28 April 2010

Motivation without External Deadlines

I have never asked for an extension on a paper, nor from a client. No matter how unrealistic, I have always met deadlines. But, I am also a huge procrastinator. I’ve gotten up at 3:30 a.m. to finish projects due that same morning (I’m a morning person).

The problem now that I work for myself is that I also usually set my own deadlines. Deadlines that are more flexible than external deadlines. Deadlines that I can rationalize away. And, this is the problem.

When you don’t have external deadlines, how do you stay motivated to work rather than spend the day skiing, kayaking, or otherwise having more fun (work is work after all)?

I have had to redefine what work is and how I get it done. I used to have to be at the office most of the day - whether I came in later or earlier, I had to be there. Now, I make my own hours. Like many people newly freed from their corporate desks, I abused my schedule and didn’t quite get much done at first. It was a lot of "I'll just do that later and go kayaking now."

What I’ve learned is that I need a schedule, and I need to keep to a routine. I still get up at 6 every morning, and am usually working by 8:30. I set a schedule and stick to it... most days. The schedule and routine makes me more motivated to get through the work I have to do. I am not putting off a task until later only to dread it, not get it done, and then dread it some more.

I’ve also adopted the critical task approach. I make sure that I do two or three tasks each day that will either make me money, or will lead to me making money. Once I have completed those tasks, the day is mine. While I keep a constant to-do list, I am realistic about what I can get done in a day.

Another motivating factor is staying in contact with friends and family, and telling them of progress with various projects. There has to be some progress in order to talk about it.

Of course the biggest motivator is reminding myself why I am doing this. The threat of having to go back to work for someone else to pay the bills helps with motivation. The freedom and flexibility I have now is worth the extra work I might have to put in to complete projects, or to start new projects and build additional income streams.
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