Everybody has good and bad days – the trick to being successful is making sure that you’re consistently motivated enough to keep the bad days to a minimum.
Without motivation it’s not only difficult to do as much work as usual, but even starting a new task becomes a herculean effort. If you can get started and make some progress then you might be able to build momentum up off of that, but otherwise you’ll be left floundering for the rest of the day.
Treat your week like an inbox
That little moment — when you’ve finished one task, but haven’t started the next yet — is the perfect moment for everything to fall apart. One distraction can spiral into another, and you’ve wasted the afternoon before you know it. If you’re having trouble staying motivated at work, then simply knowing what the next task is and how to start it could be the answer.
Some tasks are unpredictable. Maybe you need to prepare a client pitch right now because of a scheduling oversight, or turn back some unexpected edits on a piece of content. Other tasks are recurring, like sales qualification calls or answering a block of support tickets. It’s these tasks — the recurring kind — that are the low-hanging fruit when optimising your workflow.
Turn your recurring tasks into documented processes and set due dates for each stage. With an inbox of tasks that relate to the business processes you’re involved in, there’s no opportunity for you to get lost wondering what to do next.
If you want to stay motivated all day then you need to start it right. Eating breakfast will give you the fuel you need to stay focused on your work rather than your stomach. The trick here is to eat enough that you don’t graze until lunchtime, but not so much as to have your body begin to shut down to digest a big meal. While this can be difficult to gauge at first, the best way to find your ideal breakfast is to experiment with the amount yourself.
Another important aspect is what you eat. I’m not saying that you have to eat dry Shredded Wheat to stay healthy, but certain foods will help you retain energy for longer and avoid you getting distracted. Sugary foods are generally a bad choice since your body will burn off the energy very quickly, both making it difficult to concentrate when you have energy and causing a crash when the sugar wears off.
Have a steady supply of water
Having a constant supply of water to sip at as you work is vital to keeping a clear head and maintaining your motivation.
You don’t have to drink litres of the stuff every day (although most sources recommend aiming to drink 2 litres to stay hydrated), but by at least having a bottle or cup of water next to your desk you can easily reach out whenever you start to get thirsty.
Don't binge on caffeine
We’ve all made the mistake of having too much coffee – the jitters and shakes resulting from that are far from a good way to ensure your productivity. More likely you’ll struggle to focus and get even less done than if you’d stuck to water.
Even the type of work you do can cause your productivity to drop when under the effects of caffeine. It’s been shown that while caffeine helps you complete tasks that require a lot of mechanical processes and repetition, creative tasks that are more decision-based and abstract in nature are much harder to complete when your mind is so focused from your latest mug of coffee.
Coffee itself is also a pretty bad choice of drink if you’re looking to get the most out of your work. The boost you get is great, but the resulting crash can wreck any momentum you had going. Instead, try drinking green tea – it is caffeinated but releases it more steadily, letting you stay focused for longer and without the crash once it’s worn off.
Identify your most productive time of day
Knowing when you get the majority of your work done every day is a great way to boost your motivation. This is because that knowledge works in your favour in two ways.
Firstly, by knowing when you’re most likely to make progress on whatever task you’re working on, you can schedule your most difficult and/or important work for that time slot. That way you can get what you need to done and use the resulting motivation to power through the rest of the day.
Alternatively, if you’re more of an afternoon or night owl, you can know exactly when you work best and adjust your schedule accordingly. For example, while many people (even remote workers) put in a 9-5 work day, if you find that you’re more productive in the evening then you could either work later to get more done or make the case to your employer that it would be more beneficial to allow you to work later hours.
Prioritise your tasks accordingly
Going hand-in-hand with knowing your most productive time of day is the ability to prioritise your tasks effectively. Without doing this you’re essentially leaving your success up to chance, since you could end up wasting all of your energy on small, unimportant tasks and be spent before you reach the main event.
Assess whether individual tasks are something that you need to do and whether they are something you want to do. Once you’ve done that, the theory is to take on the biggest and most difficult task first. That way you’ll be able to make progress and get it either out of the way or down to a more manageable size before you run out of steam.
That achievement in itself can then be a great motivator to keep going for the rest of the day. After all, you’ve dealt with (or at least made progress on) the worst task on your list, so everything else is good by comparison.
Clear your workplace of distractions
In keeping with the trend, then, is the fact that you need to keep your workplace clean and tidy. This means both your physical workplace (clear your table, empty any nearby bins in your office, etc) and your digital one.
This mainly benefits you by both eliminating another task that can play on your mind and distract you, and also by making sure that the most interesting thing you can focus on is your work.
Never underestimate the power of boredom – if the most interesting thing around is your work then you’re far more likely to stay on track.
Get plenty of sleep
Although not everyone agrees on the exact number, you should aim to get roughly 7-9 hours of sleep every night in order to make sure that you’re not building up a sleep debt. If you try to skimp you’ll only make yourself less effective when it comes to actually doing your work, and your motivation will quickly disappear in a haze of tiredness.
Don’t think that you can sleep for less during the week and then make up for it during the weekend either – sleep debts don’t work like that. If you try to wake up early without getting enough sleep you’ll not only have to sleep more the following weekend, but you’ll also have to go to bed earlier than usual during the following week to truly wipe the slate clean.
Take short, regular breaks
Finally, you need to take short breaks regularly in order to avoid burning yourself out by trying to tackle too much at once. While it might be tempting to follow a train of thought or to push on for “just five more minutes” to try and get as much done as possible, you’ll only start to wreck your productivity in the long run.
Without giving yourself short, regular breaks (think 5-10 minutes every hour) you aren’t giving your mind enough time to process the information you’re taking in. Not only that, but you’re potentially overloading yourself with things to think about, which itself will lead to burning out very quickly.
This also means that you should be doing something different during your break – if you’ve spent the last hour in front of a screen then take the time to look outside or go on a short walk. Do anything that doesn’t involve looking at a screen.