How to Increase Motivation and Plan your Day Effectively

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all our work finished by 5pm, didn’t have to stress about deadlines and had more free time? Well, that might not always be a realistic goal, but there are certainly things we can do to get on track.

What’s holding you back?

If you constantly feel overwhelmed by your workload, something has to change. True, we often give ourselves far too many tasks to tackle in one day but, with the right strategy, it might surprise you what you can manage! Among the primary things that can hold us back are motivation and organisation. If we plan the day effectively, we can actually hack both of these, ending each day with a sense of accomplishment. 

Let’s tackle motivation first.

Photo Credit: Flotographic Arts cc

Photo Credit: Flotographic Arts cc

How can you motivate yourself?

Thomas Wright, professor at Fordham University, claims employee happiness accounts for as much as 10-15% of the variance in performance between different employees. That means up to 45 minutes in lost productivity every day. Happy people, on the other hand, may be as much as 31% more productive.

This information is not that surprising, but how can it help us? As we know all too well, happiness is not straightforward, nor easy to hack. It is affected by a complex variety of factors like fitness and nutrition, as well as genetic predisposition and circumstantial factors.

Delving into all of these factors is an endless mission for us at Hacking Happiness, but this post is no place to crack the formula.

What we do need to talk about here is dopamine.

Hack your dopamine levels!

Dopamine is the neurochemical that motivates us to persevere through a challenge. It increases our curiosity, perseverance, sense of satisfaction and even our memory! It can give us this feeling of happiness that will help increase short-term productivity. 

According to Lifehacker and Neurologist, Judy Willis, we should use incremental goals to hack our dopamine levels. This means that we have to break down our to-dos into clear segments so that we receive bursts of motivation after each completed task. It might seem silly to pat yourself on the back every time you send an email or finish a bit of paperwork but it really does help.

Rewiring your brain to expect progress from your efforts doesn’t have to start at work either. In fact, Judy Willis suggests we start with activities we are enjoy the most and are excited about. For example, if you enjoy running, break up an ultimate 10k goal with smaller distance goals every day/week. 

‘As you meet your incremental goals and have repeated experiences of dopamine-reward, you will literally change your brain’s circuitry.’
— Judy Willis

What this all means is: if you take the time to acknowledge each small success, your brain will reward you.

Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee cc

Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee cc


How can your make use of this at work?

When it comes to organising work tasks for maintaining motivation, we should be keeping goals small and achievable in order to increase the frequency of the dopamine reward. Simplicity is key:

1. Give up long to-do lists

Roberta Matuson suggests giving up general to-do lists altogether, since they are often overwhelming and have a negative effect on motivation.

2. Plan your goals each day 

Knowing what you need to do in a day, in order of priority, will help you focus on one task at a time and feel in control.

3. Start goals with a verb 

Not only do verbs encourage action, but they help us break big goals down into smaller ones for optimum dopamine release. Dave Caolo avoids the daunting ‘write article’ by using smaller, more tangible goals like ‘brainstorm post’, ‘write outline’ and ‘review outline’.

4. Use emotive words in your goals 

Entrepreneur, Robyn Scott, increases her motivation by labelling each goal with words to describe how they will make her feel. E.g. ‘triumphant’, ‘supremely satisfying’ or ‘massively helpful’. This will also encourage the brain to actually feel ‘satisfied’ or ‘triumphant’ on the completion of each task.

5. Record all unscheduled to-dos in a separate list

David Allen, bestselling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, suggests stress is more likely to come from the fear of forgetting something than from not getting those things done. Keep a separate list of all of the small tasks you think you might forget and incorporate them into your daily goals as necessary.

6. ‘If it won’t fit on a post-it, it won’t fit in your day’ 

Get ruthless with your planning, like Mark McGuinness who limits his tasks to the number that can fit on a post-it. Doing this will ensure you can complete the daily goals almost every time and benefit from that dopamine hit.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Breaks are NOT wasted time

We all know the feeling: a deadline is approaching and just the thought of taking a break fills us with panic, but we have to stop feeling guilty. Being fed-up and overworked has a terrible effect on productivity, as well as mood.

Even a 30-second break can increase productivity by up to 13% and, if you look away from your computer screen for just 15 seconds every 10 minutes, your fatigue can be reduced by 50%! In fact, within reason, the longer the break, the greater your productivity once you get back to work. 

If you feel sleepy, don’t fight it! A 40-minute nap improves alertness by an average of 34%.

At Hacking Happiness, we try to work for 40-minute periods with 10 minute breaks. Others use the 50-10 rule. At an absolute maximum, experts estimate that the human brain can only concentrate for 90-120 minutes. After that, we require a 20-30 minute break in order to get back to our optimum performance level. This is sometimes called our Ultradian Rhythm:


Practice makes perfect

All of this might sound easier said than done, but practice makes perfect. Because of the effects of Neuroplasticity, the more often we can complete our tasks, the happier we will feel, and the more productive we will be.

Effective planning helps us learn what is possible in a day, as well as its limitations. You might surprise yourself - once Jamie Todd Rubin discovered he was able to write 500 words in 20 minutes, the task of writing a blog post every day seemed manageable. He managed to write every single day for 373 consecutive days!

More information:

Beth Kanter gives some helpful advice on learning to say no to tasks.

How are you hacking your happiness?

Do you have any other tips that help you get motivated and plan your work? Let us know! Leave a comment below or get in touch at You can also subscribe to our newsletter here.

Happy hacking!