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How to Motivate Yourself When Your Motivation Is Missing

Woman in silhouette dangling from ropes while she mountain climbs

Whenever I’m coming up on a vacation, I’ll find myself with a lot of work to do and no motivation to get it done. I’ll be dreaming of walks in the woods while trying to focus on words on a screen. It rarely goes well. In the words of my ten-year-old nephew: “I don’t want to!”

How can you motivate yourself to do the work that’s in front of you when your mind is already on vacation? When you’re tired, sick, or bored or when the job is just ugly and overwhelming?

The short answer is to practice BIC time: put your butt in the chair and get to work.

Not enough? OK, let’s talk techniques.

Work Where You Won’t Be Distracted

This might mean a change of scenery, such as working at the local library, or working in your usual space because you’re more focused there. Sometimes I need to work in my office because it’s separate from the rest of the house and offers few distractions.

Work When You Won’t Be Distracted

Is your life quieter after 7 pm? Or before 8 am? Do you experience fewer interruptions on a Thursday rather than a Monday? Find those quieter pockets of time and use them to get the work done.

Block Interruptions

Shut off email, social media, phone ringers—anything that can draw you away from work. Try social media blockers like Strict Workflow and SelfControl to help you stick to it.

Ask Colleagues to Help

Share your struggle with a fellow editor and ask for inspiration or give them permission to chase you back to your work. Laura Poole likes to do “power hours” to get work done uninterrupted. For accountability, she’ll invite one or more editors to do a power hour with her.

Make a Plan

It’s easy to forget what you have to do when you’re tired and unmotivated. Create a list of what you need to do and plan what you’ll do during each work session. A bullet journal or to-do list app can help you stay organized.

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Chunk Your Work

Break your work tasks into smaller portions, and use a timer to help you stick to it. Chunking results in short bursts of focus and energy, which you then replenish during a short break. Pomodoro timers are a great online solution. Or use a timer that appeals to you.

Take Frequent Breaks

When you’ve completed a chunk, take a quick break. But be careful: when your motivation is low, a five-minute Facebook break can easily turn into an hour (ask me how I know).

Instead, walk away from your desk: refill your tea cup, put in a load of laundry, walk down the office hall—anything that will get you out of your current headspace but that won’t result in abandoning your work.

Reward Yourself

Set a goal for what you’ll accomplish and reward yourself if you make it. Keep the reward in line with the goal, otherwise your rewards will experience scope creep. Finished editing a long chapter? Take a half-hour break. Finished the whole book? Take a #stetwalk. Or nap. Naps are good.

What do you do to motivate yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I promised myself a little sunshine when I finished this article.

A version of this article published on June 23, 2017, on Copyediting.


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