Staying focused and sticking to the plan is rather easy when you’re in that certain state of mind that urges you to go out and create. Those days when you wake up and feel well-equipped to take on the day, pumped to overcome potential challenges, and motivated to succeed. Needless to say, not all days are created equal, and for better or worse we all are forced to regularly push through mental fatigue, lethargy, and that deafening lack of focus that can derail us if we’re not careful. If only we all woke up every day with the motivation to tackle our goals – I’d imagine humankind would have a far different set of problems to deal with than we do today.
As a discipline lead in a large advertising agency, my day is filled with varied tasks that keep me occupied from the moment I walk in the door at 8:30 am, to the moment I leave at 5:30 pm. Across any given day my work touches an average of 3-4 different clients, with projects that range from intensely creative to monotonous and time-consuming. Staying motivated and focused throughout these involvements is only the first task at hand for me, for when I get home after work, I dive right into content creation for this blog and other side projects I run. Staying motivated simply is not a choice but a requirement and finding creative ways to dispel the lack of focus and motivation becomes the task that requires ingenuity and consistency.
By no means is my situation unique – there are many full-time employees who juggle their family obligations with birthing their own small business ventures, or even mothers of four who are simultaneously building their own craft into profitable stores on Etsy, finding the time and energy to carve away a little at this work every day. What drives these people to create output every day is not a factor of specialness or necessary talent (although many of them have those qualities as well), but a level of consistency in their ability to sit down and do the work, despite any feelings of emotional, physical, or mental fatigue. So, what are some of the lessons we can learn from them about motivation, dedication, and focus? Here are several ways to keep yourself motivated, push through fatigue, and create work you can feel good about.
Visualize a Goal’s Meaning
While many recommend the importance of goal-setting, I’d take this concept one step further and stress the power of manifesting that goal (or set of goals) into an object that can be digested visually. This process also required you to write down what that goal means to you, and how you can benefit from it. The reasoning here comes down to three primary points:
- Writing these notes down forces your mind to articulate them into actual comprehensible words, reinforcing your goal and making it more real
- Putting your goal into something you can touch and feel means that you can also place your goal into areas of your daily environment that you are forced to interact with
- Explaining the reasoning behind the goal’s meaning helps you to remind yourself why it is important to you on a daily basis, especially on days that you lack motivation
The second note here is perhaps the most important – while identifying a goal in your head is great to begin inspiring action, you can make motivation into a habit by ensuring that you constantly and consistently see that goal. For example, one of my goals is to write every day, but oftentimes fatigue and mental disarray stands between me and that goal. In order to combat those feelings, I set my desktop background as a text image that reminds me both to write every day, while also explaining in several bullets why it is important that I do so. Seeing as I use my computer every day for work already, I am forced to interact and respond to this imagery, helping to motivate me on the days when I need it most. For you, perhaps keeping a dry-erase white board above your desk in your home office might work best.
Chunk it Down
This is an important exercise that most people should get in the habit of doing in order to increase productivity and overcome that feeling of overwhelm. In some cases, the factor that’s dispelling our drive to create is that sinking feeling of there simply being too much work to tackle. Sometimes our innate cognitive grouping mechanism makes problems seem bigger and more complicated than they really are, pushing us further into habits of procrastination. In his book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, James clear talks about the strategy of breaking down these problems and tasks into smaller components that makes it easier to form positive habits. The same can be said about staying motivated and breaking through that barrier of overwhelm – if we are able to successfully see the tasks at hand as what they are (which is simply a collection of smaller ones), we reduce those feelings of anxiety and allow our motivational drive to be reinstated.
Remind Yourself that You’re Worth It
While sometimes we require the clarity to break down those big hairy tasks at hand to recognize that they aren’t as scary as they seem on the surface, oftentimes we need to look within and remind ourselves why we are working so hard in the first place. For example, waking up at 6 am to exercise before work is extremely difficult for many people, especially considering the alternative of an extra hour of sleep there is to gain instead of heading to the gym. Looking toward ourselves and remembering why we are engaging in this habit is the important factor at play here. In the gym example, perhaps we must remind ourselves that our physical health is not only worth it, but it’s a priority. Using the habit of writing as an example for me, I consistently need to remind myself that at the very least, creating regular output will grant me invaluable learnings that I can take anywhere I go. Therefore, if I don’t create, I am depriving myself of my worth and the opportunity to learn, or eventually reap the monetary benefits that might come later on as a result of my work.
Recognize How Far You’ve Come
As a website content writer, I have regularly dealt with the discouraging effect of recognizing that a website I’ve spent weeks writing for is not getting any traffic. Looking back at the many hours and days you’ve put into a project and realizing that no one is enjoying or benefitting from your work (yet) is enough to make many people stop trying. The lack of motivation that accompanies these feelings must be dispelled and replaced by positive thoughts that acknowledge the great work you’ve done so far. Is there output you can look back on and say to yourself ‘this is great work – I feel great about the effort I put into this project’? We are often our own harshest critic, kicking ourselves for the success we see that is yet to be gained while we ignore the progress we’ve already made.
Organize Your Thoughts
Marie Kondo, a bestselling author and the star of the Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” is renowned not only for her effective method of organization, but the way in which she integrates mindfulness and introspection into her practice. She incorporates six basic rules into her tidying technique that has gained her worldwide attention and praise. These include:
- Commit to tidying up
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle
- Finish discarding before you organize
- Tidy by category, not location
- Follow the right order
- Ask yourself if your belongings spark you joy
In the same way that we go about organizing our belongings, these principles can be applied to the organization of our thoughts as well. The important piece here is discerning between the thoughts that benefit us and drive us closer to our goals, and the ones that cause us harm or make us lazy. Staying motivated is a dedication to a consistent frame of mind. We need to show up for ourselves every day, every time, and in every situation, because no one will do the work for us. Therefore, in translating Kondo’s organization principles to find the thoughts that motivate us, the following can be distilled:
- Commit to sitting down and organizing your thoughts in service of a goal. Know that this won’t be easy, but it’s a necessary step to compel you forward
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle if you were to find the motivation to complete the smaller tasks required to move you closer to your goal, eventually completing it
- Dispel the thoughts of overwhelm, stress, anxiety, and tell yourself that anything is possible. You are worth the effort
- Discern which thoughts are moving you closer to the goal you are visualizing, which thoughts are moving you closer to a different goal, and which thoughts are pushing you further away from your goals
- Prioritize the most important and immediate goal first, addressing the thoughts associated with that goal before you address any others
- If thoughts flow into your mind that change your behavior or output, get into the pattern of regularly asking yourself if these thoughts move you closer to your goal (thus sparking you joy). If they don’t, let them go