Back when I was doing a PhD I essentially worked from home. Apart from quarterly meetings with my supervisor(s) and, some years, contact time such as teaching or cataloging, I was essentially my own boss, responsible for managing my own hours. I’ve since then also done ridiculous projects such as writing 100 poems in a day (twice!), or, last month, reviewing 31 poetry pamphlets in a month alongside my day job. So, let’s just say, I think I have the whole short-term and long-term self-motivation thing down.
Here are a few tips I’ve acquired:
1. Treat it like a 9-5
This was very important where the PhD was concerned as hours could, and did, slip away, evenings got eaten up writing up conferences papers, or marking essays. I made weekends sacred to preserve my sanity, and I’m glad I did (that kind of got lost in the write-up stage, but hey, what doesn’t?)
Give yourself guidelines for when work ends. Everyone works differently, my most productive hours are first thing in the morning and late at night, so a typical timetable for me would be 6am-1pm then 7-midnight. Yours might be different, work it out through trial and error.
2. Start working before you’re awake enough to protest
I work best early in the morning, so I used to set myself an early alarm and get started as soon as I was awake, stopping only when I got hungry enough for breakfast. Those first couple of hours have always been the most productive.
I banned social media until that first break, in case it interrupted my flow. There are various apps that can make sure your access to social media is restricted but I found I spent too much time trying to bypass those restrictions, so it was easier to do without them!
3. Leave the house (sometimes)
Putting yourself in a different environment can be very helpful for productivity, I find the white noise of cafes or pubs works best for me. Variety is the name of the game, alternate days where you stay at home, with days working at your local library or co-working space for instance.
If working in a library, invest in a computer lock cable so that you feel safe leaving your laptop in place. That way you don’t have to agonize for ages over whether to pack everything up to go on a loo or coffee break.
4. Choose the right soundtrack
I’ve written a post about it here. Experiment with complete silence, white noise, or motivational music. At times I’ve found having a TV show on in the background helpful when doing a particularly boring task such as indexing.
5. Schedule breaks
Don’t burn yourself out too early in the day – this was often my mistake. Make time for coffee/tea breaks, and make sure you get up and walk from time to time, even if it’s a quick trip to the shops for more milk. I find that walking produces the best ideas so make sure you do plenty of it.
6. Learn to say no
Ah, this my friend is the hardest of them all. You won’t be able to do everything. Working from home doesn’t mean limitless resources of time. Learn to prioritize the projects worth doing from the ones that aren’t, say no to the invitations that will drain you and organize yourself to make the ones that really matter.
If you are freelancing, a common curse is to spread yourself too thin, but surely the point of embarking on that lifestyle in the first place is to be more selective with the work, not less?
7. Invest in a thermos
Just do it. Saves you countless trips to the kitchen, saves you money at the library (if they allow hot drinks), and avoids the curse of the accidental sip of cold tea.