How to Stick to the Task and Finish


By Pat Bowden, published May 10, 2017.

Do you tend to dip into things and start off with loads of enthusiasm, only to find a few days or weeks down the track that your motivation has gone, or you are into the next project without having completed the first one?

How do you keep motivated for an online course without a teacher constantly reminding you when to hand in the next assignment? There are several strategies to keep that self-motivation level high.

Set a Timetable

Decide when you will find the time to do your course and stick to the plan. Mornings? Evenings? Several short sessions or fewer long ones? Use a strategy that suits you.

Set Your Own Deadlines

A common problem with projects we do on our own is the absence of deadlines. It’s too easy to say “I’ll just do this first, then I’ll get onto my course”. Before we know it, the day has gone and we haven’t touched the course. By setting our own deadlines, planning our days, and then making sure we work on the course at the allotted time, we can work our way through it without building up guilt.

Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo. It is a popular way to stick with tasks for a set amount of time. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work only on your course for that time. Don’t allow distractions such as emails or social media to steal away the time you’ve set aside, and if you think of other things you need to do, note them down quickly and put them out of your mind until your timer rings at the end of the 25 minutes. After a 5-minute break, depending on your other commitments, you may be able to manage another 25 minutes.

Study Buddy

Another strategy is to have a study buddy. Are any of your friends or family interested in similar things? Could you persuade someone to take a course with you? If not, you could try an imaginary study buddy, perhaps a toy or a pet rock to sit beside you while doing your course. Explaining new concepts or interesting facts to your study buddy can help you understand and remember the material.

Many online courses have discussion forums and social media groups where you can connect with others in the course. If you live in a city, you may be able to actually meet with other students. Libraries and coffee shops are popular meeting places. Of course, like any other situation where you are meeting online acquaintances, it is important to keep safe by always telling someone where you are going and who you are meeting, or even take a friend along whether or not they are part of the course.

While social contact can be very helpful to keep your enthusiasm level high, it’s important to remember to work on your course without spending too much time being distracted by the coffee, world events or good company.

If your friends don’t share this particular interest, all is not lost. Self-motivation is how many things are achieved in the world.

Picture the End Result

A common way for many people to stay motivated is to picture the end result. Think of yourself holding that certificate in your hand, or a rosy 100% staring out of the computer at you. If 100% seems too much of a challenge, aim for 80%, 65% or even 51%, whatever the pass mark is. Perhaps a “You passed the course!” message. Focus on the end result rather than the process, then do what you need to do to achieve that result.

Focus on Your Progress

The trouble with the above strategy is that sometimes, while working towards that result, you can become bogged down in the process. How many hours of your life will you spend in front of your computer while doing a course? How much easier to tell yourself “I will do my course after I check my emails/look at Facebook/read this book”. You may need to turn your thinking around and focus on your progress rather than the end result which can sometimes seem very far away.

Tell yourself that you only need to do this one section right now, then after doing it, you only have to do the next part. Keep going for as long as you can. It can be like “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”.

If you are doing the course out of interest, think of yourself watching fascinating videos on a subject you always wanted to investigate but never had the opportunity.

Reward Yourself

Another way to keep going is by breaking down the task into small manageable parts and promising yourself some sort of reward at certain milestones. You may need to set yourself easy goals to start with, perhaps watching a couple of videos, then you are “allowed” to go for a walk, shoot some hoops, check your emails, set a timer to surf the internet for ten minutes, or look at Facebook for five minutes, phone a friend for a brief chat, eat a small favourite snack, or some other reward for yourself. As you progress, you may find you can manage longer study sessions before needing to reward yourself and the sense of achievement can be extremely satisfying. Physical activity can help clear your head before taking a quiz. Remember, though, to allow yourself enough time to take the quiz without having to rush.

Work Towards a Possible Future Career Change

If your goal is to change your career, online courses can give you a taste of a potential new direction without having to quit your current job. Looking ahead to a possible future may add to your motivation to study.

Occasionally, employers will recognize verified success in MOOCs while appointing and promoting staff. It might be appropriate to check that this will apply in your particular situation, and if it does, it can provide a strong motivation for achieving success in your chosen MOOC.

A Bridge to University Study

Unless you choose a course through a university that specifically allows you to earn credit towards a degree it’s unlikely that you will be able to use your MOOC studies in this way. If you can discipline yourself to complete a course, however, it may give you the confidence and self-belief to enrol in a formal degree.

Some MOOC providers now offer MOOC Master’s Degrees, but you need to go through an application process, unlike MOOCs without academic credit which anyone can join regardless of previous qualifications.

Dealing With a Bad Day or Week

Some days you will probably be unable to reach your study goals. You may even have a week or more when it’s too difficult to fit in. Instead of throwing in the towel, try telling yourself that bad days are part of life and are only a small setback in the grand scheme. Then set up your Pomodoro and spend 25 minutes on your course.

A Final Thought

Although it can be more difficult to keep motivated sitting by yourself in front of a computer than as part of a class of interested students, many great things have been achieved by people working steadily using their own self-discipline.