10 tips for staying motivated when working from home

Posted: 13th August 2008

Below are my top ten tips for keeping yourself motivated if you work from home. They are all things which I try to practice myself, some more successfully than others. I’ve picked the tips up over time from various places – books, seminars, and from the experience of keeping myself motivated.

1. Regular working hours

One of the reasons you may have chosen to work from home is the draw of being able to set your own working hours. You don’t necessarily have to work nine to five if you find that too much of a grind but I do recommend that you set yourself regular hours and try to stick to them, whether it’s first thing in the morning, during the day or into the evening. Do remember though that you may need to communicate with clients occasionally so some overlap with the standard working day would be helpful. The benefit of always working the same hours every day is that you know that that is work time – if you’re more haphazard in your approach it is much easier to keep putting work off and before you know it the whole day has gone.

2. Get dressed

I’m sure we’ve all spent the day in our pyjamas before. I know I’ve done it. But if you really want to get up and get going in the morning the best thing is to get dressed. Making business calls in your PJs just doesn’t feel right somehow. Getting dressed can really help get you into a work frame of mind.

3. Plan your day

Whether you do it the last thing the day before or first thing for that day, having some kind of plan is a great motivator. This is where my lists come in. Make a list of what you need to achieve that day and tick each item off as you complete it. A word of warning though – it’s really easy to overestimate what you can get through in a day and there’s nothing more disheartening than a load of stuff left unticked at the end of the day. A tip I’ve picked up recently is to make an estimate of how long each task should take and only plan what there is actually enough time to do, and build in at least an hour of ‘contingency’ for all those unexpected things that inevitably pop up.

4. Break the tasks into manageable chunks

If you find that your tasks for the day seem so big and unapproachable this can really put you off starting. Prevarication will set in. A great tip is to take each task and break it down into smaller, bite-sized chunks. So if you’ve got something that you estimate will take around two hours and you really can’t bring yourself to start it, try to break it down into chunks of 5-15 minutes each and work through them one at a time. This can really help motivate you to get through it. Each time you finish a bit you can tick it off and move on to the next one. As you see things getting ticked off you’ll want to keep going and complete the lot.

5. Eat your frog

I’ve heard this described as eating your frog and eating your toad, but the principle is the same. The idea is that every day you have one or more tasks that you really don’t want to do and spend the whole day putting off and feeling miserable about. Whether it’s phoning that awkward client to chase an invoice or tackle that really tricky task that you’re not sure how to do, there is often something that is hanging over you. So what do you do? As soon as you start work you just do it. Then you can relax because it’s done and enjoy the rest of the day without the dread and inevitable prevarication that comes with it. It works, it really does!

6. Challenge yourself

This is something that I’ve started doing recently. I set myself a goal each day to work a certain amount of ‘billable’ hours. I keep a tally of how I’m doing throughout the day with how much money it should bring in, mind order depending on the project. It sounds a bit money-obsessed doesn’t it? But it really does help. I know we need to earn a certain amount to be able to pay ourselves every month or we won’t be able to afford the mortgage and that’s a great motivator! The idea of course is to not only reach the goal but to surpass and keep surpassing it every day so that I know that I’m always making progress.

7. Reward yourself

This is firmly tied to Tip 6 above. Build in a reward system. If you reach your goal or generally feel like you’ve been performing well then give yourself a bit of a reward. It doesn’t have to be anything big – a bottle of wine at the end of the week (that’s quite often mine), a bar of chocolate or a walk to relax in the evening. Whatever takes your fancy. It’s a way to acknowledge to yourself that you’ve been working hard and deserve a treat.

8. Develop a sense of urgency

I sometimes think I’ve got an overdeveloped sense of urgency, but it is a real driver to get things done. I don’t mean make yourself think everything is urgent to the extent of being in a constant panic. It’s just a case of recognising the importance of getting things done so that you don’t waste your time on other things. The mortgage is a great trigger for this as well – I need to get projects finished to bring in the money to pay the mortgage. If the mortgage isn’t your motivator then maybe it’s making sure that your client is happy.

9. Keep your workspace clear

I really do find that a muddled office gives me a muddled head. That’s a real problem for me because I’m not a naturally tidy person. But if I keep the desk clear of paper and everything organised in such a way that I can easily find things then it really helps my productivity. Think about it, if you’ve got a task that you’re prevaricating over because there’s something about it that’s putting you off and you will have to sort through a great pile of papers for the relevant stuff you’re going to find it really hard to summon up the energy to do it, aren’t you? Whereas if everything is easily to hand then you’ve got no excuse. Keep your desk clear so you don’t have that excuse and just get on with it!

10. Give yourself a break

Some days, for one reason or another, you may find that you just can’t get into work. Maybe you’ve been working hard on a project and run out of steam, or are just feeling a bit run down. If you’ve found yourself staring at your monitor (or whatever you use for work) for half the day and not making any progress, then it’s probably time to admit defeat and give yourself a break. Running your own business you may find that you’ve been working very long hours. If that’s the case don’t push it. Everyone needs a break so don’t feel guilty. Just take a day (or two) off and come back with renewed energy.

Further resources

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