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7 Keys to Stay Motivated When No One Is Watching

It has been a wild year for the self-employed, the unemployed, the remote employee, the side-hustler, and those entering the workforce for the first time. Once all the jokes about pants-free Zoom meetings are played out, many of us are left with heightened anxiety about our productivity, and a deficit of skills the pre-pandemic business world never taught us. Here are 7 habits you can practice to keep yourself motivated when you don't have a boss looking over your shoulder.

1. Find your "why" and keep it in front of you.

In a traditional work environment, it's the supervisor's job to keep an eye on the big picture and motivate employees by showing them how their role fits into the organization's vision. You can recreate this motivation for yourself by asking 2 simple questions:

What is my goal?

Why is this important to me?

Once you have uncovered this motivating "why," find a way to display it in your work area, even if it's just a note stuck to your computer. Revisit the two questions regularly, because your answers may change over time. Then, as you remind yourself how each of your tasks serve your "why", you will find there is no such thing as menial work.

2. Put boundaries on your workday.

You can keep yourself healthy and motivated by having a fixed schedule for your work. Your workday should have a defined beginning and end. Know when you are "on the job," and communicate your availability to colleagues and anyone else who needs to know.

Unless your role requires it, your working hours don't need to be consecutive, and you don't need to work 8 full hours if you use your time well. Research reveals that the average person who works an 8-hour day is productive for a little less than 3 hours of that time. The most common unproductive activities workers engage in? Reading news websites, checking social media, chatting with coworkers, searching for new jobs, and making personal calls add up to more than 3 hours a day according to one study. If you can remove those unproductive tasks from your work routine, you can accomplish in 3 hours what it takes others 8 hours to do!

Keep in mind that it's healthy and good to leave time in your day for things that relax you and bring you pleasure. Building fences around your workday merely organizes your time, allowing you to prioritize work when you're working, so you can use the rest of your time as you choose.

3. Prepare a dedicated workspace.

Having a room or desk that's just for work is wonderful if you can manage it. Keep that space professional by keeping it tidy, just as you would a traditional office. If you don't have a dedicated office or desk to use in your home, do what you can to create a sense of intentional space for work. Orient your workstation toward a window, a wall, or a room, depending on what helps you concentrate. Wear headphones to reduce noise distractions. If the space where you work is multi-purpose, try to remove anything that isn't related to your productivity during your workday. A quick decluttering can do wonders for your mental readiness, and you can always transform the space back later.

4. Write a job description and identify your core and support duties.

If you are self-employed, if you are new to remote work, or if your current occupation is looking for a job, you may worry that you are under-performing, nagged by doubts that you haven't done enough. Can you clearly explain everything your job requires of you? If not, it might be time to write a job description.

Begin by listing all the tasks that need to be done daily, weekly, monthly, and annually. These should be listed as short, clear job duties. Then divide that list into two categories: core and support duties. Core duties are the reason your job exists. The core of flooring contractors is the time they spend laying floors. The core of graphic artistry is the time spent designing. Support duties are all the things you have to do so that you can get to the core of what you do. These tasks usually include things like answering emails, website maintenance, admin work, or financial accounting.

Once you have written and organized your job description, the big picture will start to emerge. Now you are equipped to make decisions about how much time you need to dedicate to certain tasks, or what time of the day you want to reserve for your core duties. You may even decide it's time to hire support staff.

5. Remember the ping pong balls.

There was a popular illustration when I was in school of a large jar half-filled with rice. The teacher took out a big bowl filled with ping pong balls and asked if the balls could all fit in the jar with the rice. We did not see how that was possible. Then he took the rice out of the jar and put the ping pong balls in first. They seemed to fill the jar right up to the top, but when he poured the rice into the jar, the grains filled in all the little spaces between the balls. There was just enough room for all the balls and rice to fit.

The lesson of the ping pong balls? Fill the jar with the big stuff first. It seems obvious that we should prioritize tasks by their importance, but that is not how most of us work. Did you ever put off a big paper in school because you suddenly felt an urge to clean your room? We tend to begin by doing the things that are easy or quick to finish, and we waste the best of our energy and the bulk of our time on less important tasks. Fight that tendency by creating a work routine that allows you to spend your most productive hours doing your most important work. Then fill in the gaps with smaller tasks that will keep you motivated as you check them off your list.

6. Avoid "A or B" thinking.

We all get stuck in this type of thinking sometimes. We get trapped in a dichotomy: I either have to do A or B, and neither choice is good. The secret to outside-the-box thinking is to remember there is almost always an option C. Let's look at a quick example.

A self-employed business consultant hasn't found new work in months. She has tried new advertising platforms and beaten all the bushes looking for potential clients. Now she's faced with a bad choice: she either needs to find new clients or go back to work for a firm. She is stuck in A or B thinking. Choice A is something she hasn't been able to do (find new clients), and choice B is something she doesn't want to do (go back to a firm).

In reality, there are more than two choices available to our consultant. It's true that for her business to produce a profit, she needs to raise her income or lower her expenses. She could expand her business model to offer new services. She could revisit former clients in addition to looking for new ones. She could pursue additional training, or reach out to colleagues for new ideas rather than relying on her own expertise alone. Simply asking, What else is possible? can open up doors and expand your options when things look bleak.

7. Get personal coaching.

Friends can offer great support, and mentors can impart wisdom based on their own experience, but there is nothing like having a good coach in your corner. Invest in a coaching service. Contact a coach and ask for an introductory conversation to learn more about the process and what results you can expect to achieve. Sitting down with someone who is trained to listen and ask the right questions can launch you into a whole new phase of motivation and growth.


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