Ashamed you can’t overcome (or don’t know about) your biggest challenge?

Ashamed you can’t overcome (or don’t know about) your biggest challenge?

No business motivationI’m lazy. I’d rather leave something laying around than put it away. I hate housework. And yardwork. And doing my taxes. And sometimes even doing billable work. There’s lots of stuff I’d rather be doing. Like reading books. Napping. Watching TV. Surfing the internet. Hiking. The list is endless.

You too? I thought so.

We’ve all got our time-wasters, and there are times that we all would rather not do what we know we should. The problem is, when you work for yourself, sometimes–or maybe oftentimes–your biggest challenge is managing yourself. Without a boss and external supervision, you have to manage everything on your own–including your business motivation. And that’s not always easy.

Why is it so hard to stay motivated & productive?

For most of us, as we’re growing up, we’re taught to obey rules, do what our parents & teachers tell us, and by the time we’re on our own, out in the “real” world with a job, we have a boss telling us what to do. We nearly always have someone else telling us what’s expected.

Although the same is true when you run your own business–you’re always accountable to your customers/clients–it’s a bit different. When you start a consulting business–or any business–you typically aren’t accountable to anyone, since you don’t have any clients yet.

Once you get your first clients, you have a deliverable, and can choose when & where you work, and there’s usually some latitude for the deliverable. But still, you need to do the work.

One of the other things that makes it difficult is that being a business owner can often be isolating. If you’re a solo-preneur with no employees or partners, you’re all on your own. Some days, you’ll have lots of business motivation, and other days not so much. If you have a string of unmotivated days, it makes it even more difficult to jump-start your business motivation. Those unproductive days can create their own inertia, which can be a really bad thing. After all, if you aren’t as responsive to clients, don’t return e-mails & phone calls in a timely way, and take longer than usual to do the work, you’ll end up losing clients.

What can you do about it?

Fortunately, there are plenty of tricks & techniques to help be productive & motivated.

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of things, and below is a list of some that I’ve found most helpful in keeping my business motivation high, accomplishing difficult tasks, and juggling everything I’ve got going on.

That’s not to say it’s easy.

Some days, weeks, and months are more productive than others. But monitoring yourself so that you understand what makes you tick is a big part of practicing more productive choices. And that’s part of the key too: don’t get down on yourself, recognize that you can make different choices, strive to improve, and recognize your successes–no matter how small. So here’s my list of productivity & motivational hacks:

  • Eat a frog for breakfast: This is from a saying attributed to Mark Twain: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” That saying is also the title of a good productivity book named Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. So, do your most distasteful task first every day; that way, anything else you do the rest of the day seems easier in comparison.
  • Chunking: Break big, overwhelming, stressful tasks into little bites. Make the little tasks so easy that you can’t NOT do them. For example, if you need to write an e-mail, break it down into tiny, super-easy steps: open your e-mail application, open a new e-mail, take 2 minutes to list bullet points for what you want to say (you can endure anything for 2 minutes), write 1 sentence, etc.
  • Schedule essential tasks each day: Then, do them religiously. Each day you complete an essential task, mark your calendar with a big, colorful X; after several days of doing your essential tasks, you’ll have a “chain” of days on your calendar. Now, don’t break the chain. Keep doing those essential tasks every single day. This is a productivity hack attributed to Jerry Seinfeld.
  • Create ways to be accountable:
    • Track your billable revenue: I have an Excel workbook that I use for tracking my billable hours and revenue for the month. When I complete a billable task and enter my time, I update the spreadsheet so I can see how many hours I’ve billed that day and in the current month; the spreadsheet also projects my monthly revenue, based on my average billed hours per day and my average bill rate. Seeing the revenue go up each day is a huge reinforcement.
    • Sign up for an accountability service like Stickk.com. You can commit to pay money to a charity or anti-charity of your choice if you fail to accomplish your goals. I’ve used Stickk.com, and having money on the line is a big motivator.
    • Tell your friends: On Facebook, Twitter, or your social platform of choice. Tell them specifically what you plan to do, and make regular updates to keep them posted on your progress.
    • Tell your spouse or significant other: Same as with your friends, but this can work better, since you’re closer to your spouse/significant other.
  • Structure your day to prevent failure and slacking:
    • Do an essential task first thing, before ANYTHING else in your day.
    • Block off a half-hour or hour for specific tasks during your day. Make sure to leave empty blocks of time for unexpected things that come up or when tasks take longer than you planned.
  • The Pomodoro Technique: Named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, the Pomodoro Technique says that you set a timer for 25 minutes, then spend that time being completely focused on a single task. When the timer goes off, you set it for 5 minutes, and take a break. Do several “pomodoros” and then take a longer break.
  • Manage your energy level: This idea comes from another really good productivity book, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.
    • Break up sedentary tasks with active ones: coding followed by calls, or writing followed by a walk.
    • Get active: If you see yourself getting distracted or slowing down, do some active work or some physical activity. For example, do some yoga poses, go for a walk, get out of the office and run an errand, walk the dog, do a physical (non-computer/reading/phone) task, go for a walk while making a phone call.
    • Change your scenery: I tend to get sleepy in the afternoons, so I’ll go to a cafe & have tea while I work. Just being around others makes it more likely I’ll work and less likely that I’ll screw around.
  • Create milestones for yourself: You may want to start with tiny goals, and build up to bigger successes. At first though, you may want to lower the bar to prevent failure. Here are a few example goals:
    • Bill 1 hour each weekday.
    • Call 1 client each day.
    • Make 3 marketing calls this week.
    • Spend half an hour each day finding & posting to targeted forums where you answer questions (this is easy marketing).
  • Reward yourself: Especially when you do a task you’ve been dreading and/or procrastinating.

What are your best business motivation & productivity hacks?

Don’t be shy–share your best hacks for business motivation & business productivity.

Or, if there’s something you’re particularly struggling with, post that too–chances are that others have faced similar challenges.

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7 Responses to Ashamed you can’t overcome (or don’t know about) your biggest challenge?

  1. justin says:

    Enjoyed the article 🙂

  2. vinodh says:

    good write up. thought provoking

  3. anon says:

    This is terrible advice. It’s just a bunch of productivity management tips but doesn’t actually get to the core of why people are lazy or unmotivated. Just like every other article that promises to help alleviate the problem. For shame.

    • Thanks for your comment. While I partially agree that there can be underlying causes for a lack of productivity, there’s a sizable body of evidence that shows that focusing on changing behavior in small ways can lead to cognitive and attitudinal change–which means that by changing our behaviors, we can change our self-concept.

      There’s also the question of whether behavior change leads cognitive change or vice versa. Again, there’s evidence that supports both strategies.

      While everyone is different, what I’ve found is that it’s more effective to change behavior, then reflect on the results; the results are the tangible evidence that demonstrate to myself that I can change, which makes it easier for me to shift my thinking.

      As for identifying underlying causes for behavior, again, there are lots of different approaches that psychologists take–psychoanalytic, existential, trait-based, etc. The most recent research suggests that cognitive-behavioral strategies tend to create larger and more long-term behavioral change.

      Yes, it’s possible to dig deep–or not so deep–and identify things that happened in our past that affect us in the present. But I’ve found it easier to simply focus on the present, the result I want, and what specifically I need to do to get there. However, that’s just me–your mileage may vary.

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