Staying motivated when there isn’t somebody breathing down your neck, your deadlines are more fungible and there are so many distractions is hard. Sometimes you’d almost be tempted to think that it’s not for normal people – that only super people can keep their own business going. Let me start by saying that’s not true. It’s just a matter of knowing the tips and tricks those people use to get ahead.
Now, back in September of last year Jennifer Good wrote six fantastic tips about how to stay motivated when you’re your own boss. I really advise that you go back and read those, because they’re great ideas. Here I’m going to offer some more advice to go along with her ideas, so that you can be successful and stay motivated!
Have an office
You need to create a place where you play and where you work, because keeping the places separate physically will help keep them separated mentally as well. The trick here is that though we may not think it happens, we’re constantly influenced by cues in our environment and if those cues are reminding us of play, then thoughts of that are going to keep creeping into our consciousness. And that makes it much harder to stay motivated and keep working
This idea is based on priming research. There are thousands of studies out there showing its effect, but one of the most famous one has to be the one about politeness and rudeness. In this study participants were told a cover story, namely that several sentences had been scrambled and it was their job to descramble them. This wasn’t what the research was really about, however, instead the researchers used this as a way to expose two groups of students to two different sets of words – one about rudeness, the other about politeness.
Now the researchers posited that the people who’d descrambled sentences about rudeness would be quicker to interrupt a conversation that was keeping them from handing in their results, while those who had descrambled words about politeness would wait longer. And boy were they right! The people primed with rudeness waited on average for 5 minutes before interrupting the researcher. The polite people? They almost all waited until the 10 minute scripted conversation was finished. That’s a massive 5 minute difference! Now the clincher was that not a single one of the participants believed they had been influenced in any way.
So what does that mean for you? It means that things can be influencing you in your work environment without you ever being aware that they’re there. For example, those magazines about hiking? They’re having a bad effect by reminding you of leisure time away from your work. That poster about those girls holding martinis on the beach? You can really concentrate with that hanging there? How about your collection of Seinfeld DVDs? I think you get the picture.
Have a Schedule
We’re creatures of habit and we like rhythm. It’s unavoidable. If we want to sleep better, we should try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time. If we want to work better, we should start working and stop working at the same time. That way you’ll be focused and ready when you get to work.
Yes, it does mean that you’re losing out on one of the greatest advantages of working alone – namely that you get to decide when you get to work. But I feel that is more than balanced by the fact that I’m working more efficiently and therefore done earlier than I would otherwise be. And I’m sure you’ll come to agree. So don’t make working from home an excuse to let go of your routines. Get to work at the same time.
Have a social life
And when you do knock off get out of the house! See people. Do things. Spend a little money so that what you’re doing during the day doesn’t add to some abstract bank account, but instead adds to your happiness and your joie de vivre. That will make it much easier to keep yourself motivated during the day, both because you have a reason why you’re doing it as well as because you have a deadline every day by which things have to get done if you want to go on that date, play that round of golf, or meet your mates for drinks.
Besides, we’re social creatures! Sometimes we forget that as we’re banging away on our keyboards working on whatever assignment we now have to get done, but if we’re not connecting we’re not complete. And no, connecting via the internet isn’t as good as the real thing. Deep down inside you know that too.
For a while there multi-tasking was the answer to everything. It would make us faster, more efficient and smarter as well. Boy, has that idea ever been dethroned! We’re horrible at multi-tasking (okay, 98% of us are horrible at it, it’s almost the same thing). It can therefore be incredibly demotivating, as you spend your time running around, trying to do everything and as result not really doing much of anything.
So singletask. Devote all your energy to the task at hand and don’t allow yourself to get distracted. A good way to do that is to make certain you can’t be reached. Put your phone away, turn off your email and don’t engage with social media. Now the idea is not that you do this the entire time – you’re not trying to turn yourself into a monk – but only when you’re busy with something. Then, when you’re done, allow yourself a moment to connect with the world again.
The great thing about doing it in this way is that you’re using socializing as a reward rather than a distraction. This allows you to work harder when you need to and enjoy talking to people without guilt. This simple division will make you more productive and will boost your motivation as well!
There is one central theme to the suggestions here and that is borders. Have them. You need them in your schedule, between your work and play, between one task and the next. If you don’t have them, then you don’t know when to stop, you don’t know when to start, you can’t work when you’re supposed to and you can’t enjoy yourself without feeling guilty.
If you do have those limits, however, then you’ll have more direction, you’ll be more effective and –most important of all – you won’t lose that motivation that is so essential when you don’t have a boss glancing over your shoulder every so often. So reintroduce them into your life. It is the first step to being successful in what you do. Some people go so far as to leave the house in the morning, walk around the walk and then come back home – just to have that feeling that they’ve left home and gone to work. I don’t know if that’s necessary (but don’t let me stop you if you want to give it a try).
The idea is the right one, however. We need to separate one thing from the next so that we can focus on what we’re supposed to. If you can do that you’re in business.