4 Sneaky Ways To Stay Motivated When You Don’t Have Deadlines

Three months ago I started painting the doors to the laundry closet.

We have a stacked washer and dryer behind a pair of Shabby Chic, fake-antique doors in our kitchen, fully visible from the dining room and the deck where I drink my coffee most mornings.

I removed one handle from one door, I taped off the hinges, I primed one door.


Why? Because I didn’t really have much reason to finish it! There was no deadline, no one coming to our house to see this half-painted mess, so I could just leave it there looking ridiculous.

What made me finally finish this project? Inviting my parents over for Easter.

What I’m saying is: If you, too, struggle to stay motivated when you don’t have a deadline, I extremely get it.

So I rounded up four of my favorite ways to help myself stay motivated and nudge myself out of Procrastination Station.

4 ways to stay motivated + stop procrastinating when you don’t have a deadline


?‍♀️ Give yourself a deadline by creating outer accountability

Many of us own brains that don’t take self-imposed deadlines seriously.

When we say “We’ve GOT TO clean out the fridge by the end of the weekend,” if nothing hangs in the balance and nobody knows about our plans, we’ll just blow it off.

The good news is: For pretty much every goal, there’s a way to create outer accountability or find a way to structure a “real” deadline that will nudge us towards action.

Ways to create outer accountability + “real” deadlines

  • Want to take your writing more seriously >> sign up for a writing contest or open mic night that has a submission deadline.
  • Want to really commit to your dance hobby >> join a dance class that meets regularly and has recitals or performances.
  • Want to get serious about your fledgling business >> announce on social media that you’re now taking clients or developing an offering and that it’ll be available by x date.
  • Want to actually take the trip you’ve been talking about forever >> book the tickets; now you have a date to start planning + saving towards.
  • Want to finish painting the bathroom >> schedule a dinner party for two weeks from now.

? Break your goal into comically tiny steps

I’m talking “things that can be completed in 10 minutes, so small your brain won’t resist them” comically tiny.

Of course our brains feel unmotivated and procrastinate-y when we tell them “Hey! You have to sit at this computer for 4 hours and research financial planners and retirement strategies! SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP!!!”

What if, instead, we said to that sweet little ball of grey matter “Hi there cutie. Why don’t we spend 10 minutes emailing two friends asking if they have a financial planner they like?”


“Let’s listen to two episode of that five-minute podcast we love and put painter’s tape up around the trim in the bathroom?”

When we break tasks + goals into comically tiny steps, we’re less likely to procrastinate and more likely to complete those tiny tasks > build momentum > stay committed > reach our goals.

Also? Most brains get a dopamine hit from completing a task. So we’re actually tricking our brains into having positive associations with this work and setting our Future Selves up for success because they’ll actually enjoy doing this work!

RELATED: How To Rescue The Time & Energy To Go After What You Want

? Build in lots of rewards + celebrations along the way

Sooooo many of us deny ourselves rewards + celebration until we’ve 100% completely accomplished some enormous goal.

We’re not allowed to open the bottle of champagne till the adoption is final, the job offer has been accepted, the house has been closed on, or the debt is paid off.

This sucks for two reasons:

  • It often takes us YEARS to accomplish the really big goals in life
  • We can usually see the finish line coming on those big goals so it’s not some, like, exciting surprise when it happens

Let’s use the example of buying a house. Rather than denying ourselves celebration till we close on the house, what if we rewarded ourselves + celebrated when we: 

  • Saved up enough for a  down payment
  • Got approved for a mortgage
  • Found a realtor
  • Put in our first offer
  • Got the offer accepted
  • AND ALSO closed on the house

Wouldn’t that feel so much nicer? Wouldn’t we all be more likely to stick with a complicated, long, sometimes-draining experience if we had SIX mini-celebrations along the way? 

So if you’re having a hard time staying motivated, think of how you’ll celebrate all the milestones along the way towards the big thing you’re working towards.

? Know that procrastination is often fear dressed in a different outfit

For a lot of us, procrastination is about fear. (Maybe not when we’re talking about painting a closet, but for larger, deeper stuff ?)

We procrastinate sending the pitch because we’re afraid it’ll be rejected. We put off joining a dating site because, well, putting yourself out there is scary. We avoid working on our business idea because if we don’t try we can’t fail.

Now, getting past our fears of failure and rejection? Well, that’s the work of a lifetime. And while I’d love to tell you that an 900-word blog post can cure us of decades of fear-based procrastination THAT IS PROBABLY NOT TRUE.

But just knowing that a lot of our procrastination stems from fear is a huge step in the right direction. And knowing that most of the things we’re afraid of? The email being ignored, not landing the client, not getting accepted into that program – they’re not a matter of life and death.

That’s it – enough suggestions to get you to finish painting a closet door without procrastinating for three months?! I hope so! If you try one of these and it works for you, come tell me about it on Instagram!


Photo by Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash


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  1. Lucie Bryar

    Love this article, Sarah! And it came at a perfect time for me. I’ve been working for five months to launch a blog and just can’t seem to “go live.” Procrastinating on my blog launch is definitely fear in a different outfit. This gave me a little kick in the pants. Thanks!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      You’ve got this!!

  2. Emily

    The first one (give yourself a deadline) works so well for me. I’m the only person on my team who has taken/passed a (not required but nice to have) certification exam. How? I signed up for a test date 6 weeks out and told my whole team I was doing it. I wasn’t about to blow off studying after that!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! So smart!

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