When you’re working for someone else, it seems easier to just get out there and get the job done. Your supervisor, manager, or boss will probably hound you if you don’t complete your assigned tasks — whether it be selling shoes, answering phones, or completing TPS reports — so the issue of motivation, while still important, doesn’t play as big a role as when you are self-employed (as a freelance writer, for example).
I had a chat with a fellow entrepreneur the other day and we were talking specifically about problems with motivation. Without someone hounding you for eight hours a day, five days a week, the only person to keep you on track is yourself. Sure, a big part of the motivation comes from the simple fact that if you don’t work, you don’t get paid, but the angst and frustration run much deeper than that. If I really wanted to, I could take a day, two days, or even a week off and the world would not come to a crushing halt. There’d be a few hiccups, to be sure, but everything would probably revert to normal fairly quickly.
But you still want to get it done and get paid, right? I think one of the greatest issues facing entrepreneurs, specifically those who work from home, is that it is difficult to separate work from play. It’s hard to find the right work-life balance. Speaking for myself, I don’t really have a distinct home office that is completely segregated from the rest of my home. While sitting at my computer desk, I only need to look beyond the monitor to see a television. A mere couple steps away from my keyboard is Roy the bunny. Because there’s no actual commute, it’s hard to draw the line where leisure ends and work begins (and vice versa).
In order to stay motivated, I find that keeping very stringent records can help, even if you don’t keep up with it the whole time. This record-keeping should not be restricted to dollars and cents. Instead, I recommend that you log your hours as well. Although I’m a firm believer that you should work smarter, rather than just harder and longer, time is a useful quantitative measure to know how much work you’re actually accomplishing. And I’m not talking about keeping track of how many hours you spend at your home office; actually keep track of how much time is spent actually working. You’d be surprised how much procrastination and distraction is going on. (And you might be surprised by your effective hourly wage too.)
Keep track of your income. This is fairly easy for me, because I work on a project-to-project basis and get paid as such. If you run your own content-based website, this might be a little more challenging, because you’ll need to look into all of your revenue streams and each hour logged at the computer does not necessarily translate into a specific dollar figure.
The goals that I set are typically on a 3 x 3 array. On one axis, you’ll find daily, weekly, and monthly goals. On the other axis, you’ll find a “minimum” goal, an “expected” goal, and an “ideal” goal. For example, for each and every day, I’ll have a minimum, expected and ideal goal in terms of how much money I’d like to make. I do the same for weekly and monthly, ensuring that each day (and week and month), I at least make the minimum no matter what. The “expected” is where I should be, and if I surpass the “ideal”, then I give myself an extra pat on the back. Some people may find this system a little complicated — I just keep these goals in mind; they’re not actually written down anywhere — but it seems to help keep me on track.
I realize that goals are the bane of my existence, but setting goals can prevent you from comparing yourself to others. Instead, you’re comparing yourself to yourself, setting your own personal bar as high or as low as you’d like. Whatever makes you satisfied and happy with what you’re doing.
And that’s the key. It’s so difficult to separate work from play, so when I’m at home (and not working), there will be a tendency to feel guilty for not sitting at the keyboard, making some money. Motivation and guilt, in this way, are two sides of the same coin. By tracking both hours and dollars, you can quantitatively measure how much work you’re doing (and how effective you are being). You’ll be motivated to meet your targets and if you do, there’s no reason to feel guilty for not working during what should be leisure time. And that’s when you can feel satisfied with yourself.