Five Strategies I Use to Enjoy Working (Even When I’m Not Motivated)

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i'm not motivatedLove what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.

What a load of crap.

We’ve all heard that phrase before, usually used to inspire people to start their own business or chase after their dream job. But even if you are working in the industry you love and doing things you enjoy, there are days when it all just feels like work.

Don’t get me wrong—I love what I do. I love writing and speaking and recording podcasts with Heath and all of that. But there are some days where it all sounds unbearable.

For a while, on those days when I had no motivation, I would trudge on, attempting to get at least one thing done. (That one thing can be replying to one email, right?) But the whole day would feel like an uphill battle and anything I did accomplish wasn’t good. There was no heart in it, and as a writer, you need to have a good bit of heart in your work.

So after struggling with these feelings for months—lack of motivation, burn out, exhaustion, lack of inspiration, you name it—I did what anyone would do. I googled:

how to be motivated

And lemme tell ya, people have a lot of suggestions. How is listening to certain music going to help me get to work? How will a cup of coffee make the blank page in front of me feel less intimidating? And helllllllllllo why are you linking out to a Youtube video that I should watch to get motivated? That’s only going to lead to me getting sucked into the rabbit hole of videos of surfers getting attacked by sharks, obviously.

None of those tips and tricks online made a difference for me, so I had to dig a little deeper.

I find that usually when I’m not motivated to work, it boils down to a few possible reasons:

  1. I’m stressed and overwhelmed, so the idea of tackling anything I need to get done is daunting.
  2. I’m feeling directionless or like my work is meaningless.
  3. I’m just so very tired. Can’t I just binge Netflix in bed, please?

With that in mind, I came up with five different things I can do to get myself back on track when spending a whole day working sounds like cruel and unusual punishment.

Although before we get too into the strategies, can we all just agree that sometimes taking a nap solves everything??

Slay your dragons before breakfast.

I heard this phrase years ago from Michael Hyatt and it’s stuck with me. It’s so easy to start the day and jump right into that urgent thing on your to-do list. To check your email and get sucked into a dozen little tasks. To look at Trello and be overwhelmed at everything on your plate. There are mornings where I wake up in a panic and my first thought is “I have to email Sandy today or else my entire business will crumble and everything I’ve done for the past five years will ultimately be meaningless.”

And there is nothing worse than starting your day with that instant stress and panic.

If you don’t start your day off right—if you don’t properly prepare to battle your dragons, sticking with the metaphor—then the day is an uphill battle.

This means making sure you take care of yourself before you jump into work.

For me, this means having a set morning routine. I read, I do yoga, I drink a full glass of water. If there’s a lot on my mind, I journal, although my journal entries always give way into me writing out everything I need to accomplish that day.

I give myself that first hour of the day to wake up and mentally prepare for the day. Reading teaches me something. Yoga gets me moving and relieves stress. Water is just always healthy so it seems only right to start your day with a full glass. Journaling is the best way to get worries and concerns and stresses out of my head—especially when I feel like I have a lot on my plate.

Whether you call it self care or me-time or the miracle morning or preparing to battle dragons, it has the same purpose: take care of yourself first.

And when I start my day like this, I am infinitely more productive than on days where I jump straight into work. I am less stressed. I breathe easier. I work smarter. I get more done.

Instead of diving in headfirst, sipping my coffee while checking my email to start the day like I used to, I take the time to get my head on straight and it makes the biggest difference. I’m ready to slay my dragons, as Michael says.

Never click refresh.

Email.

Facebook.

Twitter.

Instagram.

Reddit.

The website may change, but the habit is always there. Refresh. Scroll. Find something to distract you or something new to work on.

I am the worst at this. Any time I find myself not knowing what to work on, I’ll find that I have four tabs open on my computer: my personal email, my work email, Facebook, and Twitter.

I scroll and refresh and scroll and refresh and all of the sudden 30 minutes have passed and I’ve done absolutely nothing.

How does this happen? There were days where I spent hours doing this. It’s the ultimate form of distraction and avoidance.

To combat this, I’ve used a plugin called Newsfeed Eradicator for a while now that deletes your Facebook newsfeed. No more getting distracted by baby photos from that girl you knew in high school but never talk to (why are you friends with her online anyway?).

I set up Screentime on my phone, limiting me to 25 minutes on social media apps each day and limiting my use of any apps before 9 AM (because if I start my day on Instagram, I’ll be back a dozen more times before dinner).

I take a day or two a week to get to inbox zero instead of replying to email every day. So when emails are piling up on Thursday, distracting me from doing work that really matters, instead of constantly refreshing, I tell myself that I’ll reply to them all on Saturday (because people don’t reply to email on Saturdays, which means I can reply to everything and not have my inbox instantly fill back up. #strategy).

But most helpful of all, I use Trello to keep track of everything I need to be focusing on during the day and, on particularly heavy days, how much time I estimate it will take to accomplish each task. (Outline next blog topic: 45 minutes)

Because the real reason I’m refreshing all those sites? I don’t know what to do next. I’m lacking in direction or avoiding something on that to do list. (Today I’m avoiding calling our bank. It will take 15 minutes. But I wonder if anyone has emailed me something more fascinating instead…)

When I have a clear direction for my work, I find myself reaching for those distractions less.

Watch Netflix during boring work, because why not?

The other day I desperately needed to get all our tax docs together. A shocking number of them are online nowadays which meant downloading all the files, re-naming them for my accountant, double checking to make sure I didn’t miss any. Plus I was pulling together all our business expenses for the year, mileage, and other deductions like healthcare costs.

It is, without a doubt, the most mind-numbing boring work there is. You can use apps like Hurdlr and Freshbooks to track mileage or keep track of your business expenses, but you still have to get everything together for your CPA. Yawn.

This, my friends, is what I call Netflix work.

I’m not going to lie. I am the queen of Netflix work.

Data entry? Link updating? Replying to emails?

It’s all a little less painful when Lorelai Gilmore is entertaining you. Oy with the poodles already!

A few years ago, I felt bad about watching TV while I was working. Er, “working.” Everyone says Don’t try to multitask, it doesn’t work! And you can’t get real work done and watch TV at the same time.

But they are wrong. Sometimes the only way to get through the drudgery of boring work is to give yourself a little entertainment while you do it. Maybe for you that equates to listening to a fun podcast or singing along to your favorite music. For me, it’s putting on a show that I’ve seen a thousand times but I still laugh out loud watching. (See: The Office, Parks & Rec, New Girl)

Now not all work is Netflix work of course. You can’t write a blog or take a client call or proofread or do anything that requires 100% of that beautiful brain.

But pulling together tax docs? Doing anything that requires a spreadsheet? Any of those repetitive tasks you’ve done a million times? Netflix here I come.

You can’t make boring work unboring. But you can find a way to entertain yourself while you do it. And let’s be real, two hours of compiling tax docs = three episodes of Gilmore Girls. That’s not a bad afternoon.

Image result for that's brilliant gilmore girls gifs

Don’t hold yourself to everyone else’s work standards.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me how many hours a week Heath and I work.

Now I’m a naturally sassy person, according to Heath, so my gut response is to say, what’s it to you stranger?

But there are enough mean people online so I play it cool and make up an answer that sounds kind of accurate since Heath and I don’t ever track how many hours we work.

The reason why this question irks me so much is how much I work influences you 0%.

It affects me, it affects Heath, it affects the bottom line of our business. But it doesn’t really affect you.

It’s so easy to get caught up in following someone else’s work standards. When I see photos of someone with their laptop on the beach, I cringe in jealousy thinking about how I’m obviously doing this whole thing wrong since my toes aren’t in the sand right now.

Or when I see someone tweeting about waking up at 4 AM or sharing how they made a million bucks in 48 hours or that time Taylor Swift posted a photo of herself doing the splits talking about how she stretched every single day obsessively because she wanted to be able to do the splits like all the other girls she knew.

But HELLO I am only human.

We can’t all be social media perfect all the time (or ever, really). 

Now if you’re really curious, I work probably 25 hours a week right now. It was significantly less in 2018 when we were abroad and when pregnancy had me bedridden for three months. It was significantly more in 2017 when we were managing three client gigs, I was prepping to launch my book, and we were hustling to pay off that last bit of student debt.

How much I need to work changes each week based on where we are with our business or what’s going on in our lives. And while sometimes I feel the need to work more to catch up with those ahead of me or work less to fit in more with the casual digital nomad crowd, ultimately I have to set my own work standards.

That means waking up at 8 AM, like a normal human and not a crazy cyborg. It means finishing my work by 4 PM every day🤞🏻, or at least setting that goal to so I can have my evenings free.

I used to feel like I had to keep up with Heath. Heath’s one of those wake up early and work till dinner people. And when I tried to mimic his schedule, I was miserable. And let’s be honest, I was refreshing my email for half the day pretending like I was working but really accomplishing nothing.

Everyone’s different. What works for Heath won’t work for me. What works for me may not work for you.

Don’t hold yourself to someone else’s work standards. Create your own.

Take the morning off.

You know what I hate most about working? When I feel like it’s keeping me from doing something better. Something more fun.

This is especially true for travelers. I hate needing to work on a client project when I could be taking a leisurely stroll down the beach or sitting out in the sunshine with a good book.

When it comes to being an RV entrepreneur, I think this is a huge problem. If your work is keeping you from enjoying your travel, then something isn’t right. Here we are talking about creating this business and lifestyle that gives us ultimate freedom and allows us to spend time doing what we love and yet…

Image result for gif working too much

So a year ago, I started giving myself permission to not work when I didn’t want to. When none of the above helped, I opted to simply do nothing. I would sleep in. Read a novel. Sit outside. Color. Go on a walk. Completely ignore work.

It’s a little counterintuitive, I know. But sometimes you just need to give yourself a little grace and be reminded why you’re doing all this in the first place. You’re running your own business so you can have the freedom to travel and spend time with your family and see the world.

And when work is getting in the way of that happening, taking the morning off isn’t a bad solution.

Most days when I decide to do this, somewhere around lunchtime I’d find myself feeling refilled and ready to start my day. It’s the most effective way I’ve found to avoid burnout and to stay grateful for owning my own business.

Because like I said, I love what I do. But if you’re overworking yourself, getting burned out, and not taking time to embrace the benefits of working for yourself (don’t even talk to me if you’re not working in your pajama pants right now), then you’re not taking advantage of this life you’ve created!

Avoid the burnout and the overwhelm of work by taking a break. I highly recommend a nap.

What do you do when you’ve got a lot on your plate and no motivation to work? Share your secrets!