8 motivation tips for the self-employed

Writing a brand manifesto at desk

Hooray, you’re your own boss! And you’re in charge of keeping yourself engaged, productive and loving your work. Here are some ideas to keep the magic going.

1. Have a plan

Know what you are trying to achieve, short and long term, and follow a plan to make sure you get it done.

Of course that doesn’t mean you need to micro-manage yourself, but blocking out your time helps you understand what you’re doing and when, and make sure you’re not taking on too much.

Whether it’s a detailed business plan or a daily ‘to do’ list, having a plan will keep you focused. Plus, it gives you a boost when you can tick things off the list.

Planning ahead is also easier when you get into the habit of logging your time. Get into the routine of comparing your plan to what you actually achieved in the time, and use it to adjust your future estimates.

2. Break targets down

Work is like food. Some things are so appealing you just want to sink your teeth into them right away, others take a bit more effort to chew through, and some are just plain unappetizing. The solution? Break down the tougher tasks into little ‘mouthfuls’ that are no big deal to digest.

Lifehacker recommends writing down the steps involved in a big task and working through them one by one. The tougher the task, the smaller the bits. Doing this gets you over the hurdle of beginning something – and turning it from an idea you don’t like into a reality you can handle.

3. Reward yourself

You’re running your own business, and that’s amazing. Reason enough to give yourself lots of treats. But there’s also a powerful motivation-gain with rewards, as they boost your intrinsic motivation and create an association between hard work and nice things.

Try rewarding yourself according to your effort level, rather than your achievements. If you handled a simple but unappealing task, you may have worked harder than you did on something complex but fascinating. Give yourself a pat on the back.

4. Work in real-time, not clock-time

Clock-time happens mechanically, in minutes and seconds, but real-time is subjective and very human. It can fly by when you’re focused and engaged, or drag on forever when you’re doing something that doesn’t inspire you. So although you’ve got 24 hours in a day, you can’t guarantee that you’ll spend exactly an hour on this or that with the exact same results – you’re not a clock! Some times are simply more productive than others.

Entrepreneur.com recommends aiming to spend 50% of your time doing things that help your business, and leaving plenty of room for the inevitable interruptions and distractions in your time estimates.

5. Visualize the results

It can be helpful to visualize the benefits of achieving your business goals. Whether it’s a dream holiday, some home improvements or even an amazing new outfit, it’ll be all yours if you keep going.

Try placing a reminder of your goal somewhere you’ll see it often. A wall by your desk is an ideal place to put pictures or post-its that remind you what you’re working towards. Or you could get some Postcards to dot around the place – each with a different picture of your goals, using Printfinity.

Or, what about creating some fun, motivational Stickers? Use phrases like, ‘Yay, almost there’, ‘Way to go!’ or ‘You’re awesome!’ and stick them wherever you track your goals.

6. Be ready for things to go off-course

When things don’t work out according to plan, it can really dent your motivation. But life is full of surprises, and the less attached you are to your expectations, the less fazed you’ll be when they aren’t met.

The key to handling unexpected setbacks is to assess them from a neutral point of view. Look for opportunities as well as disadvantages. Say your main client has gone out of business – that’s bad, because you’ve lost a source of income. But it also means you get to find brand new clients, and maybe even update your prices and product range ready for a fresh start.

7. Set desk hours and take breaks

It’s too easy to burn out when you have no set work schedule. Make work-life balance your mantra, and build breaks into your daily and weekly schedules. If you’re finding motivation a struggle, try putting small breaks in place every hour or so. The act of coming back to your work after a rest can actually boost productivity.

8. Accept the cycle

No one can stay motivated 100% of the time. When you’re struggling, do what you can on your to-do list and be assured that inspiration will return if you just keep going.

Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up. It’s easy to underestimate the motivating power of a team, an office and a manager, so cut yourself a little slack for doing so well without them. 

And don’t forget to keep putting yourself out there. Hand out some branded Flyers to anyone who seems interested – after all, the next inspiring job is just around the corner.

Want more tips? Check out our guide to evaluating your business idea.

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