Willpower Workout: Staying Productive Without Progress

Willpower Workout #4: Staying Productive Without Progress

August 27, 2020

Certain experiences are intrinsically motivating. When you approach the end of a challenging task, you are likely to feel motivated by nearing the finish line. Some of you may have experienced a surge of motivation in Willpower Workout 1, causing your typing speed and/or accuracy to increase as you got to the final page.

One experience that is intrinsically motivating is the experience of progress. When we know we’re moving forward in the direction of our goals, we get a boost of motivation. In contrast, when we can’t see progress, we can easily lose our sense of motivation. To be motivated is to have a credible reason for doing something. If what you’re doing is not resulting in progress, it feels as if there is no reason to do it. No reason to do it = no motivation.

This is exactly the scenario in which your willpower needs to kick in and you need to maintain your productivity. There are many times in life when you will experience this scenario, particularly if you are an entrepreneur or leader. Many of our bets on or investments in the future yield uncertain outcomes in the near-term. It’s only later that we see that they were making a difference all along – or they weren’t.

This workout is designed to force you to tap into your willpower when you lose motivation because of a lack of progress.

Day 4 Willpower Workout:

Complete the Escargot Sudoku puzzle* – which some claim is the most difficult Sudoku puzzle created – following these rules:

  1. You’re welcome to spend as much time working on it as you would like.
  2. You have to spend a minimum of 5 mins working on it.
  3. For every minute that you spend working on it, during which you do not fill in at least one number correctly, you must add a minute to the minimum amount of time you must work on the puzzle. For example, if you go the first 4 mins without solving a single number correctly, you must work on the puzzle for at least 9 mins. In this example, if you were to get at least one number correct in each of the subsequent 5 mins, you would be done at 9 mins. (If this doesn’t make sense, watch the video below.)
  4. As you follow step 3, once you reach 25 mins, you can stop regardless of how many numbers you solved.

*When grading the difficulty of the Escargot Sudoku, the computer algorithm said this:

No Solution found. Insufficient logical strategies are known to properly grade this puzzle (Bowman’s excluded). ie, it is really difficult. Or it has multiple solutions (check with [Solution Count]).

Evaluating Your Workout

There are a handful of questions I want you to consider after this workout, but the most important to spend some time on are numbers 5 and 6:

  1. Did you solve the puzzle?
  2. If not, how many numbers did you solve correctly?
  3. Did you last the full 25 minutes or until you solved it?
  4. Did you solve more numbers during the first or second half of your time?
  5. Did you find yourself losing motivation – and then concentration?
  6. Reflecting on this willpower workout, how motivated would you say you are by signs of visible progress? How can you address this?

Willpower Workout in Action:

For me, this was the best willpower workout we have done so far. It really stretched me to keep going when I wanted to stop and forced me to consider how deeply progress motivates me and how I can maintain my productivity when I don’t see progress. As an entrepreneur, I find this particularly relevant and important.

Check it out below:

This is day 4 of a 40-day journey to explore your limits. If you’d like to receive a daily email with the willpower workout of the day, you can sign up here to start at Day 1 with the first workout:

If you’d prefer to jump in where Matt is right now and then make up the other workouts on your own schedule, sign up here: