One of the challenges of living a creative life is trying to keep yourself both inspired and motivated pretty much all the time.
If you’re commissioned for a job you cannot turn around and explain that your ideas and inspirational thoughts are off on holiday. Your clients want your expertise immediately and you have to be fully prepared to jump into creative action.
Working for yourself and having no one to tell you what to do can be a real struggle. You have to be mentally strong and stop listening to the voice in your head telling you it’s okay to sit and watch TV all day instead of working because you’re ‘just not in the mood’ and you can do it tomorrow instead. Well guess what, you most likely won’t be in the mood tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that. Motivation and inspiration don’t often just appear out of thin air, you have to go seek them out and continually keep your stores full.
Personally, I’m most definitely NOT a morning person. Before 10am my body certainly does not want to be anywhere but my bed. My issue with this however, is that my concentration is at it’s highest in the morning and so this is naturally the best time for me to be working. Distractions have been another of my challenges in trying to stay focused and motivated - technology being so accessible these days is just asking for trouble. The urge to check Facebook, or twitter, or instagram or email every half hour was distracting away from the task at hand and previously meant that I was achieving a lot less than I knew I was capable of. This in turn was making me feel guilty about not getting much done, lowering my mood, and causing me to feel even less motivated and inspired.
However, I’ve managed to very quickly overcome all of these things! Below I have listed the things which have proved extremely helpful in getting my motivation and inspiration back (and keeping it).
1. Create A Schedule
This has been the most useful task that I’ve completed to help maintain my motivation. I now have set working times for every weekday and I know exactly what I should be doing. In the morning I work for two 1.5 hour periods with a 10 minute break in-between. I then stop for 30 mins of lunch before continuing with another two 1.5 hour periods with a 10 minute break in the middle. I’ve found that mentally setting boundaries and planning which specific areas of work I’ll be working on in each period has helped a lot.
Some days I may work longer than 6 hours, but I find that if I stick to my schedule as a minimum, I’m pleased with what I’ve achieved during the day and don’t feel guilty for not having done anything. After all, it’s not the time you’ve spent working that’s most important, it’s the quality of work you’ve achieved in a day.
One of the benefits of working for yourself is that you have quite a lot of flexibility when it comes to your time. There have been mornings where I’ve woken up at my alarm at 8.20 and just not had the willpower to make myself get up because I just couldn’t fall asleep the previous night. In these cases I’ve started work half an hour or an hour later than usual but because of my schedule being so precise, I don’t find that it causes any lack in focus. However, I wouldn’t delay my working day by any more than an hour (it’s a common fact that most people start to lose focus in the afternoon) as I do want to get a good batch of my work completed in the morning.
Another common distraction from your schedule is being invited to hang out with friends during hours that you’ve set yourself to work. While it’s totally acceptable to change your timings around to fit in a catch-up with a friend who’s only available during weekdays (it’s one of the perks of being self-employed after all), I wouldn’t recommend making a habit of it. You have to be careful not to drift away from your normal working hours too often as you’ll find yourself giving into distractions more and more and your motivation will most likely begin to slip once again.
2. Take Breaks Between Working
You’ll have noticed that I don’t work for longer than 90 minutes without taking a break. This is extremely important as after 60-90 minutes your brain naturally starts to lose focus. Stopping for a short break refreshes your mind, allowing you to be as efficient as possible. It’s recommended to step away from your computer and desk at this time to take a walk somewhere or have a quick snack so that you completely disconnect from your work.
Making sure you get enough sleep each night is also important (7-9 hours) as it’s been proven that a lack of sleep can contribute to a lack of focus during the day. This is why I allow myself an extra 30 mins to an hour in bed in the morning if I couldn’t sleep the night before. I’d much rather finish work an hour later than have less focus while working because I haven’t had enough sleep.
3. Self Control
This app for my mac has been a godsend for myself. It allows you to create a 'blacklist’ of websites which you do not want to be distracted by during your working hours. You then set the amount of time that you do not want access to them for (a good idea to set it for the whole work day) and blocks them completely. Even if you delete the app or restart your computer, you still cannot access the sites until your time is up. You could argue that I should have the mental strength to not go on distracting websites without such an app but I got myself into such a habit of checking them. As soon as I had to just sit and physically do nothing but seriously think something through, I’d end up on Facebook.
You may also be wondering about my phone’s access to such websites during my working hours. I’ve overcome this issue by placing it at the opposite side of the room to where I’m sat and hooking it up to speakers to play music. (Just make sure that you’ve created a playlist that you can sit and work to, you don’t want to be walking across the room every 3 minutes to change song). I’ve actually found that Self Control blocking the websites on my Macbook has made the urge to check them on my phone disappear anyway.
Here’s the application for windows.
4. Have a Specific Work Area
Having a certain area where you carry out your work is also extremely helpful in keeping you motivated and focused during the working day. It’s widely known that it’s very difficult to work from home because there are so many distractions but not everyone can afford to rent out an office space. I’m lucky enough to have a new recently built studio in by back garden which I can work in. Even though it’s technically still at home, I find it’s still sufficient because it completely separates my work life and my personal life, I have to physically step out of my house to 'go to work’. I purchased my studio through Tiger Sheds, they have a great variety of cabins which are extremely sturdy and well made. If you just need an office space they have smaller cabins for under £1000 or if you would like a photographic studio they have plenty of larger options. I’ve found it a great investment as I don’t have the worry of the cost of renting out a studio and the time restrictions which go along with it.
If however, you’re just not in a position to build an external work space you could go out to a relaxing cafe for a few hours a day and work there or create an office in your house and agree with the other members of the household that during your work hours you’re not to be disturbed. Just try to make sure that there’s some sort of separation between work and personal life.
5. Go Out
If you find your inspiration at a low then the best thing to do is go out and do things that inspire you. It could be going for a walk with your thoughts, going to an art gallery, watching a new movie in the cinema or going to the library to read a book. Inspiration can come from anywhere but you do have to work for it, it won’t just come to you.
Pinterest is a website where you can place all of the images you find inspiring from across the web (or on your hard drive) to different boards depending on their category. I keep an inspiration board which I can keep coming back to on days where I just don’t feel quite so inspired. Pinterest is also great for browsing the boards of other users. Often I find myself going off on a path through different images, suddenly finding myself more inspired with several new potential ideas.
5. Read Motivational Books
This is the main thing that encouraged me to get out of my lazy slump. Some of the techniques I’ve mentioned above are suggested in them and they really do help. I would definitely recommend picking up the following motivational books:
This was the first book I read and it really does kick your motivation in gear. It makes you think about your goals and consider how good you aspire to be in your specific area of expertise. It really pushes you to stop making excuses, overcome your fear of being wrong and inspires you to start fighting your way towards your goals. It’s written by Paul Arden, a former creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, and although he relates a lot of things to being a creative director, it’s just as relevant for anyone creative. One of my favourite quotes from the book is - “
The person who doesn’t make mistakes is unlikely to make anything.”
This book was definitely my favourite out of all the books I’ve read. It’s not based around creatives as such but is still very relevant. It persuades you to create a life for yourself that YOU want and not a life based around a job you hate just so you can earn money to carry out your aspirations in the future. Chris suggests other ways of creating an income which still give you the freedom to do all the things you want to experience. He encourages you to stop living for the future, stop saying that you’ll eventually achieve all your life ambitions later in life because chances are, you probably won’t. You only have one life, you have to make it awesome now. One of the good things about this book is that he gives you real life examples of people who have done exactly this.
“You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to. You can do good things for yourself and make the world a better place at the same time. Here’s how to do it.”
The aim of this book is pretty self explanatory in the title but it’s a great book for helping you to stay motivated and retain your focus. It features a collection of short essays from different authors who suggest ways to help regain your focus on the important things in life. It talks about the difficulties of navigating information overload in the 21st century and how to keep away from distraction in such a technology driven life. If you want to up your productivity and know the best ways of doing this then definitely pick up this book, it’s full of ideas about how you can live and work better!
“The very act of resisting temptation eats up concentration and leaves you mentally depleted.”
“We don’t have time because it’s convenient not to have time, because maybe we don’t want to challenge ourselves.”
“Distracting opportunities have to die for your most important goals to live.”
If you’re in a creative slump and just have no ideas forming for new work, this is a great book for helping new ones come to light. It discusses methods for coming up with new creative ideas and runs through the ways in which your mind should process your thoughts. Even though it was written in the 1940’s, it’s still extremely relevant today and removes the worry that you’ll mind will be blank when you suddenly have to produce new creative ideas for a project.
“An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements (Quoted from Vilfredo Pareto)”
Finally, here’s a few inspiration quotes which I like looking over every so often to give me a boost: