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The Buck Stops With You: How to Self-Motivate

By Carol Mackay.

It’s a fact: we all lack motivation at times.

Our industry includes many micro-businesses, and a majority of freelancers have always worked solo, but now even designers employed within a team spend many hours alone, working remotely. Previously, if needed, it was possible to piggyback on the energy of others. Now, not so much.

That means self-motivation needs to be part of one’s skillset. And I’m not talking will power. Will power is not eating the whole pack of Tim Tams. Self motivation is holding yourself accountable. It’s about keeping yourself focused.

Here are few ways to motivate yourself. None of these are brain surgery but sometimes we just need a jump start. One of these might be your jump start.

Start each day with a plan.

Sounds too simple to be valuable but writing a list of tasks you can mark as completed works. Better still, allocate time to each task. Allocating a time stops over-committing – it highlights over-optimism.

Plan to stop.

If staying on focus is a problem, plan your breaks. Work in chunks of time rather than having no clear end. Psychologically, it will help you get started if you know there’s a deadline set.

Don’t rely on memory.

Trying to remember is stuff exhausting. Get notes out of your head and onto paper or better still, filed online directly into an app. It means when you do get to a task it’s easier to remain focused because you have all the information to do it well.

Be intentional.

Don’t slip into the day browsing in your inbox. It’s such an easy way to be led astray. If email is your kryptonite, why not try not opening your inbox, instead start the day focussing for a set time on a high-value task? Better still, do your least-liked task first. If you start the day smashing your most difficult or complex task, it makes the rest of the day a dream.

Be ruthless about the tasks you are doing.

Don’t just do it because it’s on your list – better to question whether you’re the right person to do the task. Is it something easily delegated to another while you focus on high-value work? Solo-preneurs can fall into the habit of doing all facets of every project and that’s not always the best use of your time or expertise. Better to focus on what you do well, and delegate other tasks (like admin, invoicing, rote software skills) to others.

Break it up.

Break large projects into smaller, management tasks with shorter deadlines. Starting a large project can be overwhelming. Much easier to start a well-defined task within a larger goal.

Find an accountability buddy.

Or a like-minded group of people with whom you can share your goal. Share what you hope to accomplish, then ask them to check in with you periodically. Knowing that they’re keeping track of your progress will motivate you to up your game.

Change your environment.

Maybe the lack of motivation is physical. Can you move? Change your outlook? Change your clothes? Work at a different time? Take regular walks/breaks. Don’t keep doing the same thing hoping for a better outcome, proactively change the circumstances instead.

So what?

Self-motivation can be exhausting for the best of us. Don’t flog yourself with an olive branch, instead actively change your routine/process to make it easier to build momentum. Sometimes starting is the hardest part. Once you’re on a roll the magic happens.

About Carol Mackay

Carol Mackay is co-founder of the Design Business Council (DBC). After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, Carol now uses her experience and research to help creatives manage their own design businesses. Carol’s special power has always been an ability to use design to translate difficult to understand or complex messages. She believes design brings clarity to complex issues. From clarity comes understanding and understanding leads to knowledge.

As a designer, she used those skills with clients like The Magistrates, County and Supreme Courts, Ombudsman schemes and Emergency Service agencies. At DBC she uses the same skills … helping designers de-mystify the complexities of managing a small business.

Outside of DBC, Carol mentors graduates and is a Board member at Never Not Creative, a community of creatives pushing for change in the creative industry.

About Design Business Council

Design Business Council helps designers build more profitable design businesses. This includes supporting creatives to learn management skills, helping business owners identify and target better clients, introducing tools and systems to increase a studio’s productivity, and focusing on a sustainable work/life balance. DBC shares their knowledge in a library of free resources, workshops, group and one-on-one mentoring.


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