How do I stay motivated to keep my business systems going?

There will always be business management tasks we don’t want to do but keeping your business going is important. You spent a lot of time setting up your systems, now you need to make it easy to implement them. It’s not about beating yourself up, it’s about creating routines that are so ingrained, your response is automatic.

Think about Pavlov’s dogs, or classical conditioning. I know, I know—a bit extreme? Well not really. We can condition ourselves to respond to just about anything. Pavlov rang a bell (the stimulus) when he gave his dogs food (the reward). The dogs salivated (the response) because they expected the reward. Eventually, they salivated whenever they heard the bell, whether they got the food or not.

While it may be a bit more subtle for us, associative learning plays a big part in our lives, so let’s use it to our advantage. For example, I go to my gym class every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. I enjoy seeing my workout buddies, I feel good afterwards, and I am happy about the long-term health benefits, but all these great reasons are not enough to get me out of my chair—it’s the clock that does it. 4:30? Got to go! I don’t think about it, I just do it. A classic conditioned response.

So let’s say it’s the last Friday of the month and it’s time to send out your invoices. Set up a reminder alarm on your computer (the stimulus) and make it a recurring appointment. Then think of a nice reward like dinner out, a Netflix film, or a good book. When you hear the alarm, immediately drop what you are doing and work on your invoices. Don’t think about it, just do it. And voilà, the invoices are done. Oh, and it’s time for dinner!

Don’t be so hard on yourself. That duty-oriented part of your personality is like a little child that needs to be encouraged and nurtured. It doesn’t respond well to straightjackets, big sticks, or big boots, but it absolutely loves praise and reward. That’s just human nature. Incorporate a little psychology and fun into your life and find out what stimulus-reward set-up works best for you. Pretty soon, you’ll be doing your invoices at month end without a second thought. Eventually, you won’t need that dinner out any more—until the next dreaded task needs to be tackled. So be a happy dog and save your big thoughts for the important stuff.

Gail Vallance Barrington

Originally published in the Independent Consulting TIG Newsletter. September 2018.


See great cartoons on Pavlov’s dogs.

For more on business systems see my book: Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up & Management: A Guide for Evaluators & Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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