Article by Jamie Friedlander
I’m sitting at my desk. A blank Word document glares at me from my computer screen. The blinking cursor urges me to type something — anything. I have a large glass of water, a mug full of coffee, and the “Deep Focus” Spotify playlist on in the background. I’m primed for work, but my brain’s just not feeling it.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being self-employed as a writer, it’s that motivation is a complex and fickle beast. Some days, I’m in a groove. I can crank out articles left and right, only taking a quick break to refill my coffee or eat lunch. Other days, I have to force myself not to surf Reddit and run unimportant errands.
Unfortunately, deadlines don’t wait for me to regain my motivation. The same is true in nearly every other solopreneur profession: A patient doesn’t wait for her therapist’s coffee to kick in, nor does a customer wait for an Etsy owner to have the energy to ship their package.
When motivation has to be intrinsic (meaning there’s no boss breathing down your neck to get things done), it can be harder to come by. Below, you’ll find a series of research-backed tips and tricks that entrepreneurs swear by when they’re stuck:
1. Capitalize on Your Peaks
This is my go-to strategy. Over the past few years, I’ve identified the times when I’m most productive: 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. I make sure to schedule the work that requires the most focus during these windows. I’ll never leave an article that’s due on a Monday morning for Friday afternoon because I know it’s unlikely I’ll muster the mental energy required to do it.
2. Remind Yourself of Your Why
Michelle Martin, CEO of Travara, a company that promotes sustainable travel, says her strategy for getting motivated is reminding herself why she started her business in the first place. For her, it’s all about freedom.
“As hard as it is to be an entrepreneur, I know I want to be working on my own terms and living my best life,” Martin says. “When it gets overwhelming or I feel stuck, I remind myself that I am creating the best possible scenario for myself and my family and I need to push through — for all of us.”
Hassan Alnassir, founder and owner of educational toy company Premium Joy, takes a similar approach.
“The method I use to get motivated when I feel stuck is simply remembering who I’m ultimately doing all of this for: my child,” Alnassir says. “I have a photo of my kid on my work desk, which I’m able to see whenever I need some encouragement to push me forward.”
3. Give Yourself Small Rewards for Achieving Tasks
Research has shown people are incredibly driven when rewards are thrown into the mix. In fact, one study found rewards account for 75 percent of our “personal motivation toward accomplishments,” according to a widely cited statistic from The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People by David Niven.
If you’re struggling to accomplish certain tasks, give yourself a reward upon completion. These rewards can be large or small. For example, I set an income goal for myself each month. I promise myself that, if I hit it, I’ll treat myself to something I’ve been eyeing — a nice dress, a handmade journal, a new cooking utensil.
You can also leverage the power of self-administered rewards on a smaller scale. For instance, promise yourself that once you get two hours of work done, you’ll enjoy a delicious lunch or go for a walk.
4. Practice Leap-Frogging
Karen Koenig, a self-employed psychotherapist, overcomes dips in motivation by practicing something she calls “leap-frogging.”
“Rather than think about the task I want to do and am not doing, I ‘leap-frog’ over it and focus on how great I’ll feel when it’s done,” she says. “For example, I picture myself smiling after I’ve done my end-of-year recordkeeping and having a celebratory cup of coffee on my porch.”
5. Take a Close Look at Your Inner Circle
We all know the Jim Rohn adage that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. If those people aren’t driven, high performing, and energetic, they’re probably not positively contributing to your sense of motivation.
Look at your immediate circle of friends and family. If there’s a theme of negativity, laziness, or complacency, consider making some changes. This is a strategy Juanika Cuthbertson, founder and president of Ladypreneur Academy, encourages entrepreneurs to use.
“Inspect your daily conversations,” she says. “Are they uplifting? If not, change them. Do those closest to you inspire you or drain you? Make the shift as needed.”
6. Reset Your Mind
Most of us who are self-employed have systems in place for achieving our goals. But on the off days when even your tried-and-true strategies aren’t working, what you likely need is a little reset. Let your mind focus on something other than work.
For Liam Smith, a self-employed wedding photographer, allowing his mind time to wander is what helps him stay on track toward his goals.
“Einstein took naps, Beethoven took long walks, and Bill Gates washes dishes by hand,” he says. “Solitude, distraction, and fresh challenges give your conscious mind valuable distance from your problems.”
7. Write It Out
Research has shown the far-reaching mental-health benefits of putting pen to paper. Journaling is a core tenet of mindfulness, and it can stave off anxiety, stress, and depression by helping us prioritize (and solve) our problems, clarify our feelings, and engage in positive self-talk.
For me, journaling means writing every single morning right when I wake up, no matter what. I strive to write at least three full pages each day, which helps me purge the stressors and worries in my mind, priming my brain to focus solely on work for the rest of the day.
For lawyer and author Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, journaling means list-making.
“My solution is brain-dump list-making,” she says. “I get all of the to-dos from work and life out of my head and onto a sheet of paper. That way, they can stop swirling around my mind — taking up precious brain space — and I can organize the list. Once it’s all out, I pick one thing to focus on and start giving myself deadlines for small pieces of the task.”
8. Find an Accountability Buddy
Susan Santoro, a professional home organizer, says the key to getting work done is sharing her goals with someone else.
“Often, just telling my partner a goal or task is enough to motivate me, but having her ask how it’s going and brainstorming solutions when I hit a roadblock is always the motivation I need to keep going and [find a solution],” she says.
Santoro’s strategy is backed by research. If you simply have an idea or goal, there’s a 10 percent chance you’ll achieve it. By telling someone else you will do it, you increase your odds of completion to 65 percent. By making an accountability appointment with the person you’ve shared the goal with, you increase your chances to 95 percent.
9. Read About the Successes of Others in Your Industry
Seems counterintuitive, right? In fact, many entrepreneurs actually derive motivation from reading about others in their fields who have succeeded.
Heather Manto, a barbershop owner, finds inspiration by listening to The Side Hustle Show, a podcast that explores the stories of other entrepreneurs.
“It really motivates me to get ideas and to also hear about successes of others who started where I did,” she says.
John Linden, an interior and furniture designer, says he likes to read biographies about entrepreneurs, artists, politicians, activists — anyone who has been successful, really.
“When you read a biography, you learn that every great person encountered periods where they felt stuck,” he says. “It’s a great way to find inspiration when you feel completely uninspired.”
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer based in Chicago and the former features editor of SUCCESS magazine. Her work has been published in The Cut, VICE, Inc., The Chicago Tribune, and Business Insider, among other publications. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found drinking matcha tea in excess, traveling somewhere new with her husband, or surfing Etsy late into the night.