So today I’ve been looking at how far behind I am with a load of my work after having been ill for almost a fortnight (which is a terrible thing when you’re self-employed) quickly followed by a family crisis that is thankfully now on the mend.
This got me thinking about how it sucks to need to get work done but have no motivation to do it, and let’s face it we’ve all been in that situation where there’s simply so much to do that you don’t know where to start. So I thought I’d share with you my top tips for how to motivate yourself.
Set clear goals
First of all, you’ve got to know exactly what it is you want to do. It could be anything but the most important thing is that you need to work out what you want to achieve; partly so you’ll know you’re done when you finish but also so that you actually can be done. There’s nothing more demotivating that an open-ended goal that gets more and more complex as you go on until your brain turns it into a giant beast that can never be slain.
So start by setting yourself this clear and achievable end goal.
Writing your goal down isn’t the final step. Just seeing that one task to aim for isn’t going to help you, especially if it’s a really big task like learning a musical instrument, or writing a book. You need to work out some intermediate steps that will get you to your final goal.
Break each task down into simple steps
This works a lot like a quest line in a computer game. You start with your main objective but along the way you need to solve some other, more minor puzzles or overcome some smaller obstacles and then when you’ve done that, you find that you are close to achieving your original goal.
So, let’s say your goal was to learn a musical instrument. We can split that down into several steps. First one: get an instrument, even if it’s not a really good one but just something that will let you learn. Then you need to learn the finger positions or whatever, so that’s step two.
After that, you want to learn some basic notes, then some basic chords; which makes steps three and four. Now that’s a lot of work so after that, you’ll want to reward yourself by learning your first tune, so set learning a simple tune as goal five.
Oh look, now you’re well on your way to learning to play the instrument.
If there are more than two steps to achieving your goal, you’re going to lose track of them very quickly, so it’s probably a good idea to make a note of them. Notes on their own won’t help motivate you, however – they’ll just look like a big set of tasks and that can be daunting. We need something with a bit more of a sense of achievement to it.
Write a to-do list
The trick is to not just write your goals down but to lay them out as a To Do List. This is a list of steps, preferably in order, with a box to tick down one side. As you complete each task, or reach each milestone, you get to tick the relevant box. It gives you that momentary sense of achievement and it also shows you just how far you’ve come toward reaching your goal.
To Do lists are great for motivation, I use one every day and it really does help.
Speaking of a sense of achievement, it’s quite a fleeting one so every now and then it’s worthwhile to give yourself a treat to keep you going.
Give yourself small rewards
This is an excellent way of rewarding progress and also of giving yourself something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be anything big, or even anything all that special, but it is something to mark your getting a certain way through your list.
Personally, I do this by giving myself a tea break as a reward when I get through a certain amount of work every day.
I love a good cup of tea so this gives me some motivation to get some writing done, or to finish off sketching a comic, things like that. Whatever works for you, whatever you know will push you to finish that next step on your list, use it as a reward and you’ll be amazed how much you can get done in a day.
Don’t focus on the “big picture”
And that’s the thing to focus on: the individual steps. Don’t keep looking at the end goal because if you do that, it’ll still look a long way away and very unachievable – but if you focus on the smaller tasks, those individual steps on your To Do list, then everything you have in front of you to work on is all in small, achievable tasks.
Focus on those, get through each of them in order and reward yourself when you’ve done some and you’ll find that it’s far, far easier not just to get motivated but also to stay motivated.