Don’t you wish you could buy motivation in a bottle? And every time you felt depleted of it, you could just take a little sip of the stuff. You have enough to do without having to generate your own motivation. On top of that long list of tasks, now you have to add one more: finding the energy to even get those done.
If you were someone who went into an office space before the pandemic, and now find yourself working from home, you may find that motivation is even harder to come by. In an office, you were surrounded by people who were working towards the same goal, and you weren’t surrounded by distractions like utility bills and floors that need sweeping. Commercial offices are also built strategically, with clever design elements made to help you focus. Your living room, with its soft accent pillows and music piping in from the neighbor’s party is not designed for that.
Many of us are in the same predicament now and everybody could use a little assistance finding that boost of energy. Momentum is harder to build when the world is on pause, but it isn’t impossible. Here are ways to boost motivation when you’re working from home.
Lump certain tasks together
No matter what you do for a living, you likely have several regular tasks that fall under different categories. You may have administrative tasks, but then you also have creative tasks. You have phone calls to make each day, then you have time when you work quietly, alone. Lump these tasks together. Say, you do the creative tasks from 9am to noon. You do the administrative stuff after lunch, until 3pm. You do your phone calls from 3pm to 5pm. Switching gears is tiring on the brain, so lumping together similar tasks minimizes the times you have to do that.
You can still “be on location”
Just because you don’t have an office to go into, doesn’t mean that you can’t go to a place that is dedicated to your working hours. If you live in a condo or apartment building, it could be the community room or the courtyard. If there is a coffee shop offering outdoor seating, it could be there. Perhaps it’s a park or library courtyard where you have access to the Internet. The act of just changing locations signals to your brain that it’s time to work.
Zoom in your colleagues
Even if you don’t need to meet with colleagues about anything in particular, having their faces present in a Zoom chat can keep you honest about your work. It’s like having study groups in college. You hold each other accountable for avoiding distractions and getting the work done. If you don’t necessarily have colleagues, maybe you have other entrepreneurial friends who would like to create a virtual “office” and work, quietly, side-by-side on Zoom. You can take your lunch breaks together, and create what feels like office hours.
Listen to something motivating
If you have certain tasks that don’t require all of your attention or brain power – we all have those activities we can go on autopilot for – consider listening to an inspiring podcast during that time. Whether it’s a TED talk, a self-help book, or something else, find a way to listen to stories of people who inspire you. That will make its way into your subconscious and motivate you when it’s time to dive back into cognitively-challenging work.
Create time frames
More on that last slide, create actual time frames. Make a real schedule. You need to finish task X by noon because that’s when task Y begins, and that must end by 3pm because that’s when task Z begins. Be your own boss, enforcing these deadlines. Otherwise, you find yourself still working at 9pm and feeling you have no work-life balance. If a friend or family member tries to pull you aside, say, “I can’t. I have to be done with this by 2pm.”
Eliminate the tasks that drag you down
If you can afford to do so, delegate. Delegate work tasks and home tasks. You may find that stopping your day to cook lunch and clean up after yourself really kills your momentum. You feel tired and defeated afterward. What is your time worth to you? Is it worth it to buy premade meals, even if costs a bit extra? Maybe you find that stopping your workday to walk your dog also slows you down. Is there a kid in the neighborhood who would gladly do this Monday through Friday for, say, $40 a week?
Do the worst thing, first
What task do you dread doing every day? If you put it off until the end of the day, it’s likely affecting your mood and productivity for the rest of the day. You may drag out other tasks without realizing it because you don’t want to get to that one thing you can’t stand. Doing that thing, first thing in the morning removes the mental burden of it. And it also makes you feel proud of yourself, first thing in the morning, which is motivating.
Give yourself plenty of breaks
It may be better to take several small breaks throughout the day instead of one major break. Knowing that, at the end of every two-hour chunk, you get to do something you enjoy for ten minutes – go for a walk, meditate, call a friend, cuddle your dog – can help motivate you to make the most of those two hours.
It could be worth it to get a second phone that’s just a work phone. Only give work contacts that number and turn your other phone off during your office hours. You can check it during those mini-breaks you’ll be scheduling. Put a sign on your door that says, “No soliciting.” Get noise-canceling headphones. Notify friends you are unavailable during certain hours. Get ahead of distractions that may come up.
When it’s tough, just commit to 10 minutes
Thinking about having to do something for hours is daunting. It can prevent anyone from getting started. So, don’t think about the hours. Tell yourself, “I’m just going to dive into this task for 10 minutes then see how I feel.” What you’ll often find, is that you just work until it’s done. Getting started is the hardest part, so trick your mind into doing just that.
Plan something fun in the evening
Instead of saying, “I can’t commit to a 6pm virtual workout class or happy hour with friends – what if I’m not done working?” say, “I will commit to early evening plans because then I have to be done with work by then.” If you commit to plans that involve other people at a certain hour, then failing to finish work on time means you’ll let down others. Let your fear of being a flake motivate you to work efficiently.
Beat the clock on other tasks
You may find it motivating and challenging in a fun way to time work tasks with home tasks. For example: “I’ll put on this sheet mask that must sit for 15 minutes. I’ll find a work task that can be done in 15 minutes and I need to finish it before it’s time to rinse off this sheet mask.” Or, it could be, “I’m putting in this load of laundry that will take 45 minutes. I’ll have to finish this work task before the laundry machine dings.”
Turn your day on its head
Sometimes, just doing things completely differently than you normally do can activate your brain. Changing even small things that seem inconsequential activates new pathways in your brain. Walk your dog down a different street first thing in the morning. Eat something new for breakfast. Work in a new corner of the home. Routine can be helpful, but sometimes, it soothes our brain a little too much.
Remember the upside
It can be helpful to remember the upsides of working from home. You get more time with your family or partner because when your workday is done, you’re already at home. You get to enjoy the home you’ve spent so much time decorating and nesting in. If you remember these are benefits of working from home, you may want to become more efficient in doing so, because then you get to enjoy those benefits, even more.
Find the right products
We’ve spoken more extensively about purchases that can boost work-from-home productivity here. But it can benefit you to look at Pinterest boards of work-from-home spaces. Get inspiration. Find items that would make you excited to start your workday. Maybe it’s a desk you can clamp onto your balcony rail as a standing desk, that gets you out in the fresh air. Maybe it’s a big whiteboard where you can write down tasks, and color-coordinate the different kinds.