How to keep motivated when you’re working for yourself

advice | business

Ahhh, the fabled question of which there is no answer! That’s it, blog post done. See ya later! 😉 I joke, of course. But in all honesty, as a newly full-time freelancer, this is a question I have been asking myself a lot of late. How do we keep ourselves motivated when it’s just us and there’s no one else to tell us what to do?

Truthfully, there is no one or right answer to this question. I wish I could give you the magic formula that showed you exactly how to instantly become motivated. But, frankly, if I found it I would be monetising it because that shit would be worth millions! I am going to give you some of the varied ideas and responses I have read and researched over the last six months though and then let you make up your own mind. Because, that’s the thing. We are all different and no one thing is going to motivate us all.

woman with tattood fingers types on keyboard

Have a routine

This is probably one of the most popular responses to this quandary I’ve read so far. Especially when you’re working from home. Ironically, the reason many of us start working for ourselves is because we hate the regularity of Monday to Friday, nine to five. But having a routine, any routine, does actually help to concentrate your mind and get the work done that needs doing.

The problem then lies in what routine works best for you and this is the bit where I’ve really been struggling. I’m trying to bend my life into a similar routine to my husband at the moment. He works the 9-5 train for the most part. I actually like getting up with him in the mornings but I find I’m not ready to work that early. I was never a morning person and so I’ve found myself wasting entire days because I’ve got sucked into a Netflix marathon or fallen down the rabbit-hole that is the world wide web. Before I know it, I’ve done absolutely zero work and the husband is walking through the door having finished his day.

Therein lies my problem because I then feel bad about working in the evening while he’s home – a latent guilt left over from when I ran my business part-time whilst still working full-time in the ambulance service and finding myself holed up in my office until 10 or 11 at night while he sat downstairs on his own. I felt bad about that and I promised, in future, to stop my working day by 6pm. But now I’m freelance, well, that doesn’t always suit me!

So yeah, routine is a bit of a bug-bear of mine at the moment and I’m still working on figuring it out. If you have any suggestions for me, I’d be thrilled to hear them!

Write lists and prioritise

If you’re a listmaker like me, you’ll be rubbing your hands together gleefully about now because there’s nothing more satisfying than writing a big long to-do list and progressively checking your way off through it. It shows progress, it shows achievements, it shows how bloody hard you’re working!

What you tend to find, though, as a sole business owner, is that the list never seems to get any shorter, despite the amount of work you do. In fact, for every one thing you tick off, you probably add on another two or three things that need doing, right?

This used to drive me insane and I found it very de-motivating until my awesome coach, Cora, pointed something out to me. Why was getting to the bottom of the list so important to me? I realised, ultimately, that it wasn’t. And so I learnt to prioritise what needed doing. I am just getting into the routine of (see point 1!) writing any things to do in my bullet journal at the end of the day and then figuring out what’s important the following morning and what can wait. I actually find that, by doing this, I manage to tick more things off the list as and when they need to be done. And that, good friends, is extremely motivating, don’t you think?

looking over woman's shoulder as she writes in her notebook

Self-care – taking breaks

The art of self-care is so prevalent right now. We’re becoming aware of our own limitations and causes for things like stress and stress-related illness so much more than we ever did. And yet, those of us working alone regularly forget it all and just keep on plodding on because, hey, we’ve got that giant list to get through and no one else is going to do it for us!

But friends, here’s the thing. By not looking after ourselves, by not taking breaks and practising a little self-care or incorporating some personal time into our working days or weeks, we actually become less productive. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that, you know it’s the truth, right?

Hey, I’ll admit I’m as guilty as the next self-employed person out there. Too many times I’ve let the giant list and deadlines and all the things I want to get done overwhelm me until I reach a crisis point and then nothing gets done. I’m getting better at learning to recognise those points though and trying to prevent them before they happen…

With a little self-care, of course!

Ironically, one of the reasons we probably chose to go self-employed is because we wanted the freedom of middle-of-the-day lunches with friends or working a three-day-week so we could go to the spa and treat ourselves a bit more often. The reality is so far from this though, isn’t it?

But it bloody well shouldn’t be! So I challenge you to look at your schedule over the next four weeks and just find one day, ONE!, where you can take a day off and do something totally selfishly all for you. Or an afternoon, or a couple of hours one lunchtime instead of the ten minutes you usually allow yourself to wolf down a sandwich and a quick cuppa. I challenge you.

This isn’t a one-off thing, though, friends. Once you start doing it, you have to keep doing it, at least once a month. Promise?!

Find your water cooler

What on earth do I mean by that? Well, think about it. What is the one thing we’re all missing as freelancers working from home? Aside from the cute courier who flirts with all the ladies when he has a delivery for them…

The thing we’re all missing is the social aspect of an office job! Working in an office, or a shop, or wherever it was you worked before you took to self-employment, probably involved working with other people too. Which meant a level of socialising, something we easily forget about when we’re working for ourselves.

No, come on you guys, conversations with your plants and pets do not count!

Now, I hate to use the dreaded ‘networking’ word, but in some respects this is what us freelancers need to do to get our social fix on a semi-regular basis. Even us incredibly introverted ones! Thankfully there are also some great digital options as well as real-life ones you can look at now. I wholly recommend ‘The Coven’ where you pay a monthly membership and get to chat with some amazing like-minded ladies in order to preserve your sanity and stop you feeling lonely. But get on platforms like Facebook too, and have a search for local groups in your area.

What’s key here is to then try them and figure out which ones work best for you. You may not find your people straight away, but they are out there and the only way you will find them is to keep on searching, right?

woman sits talking and smiling with colleagues around a table

Make me accountable, baby!

Ooh, accountability. The new buzzword – or at least it seems that way. But, actually, this is one of my favourite ways of staying motivated because I find it really works!

Now it really helps to find a working partner or two for this one, but there are also online groups where you can use this process too and have others join in. What’s important, here, is that you are telling someone your goals, or the things you want to achieve by a set point, and have to then check in with them and let them know how you’re doing.

As humans, we are naturally quite competitive. We also have a deep level of pride and we really hate to be shown up or embarrassed in front of others, right? So by saying, ‘I’m going to complete X and Y by this time’, your natural urge is to get those things done by the time the other person says, ‘So, have you done it yet?’

What I find even more helpful is if they also have some things they want to get done, and then it becomes a race to get finished! Or, if not a race, at least trebles the pride-factor because you don’t want to be the one that didn’t finish when the other person did.

This is a technique I use frequently. I do weekly accountability goals in a small online group with a couple of friends. I do one or two hour goals usually with a friend in a one-on-one basis when we both happen to be online and in our offices working (and probably chatting on Whatsapp, not getting anything done!). I am also part of larger groups that hold monthly accountability challenges and, again, this really helps me to prioritise my goals over the course of different times. Seriously, give it a try and see how much more productive you become!

woman points as she talks with colleagues

It’s ok if none of this works for you!

When I first started researching morning routines and trying to figure out how to get myself together in the morning, I beat myself up about the fact that everything I attempted to apply to my own life just did not seem to take effect. I figured it was all me and I raged and cried and forced myself to comply. All this did was make for one very unhappy Sarah.

It occurred to me, a little while back, that’s it ok that these things do not work for me. I’m obviously just not built that way. And so I say the same to you now – try these things but don’t be too hard on yourself if you find they don’t work for you.

My daily routine is so far from what I imagined it would be now, but it works for me, for the time being at least! And the processes I have in place help me to feel the most motivated and inspired that I’ve felt in a long time so I’m going to stick with them for now. That doesn’t mean that won’t change in the future!

So try all the things – there are way more than I’ve mentioned here! Others I haven’t even touched on include journalling (still trying to get back into that!), reward systems, using various online apps, meditating, turning off devices after a certain time (not quite ready for that one!) and so on.

If you find something I haven’t mentioned here that really works for you, please do drop a comment below, I’d love to hear about it!

And to keep updated with more helpful posts like this one, scroll to the bottom and sign up for the newsletter 🙂


**Images are of the lovely girls over at Alchemy Accounting in Chilliwack. If you’re looking for a great bunch of ladies to keep an eye on your numbers, then I can’t recommend the lovely Michelle and her team enough!