If you work from home, chances are you’ve encountered this problem at some point:
You have no set schedule, no or few external deadlines, and low motivation to get stuff done. So you end up procrastinating by napping, watching TV, cleaning, etc. As a result, you keep pushing back the tasks you wanted to accomplish that day or even that week, telling yourself you can always do them later. Or tomorrow. Or next week.
Let me pause here to say that I don’t believe a person should be actively productive every hour of every day (more on that later in this post). But I know from experience that once you fall into a rut of low motivation, it can hard to climb back out.
So here are a few methods I have found that help me keep (or regain) motivation for working from home.
Make a Schedule/Routine
If you have no external deadlines, you have to hold yourself accountable. Otherwise, it becomes very easy to just keep saying, “I’ll do that tomorrow.”
Conversely, when you have no external deadlines, you have the freedom to choose what to prioritize. I find it helpful to set deadlines for myself, even if the tasks don’t need to be finished by a set time. Sometimes I will reward myself for meeting these deadlines, but often just crossing the item off my list is a reward in and of itself.
The key, as I’ve said many times before, is to find the system that works best for you. Personally, I love creating schedules and routines. It gets the organization-loving part of my brain all excited when I work on making lists and figuring out what I’ll do when, which in turn makes me more interested in actually doing the things.
Setting a schedule for myself also helps keep me from getting distracted by other tasks, because I can more easily tell myself, “I don’t need to worry about that right now. I’ve set aside time for it on X day” and get back to what I’m supposed to be focusing on.
Of course, no system works perfectly all the time. The important thing is finding what works best most of the time.
Make a To-Do List Every Day
This goes hand-in-hand with that schedule or routine. Write down what you need to do and what you want to do, and then compare that list to the amount of time you have.
Are you reasonably capable of accomplishing that number of tasks? Do you need to change something to make it more realistic? (If it’s unreasonable, you’re only going to end up discouraged and overwhelmed.)
A to-do list is also a great visual reminder that even the small accomplishments matter. Checking off little task after little task builds up momentum and snowballs into finishing a much larger goal. That’s why, even in my daily to-do lists, I often break down my tasks into small steps and check them off individually.
Take Regular Breaks
I’m the type to get in the zone of a project and keep going until it’s done. This is great when I have a lot to do, but it also means I may push myself until I’m both physically and mentally exhausted.
So I’m learning to set my schedules in such a way that I take regular breaks to refresh and refocus. This helps avoid burnout in the long run, even if it seems to make tasks take a little longer.
Remember, also, that breaks come in both small- and large-scale varieties. And on that note:
Schedule a Self-Care Night Off
I started doing this when I lived in China. Since I lived on a university campus, there were always events to attend, friends to meet up with, and work to do. I was also starting to take my love of routines to a bit of an extreme and was holding myself to very tight schedules.
Feeling overwhelmed, I started setting aside one night a week wholly to myself. I avoided making plans on that night as much as possible (but of course I would make exceptions if something really special came up), and I would stay home and just relax. I didn’t allow myself to do anything work-related or follow a set schedule.
This practice not only refreshed me for the week’s responsibilities, but it also encouraged me to be very productive that day and get my work done before it would be time to set all work aside for the night and rest.
Change Things Up When Needed
Anything can become monotonous if you repeat it enough times. But the beautiful thing about life is that there are always new things to try.
I’ve already mentioned how much I love routines, but I’ve also learned that regularly adjusting those routines is what really makes them work. We are (or should be) constantly changing through our experiences in the world. What works well at one stage in a person’s life may not work at all a year later. Likewise, what didn’t work at all in the past may be exactly what you need once you’ve grown a bit more.
As important and useful as habits are, they can also keep up stuck in our comfort zones. If you’re lacking in motivation, your routines might not be serving you anymore. Try changing something up. Maybe your reasons for starting certain habits have changed or disappeared. Maybe there’s something new you can learn to improve your business or your downtime.
Who knows? You may find out that something you feared or even hated in the past is now exciting and interesting. Or you may discover something amazing that you never even knew existed.
I’ve been working on this point over the summer. I’ve changed up my service offerings by learning some new skills, and redesigned a few things on this site. (Check out my new services page here if you’re interested!)
Reclaim Your Motivation
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