it. Write it down. Rinse and repeat.

Happy working my friends.

8 responses to “Psychological Pairing: Forget Motivation – Actually Get Stuff Done”

  1. I really like the way that you can express your ideas so easily, you make it simple and cute. These are such good tips!

    Thank you, Bridget!

  2. Good piece. Thanks. I read Tracey’s “Eat the Frog” years ago. It’s tough sometimes but so is dreading something all day.