I’m no expert when it comes to productivity and motivation — in fact, there are days when I struggle with them mightily — but over the years as a work-from-home entrepreneur there are a few things I’ve learned that have helped me turn unmotivated days into productive, successful ones. Writing about this subject in my journal inspired me to share it with you, and hopefully give you the tools to make the most out of today! If you find this article helpful, or have your own tips to add, leave a comment at the bottom of the page!
1 - The Timer Method
Set a timer for 30 or 60 minutes. During the timed period, focus on one task with no distractions. When the timer goes off, stop and set another timer for a 15-30 minute break. (You can adjust these times based on how much energy you have, or the types of tasks you want to complete.) During your break, relax or turn your attention to something you enjoy. When the timer is up, reset and repeat.
Why it helps: Working on something for a defined amount of time is a great way to avoid overwhelm, and can make even difficult tasks seem easier to handle because there is a foreseeable stop time. Perhaps just as importantly, having a set time to relax allows you to fully enjoy yourself without feeling like it is “wasted time” or worrying that the day is slipping away.
2 - Eliminate Decisions Where You Can
Making decisions, even small ones, has actually been proven to tire our brains, leading to fatigue and poorer decision making as the day goes on. By limiting our choices where possible you can actually get more done while conserving energy. A few simple ways to do this: not giving yourself the option to hit snooze in the morning; laying out what you are going to wear the night before; meal prepping; creating easy to follow rules or routines (such as no sweets before 5pm, or meditating every morning). Having already set these parameters for yourself you can operate more or less on autopilot, freeing your mind to work through more important things than which pair of pants you want to wear or calculating whether hitting snooze one more time will make you late.
Why it helps: eliminating minor decisions from our day to day routine means we accomplish more while thinking less. We’d all like to get more done, but usually feel like we don’t have the energy to. You might be surprised by just how much mental energy you free up when you take away some of these decisions. Choices may feel like freedom, but sometimes too many of them can wind up holding you back.
3 - Prioritize, Prioritize
We all know, in theory, that we should have our “priorities straight” but how many of us actually think about our priorities on a day-to-day basis? When facing an overwhelming to-do list there is one simple rule that I find helps. Write down 1-3 things (depending on how much energy you have, or how big those tasks are) that, if completed, will make you feel like today was a success. Making a giant to-do list is a great way to brain-dump everything onto the page and get it out of your head, but prioritizing just one or two of those tasks can help in a couple of ways. First, it allows you to get clear about what matters most, and therefore approach your day more effectively. And second, by making sure you take care of the highest priority tasks first, you can end your day feeling motivated and successful, even if there are still things left on your ‘master list’ (because let’s face it, there usually are.)
Why it helps: If you have a long to-do list, there’s a good chance that only some of those things will get done in one day, and the rest will get pushed to tomorrow. Prioritizing the most important things and doing them first can not only be efficient, but it can make a huge difference in how you feel at the end of the day. Feeling like the day was a success sets you up for success the next day, while a traditional to-do list can leave you feeling like you are just falling behind.
4 - Break It Down
This goes right along with tip number 3. Once you’ve prioritized the biggest, most important tasks of the day, break them down into the smallest steps possible. Get specific. Instead of writing “clean” try writing “put away dishes, wash dirty dishes, sort mail, take out recycling, wipe down counters’… etc. By breaking each task into the simplest possible steps, even daunting tasks become less overwhelming. This can also have the bonus of eliminating decision making, as discussed in tip #2 — by writing down each step that needs to be done you are getting those decisions out of your head and freeing up that mental energy for more important things.
Why it helps: This may sound nit-picky, but taking a moment to break daunting tasks down into baby steps is a great way to overcome what is often the hardest part: getting started. If your house is a mess, saying you need to clean can feel like an impossible task. But putting away the dishes? That’s something you can handle! And if you are a list lover like I am, checking off each little step as you do them can help build a sense of momentum and accomplishment.
5 - “And… so what?”
This is for those days when you are tired, unmotivated, or scared to do something even though you know that doing it will make you feel better. If you’re like me, you may even catch yourself making excuses on days like this. “I want to, but,…”. When you hear this voice in your head, start by changing the but to an and. Then say to yourself: “so what?”
For example: “I want to write a blog post but I am not inspired.” changes to: “I want to write a blog post AND I’m not inspired.” Now these are two separate statements that do not negate one another. They can both be true. Then ask: “so what?” So what if I write a blog post that isn’t any good? Isn’t that what first drafts are for? What if I surprise myself?
Why it helps: our inner critic, the one who stops us before we even start, can be unbelievably convincing… but when you actually stop to question it you’ll often find it doesn’t usually have much of an argument. So what if I’m scared to apply for that job? What happens if I don’t? What happens if I take a chance? This simple little trick can help you get past those inner fears and insecurities that want to hold you back, and with practice can make it easier to take chances and trust your abilities.
“Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.”
- George Halas
Which of these tips did you find helpful?
Do you have any methods for motivating yourself or upping your productivity?
In what ways do you struggle to stay motivated?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below!