The question that I get asked most frequently about being a self-employed author and marketer is “How do you get anything done working from home?” which is usually followed up with something like, “I am so unmotivated when I’m at home. If I were you, all I’d do is stay in my PJs, watch TV, and sleep.” When I worked outside of the home, I felt the same way. Because then, when I was at home, it meant I was off. Being at home meant relaxation, long showers, cozy naps, and watching my favorite TV shows. Even though I still spend time relaxing when I’m at home, I have had to make a mental shift: during the day, even though I’m physically at home, I’m really at work. Here’s how I’ve made that shift and how I stay motivated…
TIP 1 – I don’t sleep in
Just like any job, there are days when I desperately want to stay in bed or watch TV all day. But unless I’m sick, I always get up just like I would if I had to go into an office. My alarm goes off around 5:20am, I get all of my bathroom stuff done and then Sean’s alarm goes off about 30 min later. When he heads into the bathroom to get his morning stuff done, I usually start breakfast and pack him a lunch. While I’m preparing food, he always checks his backpack and homework one more time. Our little system is critical because it is a that weekday reminder to me that sleep time is over. (I love to sleep!I almost always sleep in on the weekends…it’s such a luxury to me!)
TIP 2 – I always get dressed
I always, always, always get dressed in the morning. Yes, I have to take Sean to school but even when he is in holiday I get dressed. This is so important because when I’m wearing pajamas, I feel like I should be doing pajama things–lounging, sleeping, reading, watching TV, playing on my iPad, cuddling with Charley, etc. But when I’m wearing “real clothes” (even if they’re leggings), I feel like I should be doing “real clothes” things–working, writing, responding to emails, grocery shopping, tidying up, etc. You can not underestimate the strong correlation of how you look, how you feel, and what you do.
TIP 3 – I schedule out every day
Each night, before I go to bed, I schedule out the next day in my planner. I include meals, chores, appointments, breaks, and work time. You may be surprised to see how much time I spend working on my various projects everyday and doing all the things that come with the day that are unscheduled, like responding to emails and comments. Every day I spend a minimum of five hours working, but usually it’s more like seven or eight. So, just like anyone else, I need breaks. So I schedule them!
A lot of times my breaks will be for lunch and then again to pick Sean up from school and then evening time to get some chores done around the house. Just standing up from my computer and moving is nice after sitting for hours each day! The beauty of working from home or anywhere my laptop is, is that when I’m feeling super stuck or frustrated, I can get up and do something else. But those I-just-have-to-get-away-from-this-computer-now moments are pretty infrequent because I hold myself to a schedule.
Additionally, I schedule out my housework for the week and Sunday nights. This way, if I see I pile of laundry or notice a particularly dusty shelf, I can remind myself that I’m doing laundry on Tuesday and dusting on Thursday. In this way, I don’t have to expend mental energy on thinking about everything that I need to do. Because there’s a plan in place, I can focus on my task at hand, knowing that I’ll get to it later.
TIP 4 – I set goals and share them with my boyfriend
Writing and Marketing isn’t just a hobby to keep me busy during the day. It’s also not the end-all-be-all of my goals and aspirations. Right now, the time and effort that I pour into my work and different online communities happens to be providing an income and building a great foundation for accomplishing some dreams. I have both qualitative and quantitative goals for my career, both of which I share with CH often. This helps to hold me accountable and empowers me create a plan. Sometimes I’ll tell CH a goal of mine and he’ll help me reshape it to be more suitable or attainable or simply offer a different perspective. My goals are written down and I work towards them each day, just like I did when I worked in an office. I am very goal-oriented, so this is a big factor in keeping me motivated.
TIP 5 – I keep an editorial calendar
I always have a running list of post ideas and every Sunday night, I plan out my week’s posts. This saves me so much time and mental energy during the week because I’m not brainstorming or jumping between my creative pot and my execution pot. I am able to think through post ideas when I plan them on Sunday, and then bring them to life throughout the week. This also allows for the work week to have a nice flow. For me, this way of planning ahead takes the guesswork and stress out of the creative process! Monday of each week I do the same for my clients.
TIP 6 – I maintain a tidy home
There’s nothing less motivating or more distracting to me than a messy workspace. I absolutely cannot, will not get any work done if my home is a mess. I think this principle is why many people are so productive in their offices and at places like Starbucks or the library–because those places are always neat and tidy. I’ve always been a very tidy person, but since I’ve started working from home, my neat-nick tendencies have been fueled by more than just the desire for a relaxing environment. Now, I maintain a tidy home so that I can get work done!
There are, of course, days when shoes are scattered throughout our home, unfolded blankets are flung about, and random water cups litter every conceivable surface. Each night as a family we tidy up. We usually don’t discuss it, one of us just starts picking things up and reseting our home, and the others joins in!
TIP 7 – I work at my desk
I hear a lot of people who work from home brag, “I can work while I sit in my pajamas on the couch all day!” I’ve already explained that I do not, in fact, wear pajamas every day, and I will now explain why I don’t sit on the couch. Similar to how what I wear subconsciously dictates what I’ll do, where I am in my home also matters. If I’m in my bedroom, I’m relaxing, reading, or sleeping. If I’m in my kitchen, I am cooking or cleaning up. If I’m at my dining room table, I am eating. If I am on my couch, I am resting, relaxing, or watching TV. So, I work at my desk–because if I am sitting at my desk, I am working.
I keep my desk clean and clutter-free and have set up my printer, planner, notebook, and pens so that I can access them quickly throughout the day. My desk is a very happy place to work, and its simplicity is helpful when I’m writing.
TIP 8 – I keep food in my kitchen
There is nothing that de-motivates me faster than being hungry. I get hangry (hungry+angry) fast. When I grocery shop and meal plan, I always pick up some things that I can eat for lunch or snack on when I’m at home working. Things like soup, bagels, lunchmeat, fruit, veggies, and nuts are great go-to meals or snacks when I get hungry throughout the day. (I always keep some sweet things on hand too, like chocolate KIND bars or gummy bears!)
By having food in the house, I stay focused on my work because I can easily hop up and grab something to munch on if I get hungry instead of daydreaming about driving to Panera Bread or Taco Bell.
TIP 9 – I unplug
The scariest part of working from home for me was not the fear of getting things done, but the fear of never unplugging. So, from the beginning when I began to work from home, I made it a point to turn off my computer (well, let it go to sleep) in the evening before CH gets home.
I sometimes log back on after dinner to wrap up my projects for the next day before we settle in for the evening, but that’s pretty unusual. If I’m on my computer at night, it’s because I’m doing fun things like online shopping or researching for our next family trip, not because I’m working. Because of this, I end up maintaining a pretty normal workday from about 8am-5pm. The time I spend unplugged is absolutely critical to striking a healthy work/life balance and to nourishing my creativity.
Over all you have to have a system and you become your own motivator.
What do you do to stay motivated?