How to stay motivated when solo business has got you in a rut

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Ever have one of those days (weeks?) where you just can’t seem to get yourself motivated? And I mean REALLY unmotivated, like nothing — not even dusting to avoid work — can tear you away from putting off life in general.

Maybe it feels like there’s such a mountain of work ahead of you (house chores included!) that you don’t know where to start.

Maybe your current projects aren’t terribly exciting.

Maybe you’re feeling a bit burnt out.

Or maybe you’ve got something worrisome happening in your personal life.

Whatever your reason, here are a few tips to help you self-start yourself back to productivity.

*****

A note from Preston:

A quick pause to share some great news with you. April Greer will now be working as the Content Manager for GraphicDesignBlender.com.

With April’s help, we’ll take the GDB content to all-new heights, improve consistency, and become even more useful to you as you build your business.

April has already spent the last week helping me organize our content and has done a stellar job. Join me in congratulating April on her new role by leaving a comment on this post.

If you’re interested in contributing to the site, April is the best one to help you. Contact her at April@GraphicDesignBlender.com to submit content or ask questions.

Now, back to the content…

*****

Where was I? Oh yes… Here’s how to stay motivated when solo business has got you in a rut

Get dressed

Don’t even try to pawn off the sweats you didn’t sleep in as “dressed.” Go put on clothes that you wouldn’t be embarrassed walking in public in at 3pm.

You’d be surprised the subconscious impact comfort clothes have on your productivity.

Do something really small and simple to get the ball rolling

Whether it’s unloading the dishwasher, sending out one work email, or walking your dog, tear yourself away from Reddit, your cozy bed, or your TV screen and get one tiny thing done.

Once you’re away from the blerch,* it’s easier to transition into the next task.

* Thanks, Matthew Inman! PS – Be VERY careful when visiting this site…when you come up for air, days may have gone by.

Make a very specific to-do list

Since lifting a finger to even make a list sounds worse than running 10 miles, follow these guidelines to motivate but not overwhelm:

  • Be super-specific. List only the first step of action for each task. (Seriously, on these days you should write “carry the vacuum downstairs” rather than “vacuum downstairs.” Likely once both you and the vacuum are downstairs together, the vacuuming will get done.)
  • Be realistic. This is not an exhaustive list of everything you still need to do (there’s this to-do list for that). This is a list to get you moving right now.

Force progress in small time increments

Set a timer for 30 minutes (15 if that’s too daunting) and require yourself to work until the timer goes off.

No Facebook. No bathroom break. No snack food.

Work.

When the timer goes off, allow yourself a break of 20% of your work time.

Rinse. Repeat. (If necessary: often you’ll find that getting started was the hard part.)

Do anything you have the motivation to do

When you’re stuck in lazy mode, forcing progress sometimes just doesn’t work. No matter how much you bang your head against a project, you just can’t get into it.

On these days, there’s no sense in wasting time. Your brain is telling you it’s tired and needs a break.

So if you all you want to do is play video games (or bake cookies, or read, or bang on your drum set, or <insert awesome activity here>), do it. When you’ve recharged your brain’s battery, you’ll be refreshed and ready to get back to work.

Get some exercise

I know, I know. The very last thing you want to do when you’re unmotivated is break a sweat.

But it WILL help.

Physical exertion causes a whole slew of chemical reactions in your body that, if nothing else, feeds your brain a different concoction of hormones…stimulating, attitude-lifting ones.

How do you get motivated on ultra-lazy days?

Share your secret(s) in the comments on this post.

About April Greer

April is a go-to freelance designer with a rare combination of creative expertise and technical savvy. She is available for subcontracting and speaking engagements – visit Greer Genius for more information.

Comments

  1. Great tips that are somehow so easy to forget when you’re in the rut! My way of crawling out is to play some music that really gets me going again. The Strokes – ‘Is This It’ is my all-time rut breaking album.

  2. Very good tips! I have tried all of these and my happiness has increased much!! :)

  3. April, you’re doing a great job! I love your articles style and find them very useful. Keep up the good work.

  4. Awesome advice, April!

    I also find taking stock of what I’ve achieved, as well as having a really good laugh helps.

  5. My trick: Fresh air.
    Sometimes I just need to step away from the computer and go outside for a few minutes. I’m always surprised how this works so well everytime.

    • Me too, Filipe! When I “go do what I want,” it’s almost always walking my dogs, puttering in my garden, or eating lunch slowly and enjoying my back porch.

      Thanks for sharing!

  6. These are great tips, especially since I just had one of these days yesterday…and woke up this morning trying to figure out whether it’s me or the work itself…I find that if the work isn’t challenging enough, it’s harder to get in the zone for me and I keep getting distracted; however if I am in the zone, I can forget to eat or even what time of the day it is.
    I also appreciate your comment regarding planning, when I first started working from home, a friend of mine from business background shared a time planning tool with me-just a paper to fill out, but somehow that helped me a lot back then…Gotta get back to it! :)
    Overall, thank you guys for doing what you do, because I think the main challenge of working from home is the lack of support, a sense of a team and realizing that other people have the same challenges as me, has helped me feel a bit more confident about choosing this path right now.

    Sorry for the longest comment in history!

    Have a wonderful day & keep on posting, it matters!

    • Anastassia,

      Thanks for your kind words! We’re glad GDB provides you with a sense of community — it’s EXACTLY what we’re going for.

      (And I agree — if the work isn’t pushing me, it can be hard to get to it.)

      Thanks for sharing!

  7. Congrats, April! This article gave great advice for work and life!

  8. This is great! I find I do all these things, and they help! I start every morning with a shower and makeup, and real clothes, even if I don’t know what the day brings. I’ll be more inclined to go out and meet people and just FEEL better when I look good.

    Also, another thing I tell myself is, every day I must do ONE THING, be that finish a client project, call a client to follow up on a quote, or call/email a new client. Even work on my own marketing! But everyday, ONE thing, must be completed start to finish, no matter how small. That helps it from seeming so overwhelming when there’s a million things to do, and you don’t know where to start.

    I totally agree with the exercise point…I am actually a bikini physique competitor. Fitness is my other great passion aside from design, although I see it AS an art, sculpting the body. To get to my point, everyday when I complete my work, I hit the gym and it really helps me clear my head, get up and moving, and work on another goal. That goal is a bit simpler that business due to the only REAL variable being you (not other clients!) but it serves as the best template for hard work, follow through, and dedication that has helped me tremendously in my design biz.

    Not to mention I meet TONS of my clients through my gym and my work ethic is apparent immediately in that environment, which only enhances their trust that I will do a great job for them!

    Another great post!

    • Tamara,

      Well, I am most certainly NOT a bikini physique competitor, but I do stationery bike 6 miles at least 4 times per week, umpire softball, and do arms free weights. I’m working my way back to slimmer after last year living out of a suitcase and eating, quite frankly, crap too often. Super-impressed! I bet you get lots of gym clients!

      Umpiring/officiating gets me out from behind my desk and meeting new people who almost always have “real jobs” besides officiating…that helps me with referrals from a group who have seen me work hard at calling a good game.

      Thanks for sharing — sounds like we both have similar approaches, and it’s always nice to hear you’re at least part ways “normal.” :)

  9. I hate working out whenever I’m having one of those days….but you’re right it absolutely helps once you get your butt up! Great advice as usual April =)

    Congratulations on being content manager! I know you’ll bring lots of great content to GDB =)

  10. Hi April,
    Really like the post, I’m in this rut for some time now. I’m feeling so tired, I actually do a lot of work but none of it is finished, my mind is all over the place, hard to stay focused. That’s why I like your tip of doing one thing, but making sure you finish it! Setting goals is what I must do for each day. O, and what I do sometimes is giving myself a reward when I finished the job I must to that day. Like going outside, have coffee with a friend or buy a nice book.
    Thanks!

  11. When my motivation is at rock bottom and it is all I can do just to lift the remote to change the channel from infomercials for electric sock warmers to another episode of Gilligans Island, I find a change of scenery can be just what I need.

    Hop in the car. Go for a drive in the mountains or wherever you like. Grab a treat or lunch and eat at a park. Just get some fresh air and away from your basement. Better yet bring along your sketch book or tablet and sketch while sitting under a tree. Look for inspiration in the outside world.

    I love snow so in the winter I often hop in the car and go park somewhere with a nice view. Then I read motivational articles such as this one. Or watch tutorials on new techniques I’m interested in on my phone or tablet. Sometimes I load some favorite podcasts on my phone. Plug in head phones and go for a nice long walk.

    The key things are fresh air, new perspective, change of scenery. This always seems to kick start my motivation.

  12. Arleen Virga says:

    Thanks, April…. the timing of your article is so apropos! What a relief it is to know that other creatives struggle with lack of motivation, too!

    I am a graphic designer/web developer who works out of a home office. Business has been uncharacteristically slow for most of the year. I do have a few web projects to finish, invoicing to do, mountains of laundry that need folding, and several DIY home projects that are in various states of completion. The common denominator is they all have no hard deadline. I find that I work best — and am brilliantly productive — when I have a hard deadline to work against. Without one, I feel lost, unproductive and a bit depressed. I optimistically make “To Do” lists every night before bed, but come morning I lack the drive to complete the majority of the tasks. I tell myself “I can do it later.” Nothing seems important. I suppose that’s the hardest part of being self-employed… not having an employer to hold me accountable. Any thoughts about how to stay motivated & committed to a self-imposed schedule?

    • Arleen,

      Sometimes a hard deadline is a great motivator. Have you tried allowing yourself a reward for finishing within a certain time frame?

      Sorry to hear business is slow. Check out our many great resources here at GDB for finding new clients, getting repeat business, and earning referrals. Once you start filling up, you’ll feel the pressure of getting projects finished and will be back to good in no time!

      April

  13. Jacob Aflak says:

    I always find myself losing motivation when the blinds are closed. I seem to get motivated with natural light & ambience. If not, then i usually have another coffee :) Great article, April :)

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