Staying motivated at work is never easy, but when you work for yourself, losing momentum feels that much more personal. As your own boss, it’s up to you to set the pace and stay on track with goals and deadlines, and you truly have no one but yourself to blame for an unproductive day.
Playing the blame game is a waste of time, though, so instead we’ve outlined a few ways you can take control of your work life and hold yourself accountable—even when the only person you answer to is yourself.
#1 – GO BACK TO YOUR ROOTS
Mark Twain said: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Of course, it’s easy to forget what you initially set out to accomplish when you’re surrounded by bills, deadlines, and demanding clients, so whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed or indifferent, take a moment to remember why you’re doing it all in the first place.
Ask yourself some core questions and consider writing down the answers to hold yourself accountable:
What drove you make the switch and work for yourself? Were you looking for greater flexibility? Did you want to achieve a better work/life balance? Was your goal to build something lasting, help others, or pursue a career that allows you do what you love and use specific skills or talents?
Regardless of what your goals are, it’s important to remind yourself of your “why” as often as possible. Try to spend some time at the end of each month reflecting on the progress you’ve made, how things have improved, and what you’d still like to accomplish. It’s easy to lose sight of your vision during…less romantic phases of your freelance existence.
#2 – LOOK ON THE BRIGHT-ISH SIDE
What comes first, happiness or success? Although most of us are inclined to say that success precedes happiness, numerous research studies have found that a positive attitude can do wonders for keeping us motivated and productive, and ultimately helping us to succeed.
One study published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science found that teams were far more productive when organizations implemented positive practices such as inspiring one another, emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work, and treating one another with respect, gratitude, and trust.
Another study by economists from the University of Warwick found that happy workers really did work harder—they were 12% more productive than their counterparts. Other research shows that we tend to procrastinate more when we’re in a bad mood, so if you’re lacking motivation and constantly find yourself putting things off, a negative mindset or bad humor might be to blame.
Yes, money matters especially when you’re working for yourself, but before you chalk up your unhappiness to this month’s lack of funds, ask yourself what else you’re doing that might be causing frustration.
#3 – KEEP TABS ON YOURSELF
Being able to look back and see what we’ve accomplished is one of the best feelings out there, and research published by the Harvard Business Review confirms that tracking progress is an excellent way to elevate mood, boost motivation, and improve productivity.
During their study, the researchers analyzed over 200 work diaries and discovered what they called the “progress principle.” Each time workers experienced a sense of progress in their work (for instance, by solving a problem or producing a high quality product), they reported feeling more upbeat and intrinsically motivated.
Their perceptions of work also became more positive when they felt they had made progress or accomplished something. So if you feel like you’re not as motivated as you’d like to be, start by keeping records of all your accomplishments (work journals are great for this), even the little ones like completing a project ahead of time or delivering top-notch service.
#4 – DOLE OUT THE GOLD STARS
Since you’ll be tracking your progress from now on, why not reward yourself when you reach a milestone? A study that focused on the development of good habits found that when we see immediate payoff for our actions, we’re more likely to follow through on our commitments. Working out of an office often comes with these rewards built-in (think: annual raises or bonuses, team luncheons and holiday parties, etc), but we often forget those much-needed kudos when we work alone.
Other research even suggests that self-interest accounts for 75 percent of our personal motivation. So if you want to motivate yourself, try putting a few rewards in place. For instance, try celebrating a task well-done by taking yourself to a nice lunch, or honoring an especially productive month with a weekend trip or new piece of furniture to brighten up your office.
#5 – GET OUT ON THE TOWN
Peer pressure is a powerful thing, and the people closest to you probably influence you more than you realize. With this in mind, it’s important to surround yourself with people you can look up to, who share your interests, and who will be able to encourage and support you.
One Australian study demonstrated that if we want to stay healthy, we should surround ourselves by people who eat well and exercise, as this gives us the social support we need to follow through on our commitments. Other research shows that we pick up the habits and career aspirations of those around us, so if it’s motivation you’re looking for, your like-minded friends and colleagues could be the answer.
Often working for yourself means spending long hours at home (or even from bed, thanks to that handy Macbook Air). Schedule social time into your week to keep yourself motivated. If you know other freelancers, make a plan to meet for coffee or lunch regularly. If you don’t, try looking for freelancer meetups (Meetup.com is a great resource), where people get together at coffee shops or bars to work in a more social space, or consider paying for access to a coworking space one or two days a week.