If you’ve been writing for any amount of time, you’ve come to the harsh realization that it can be difficult to stay motivated. This post isn’t only for writers, though. Anyone who has goals but gets busy paying bills, watching the kids, and getting behind at work can lose motivation without even realizing it. Our culture throws a ton of information in our faces from the moment we wake up to the time we are sleeping. Sometimes, all that information adds up and can get the best of us; we are so distracted by the white noise, we forget about our goals, bringing our progress to a halt. Here are a few tips that I’ve found to work that will keep you on track.
- Set goals and write them down. First, you need a goal. What is it for you? Do you want to be the top-ranking marketing firm in your region? Do you want to get published in The Atlantic? Whatever your field, take some time right now to think about your goals. Think about short term and long term goals, starting with the long term. What is the big picture you want to accomplish?
Once you have the goal or goals in mind and a general time frame of when you want to get there, think about that that means for smaller amounts of time. For instance, if your bigger goal is to have your toddler completely potty trained in 6 months, it means that each month, each week, and each day you’re going to have to set little mini goals for yourself. What can you do this week that will make progress toward that end goal?
It’s also important to write your goals down. It’s just one of those psychological things—the action of writing or typing out your goals helps solidify where you want to be. It makes something half-conscious become completely conscious. It turns the “maybe” into “reality.”
- Make time for progress. You have your goals set and even written, but unless you actively plan for time to work on them, you’ll be stuck in the mud of busyness. For me, I want to publish a volume of poetry. This means I have to plan for how I can work toward that goal. Each morning I have a “writing hour” before my 8-5 starts where I can write, edit, read, or research poems. This gives me a small sense of accomplishment each day, and ensures I’m making daily progress. For someone who wants to become the top-rated wedding photographer, it means allowing time each day to hone those skills necessary to earn higher ratings from customers. Whatever your goals are, make sure you’re actively planning out time to work. If you’re making time for your goals, you’ll easily stay motivated for the big picture.
- Treat yourself. I don’t mean this in only the Parks and Rec kind of way (but that, too); I mean set up your work flow in a way that pleases you. This is a crucial aspect of working toward goals that people often can’t get past. If you learn to set things up so that you enjoy your work, and your work is the most efficient it can be, you’re going to be better off.
For me, I used to expect myself to write in the evenings after a long day at work. Things always came up—the pets needed walking, dinner needed to be cleaned up, and by the time I got around to writing, I was exhausted and my mind couldn’t focus. I hated it and I felt like such a slacker because I wasn’t on track to reach my goals. Then I adjusted my writing time. I switched it to that early morning before work (I’m a morning person), and I found that my mind was more fresh in the morning. I also like to have my coffee ready to go so that I don’t get delayed.
Don’t be afraid to take it to the next level. Make sure you like the space where you’re working. If it’s somewhere you hate, it affects your work. Find a suitable place and add some plants for inspiration. If you do your best work in the back of a local coffee shop, great. If you like to seclude yourself from the ever-present threat of email notifications, don’t even open your email until you’ve done your daily work.
- Take a short break. I’m talking about those days where you just couldn’t get out of bed, you were late to work because of traffic, and the sinus headache behind your eyes is throbbing more than the bass in your noisy neighbor’s Escalade. Relax. Take a day off. If you’ve been working hard but you’re just not feeling it, take a short break from it. This will give you the power and energy you will need to attack it full-force tomorrow.
This tip comes with a warning label: Not for use over long periods of time. Don’t let your days off add up. After a week of not feeling into it, you’re probably not going to magically feel like it next week. Your goals won’t get behind schedule if you delay for one day, but they might if you take a day off every day. Taking a small break might just give you the motivation you need to get back into the swing of things.
- Set reminders. Physical ones. I’m talking pop-up reminders on your email calendar. Or a new app that helps keep track of your progress. Set up reminders daily, weekly, and monthly. If I’m going to launch a new career, I should set up some checkpoints a few months out so that I don’t forget to revisit my goals. These reminders aren’t meant to make you feel guilty if you haven’t made progress, but instead, they will encourage you to keep going. You can even add some encouragement to your pop-up reminders, “You’re doing great. Keep plugging away,” or something else specific you think would be good to remember in the moment.
You can even use people around you to keep you accountable, if that works best for you. Tell your family and friends what your goals are, and they’re likely to ask how it’s going when they see you. Don’t be afraid to ask your closest friends to check up on your progress, or find a group of people with similar goals online to keep you tracking toward your goals.
Whatever your goals are, stay on track by getting specific and writing your goals down, making time for progress, setting up your work flow how you like it, taking breaks when needed, and setting up reminders. Following these things will not only keep you on track, but they’ll also keep you motivated to reach your next goal by putting in the hard work and grit it takes to get there.