Uh Oh! What To Do When Motivation Runs On Empty

Posted: June 18th, 2009

Photo by Semihundido (Flickr)

Photo by Semihundido (Flickr)

Freelance just long enough and you eventually experience cycles of ultimate productivity followed by bouts of ultimate unproductivity. Its actually quite normal and inevitably occurs at some time or another. Our lives are not lived solely as freelancers (most of us anyway) and we have other external forces that affect our work such as sudden events, our general mood and the dreaded summertime distractions.

It is at that point when these forces can affect our motivation to work enough to cause us to get off track, or in the worst case, cease it altogether. This can be despite even having projects to do and upcoming deadlines to meet. Normally this isn’t fatal to a freelance career, though, since we eventually right the ship and move on. This isn’t always an easy task.

Luckily, I’ve been through enough of these cycles to recognize them and take appropriate action to get back on track. The following are steps I’ve used with success and could be adapted in some form should the cycle hit you too.

Go Back To Your Purpose For Freelancing

We obviously became freelancers for certain reasons whether it be flexible hours or being your own boss. It’s very easy to lose sight of these reasons, however, when we’re busy as hell and when we don’t feel like working. So this is the perfect time to dust off your purpose for being a freelancer which will help you focus on the tasks ahead and fulfill that purpose.

Take it a step further and write it down and post it somewhere where you will see it everyday.

Plan

Set up a schedule over the next week of the exact hours you plan on working and the exact work you will be doing during that time. Then here comes the hardest part: commit to the schedule as if your life depended on it. A schedule acts your blueprint to getting back on track schedule but isn’t any good if it is not followed.

It is also important to take it one day at a time. Remember, you are essentially rebuilding the habit of working productively. A good habit takes three weeks to happen but gets easier day by day. A good habit can also be destroyed in a day, too, so keep the focus on your tasks for the day at hand. They eventually will all add up.

A Half Hour of Concentration

When starting your work, focus your attention on the first half hour which will set the tone for the rest of the day. If that time is spent working diligently, then it is easy to continue working that way throughout the day. Conversely, if it is spent being distracted from work, then the rest of the day could become unproductive.

Resist Distractions

It won’t matter how focused you are in your work, there will always be the temptation to give in to whatever distractions, even as small as checking the news update on CNN. The slightest distraction has a tendency to balloon into a bigger one and throw you off for the day.

It helps to think back to the times when you were most productive and worked hours straight without even a potty break. Keep this in the back of your head when resisting the need to wander off from working.

Reward Yourself

If you are finally now able to go back to working a productive day, do yourself a favor and reward it with a Guinness down at the pub or going out for a nice meal. Then reward yourself after a full week back of working hard. Trust me, it works the same as when you were a kid and got ice cream for raking up the leaves in the yard.

What’s Your Story?

Have you ever had to deal with bouts of unproductivity and how did you handle it? If you have a great method, please drop a comment below and explain. I’d love to hear your replies.

More on the author, Johnny Spence
Johnny is the founder of The Freelance Rant and a freelance web programmer with 8 years in the business. Have a visit at his company Oscarrr!web or see what he's up to on Twitter.

2 Comments. Join In!

  • Sheila Whittaker

    June 19th, 2009 at 12:45 am

    Hi Johnny! Great post, especially since I’m reading it as a form of procrastination…

    I absolutely have this problem. Your suggestions are very practical. I try to do these things, but I also employ my friends. I tell people what I’m working on and when I want to finish that project. When my friends check in on me and ask about the project, it is the peer pressure that helps me to get it off my desk.

    (Of course, it’s the same peer pressure from friends who also distract me with fun summertime activities… hmm, beach BBQ or transcribing interview notes … tough call)

  • Johnny

    June 19th, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Sheila,

    It was the peer pressure that motivated writing this post but I never thought of using it back to your advantage so cheers on that suggestion. It would give you a better excuse, too, in case you happen to want to stay in when they call you out.

    Well, on to the BBQ!