8 Ways I Keep Myself Motivated at Work

The most productive people still have to motivate themselves every day. They spend a lot of time working out what motivates them to keep going and that's how they achieve many of the amazing things they achieve. It's been that way for hundreds of years and will be that way for hundreds more. It's human nature.
"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race" -Calvin Coolidge
Persistence is linked to motivation. If you're persistent, you'll find ways to keep yourself motivated even if you're not completely enchanted by your current work. You'll push through and find ways to keep at it at least, that is, until it guides you to something you are enchanted by - at which point motivation will come more naturally.

My point? The same as Zig Ziglar's:
"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily." -Zig Ziglar
Here are some things I do that help keep me motivated, even when I'm bored with my work or feeling sickly and would much rather stay in bed.

Light Therapy
One of the more recent additions to my daily motivation routine is to use a tiny 11W energy saver light bulb as a desk lamp during the day. I also use it at night but using it during the day, I find, helps keep my spirits up and my brain awake. I discovered this little gem after reading "6 Surprisingly Effective Treatments for Depression." I wasn't depressed at the time but I was looking for some form of motivation and this did the trick. Total cost? Probably around R10 as I borrowed the desk lamp from my brother-in-law and just stuck in my own light bulb. What's important to note here is that the lamp is about half a meter away from me and to my side, not in front of or behind me. Having this light source in your peripheral vision is the key. Read that article or Google "light therapy" for more info.

From heavy metal to Enya, I make sure I always have music playing while I work. If I don't, I get caught up in the feelings that what I'm doing is "too hard" or "too much" or "I don't like doing this" and so on. It can get so bad that I can get lost in thought for two hours or more, just thinking about how much I don't want to do this work. That doesn't help me get bills paid and it doesn't help me find an alternative work to do - it just keeps me paralysed, which is never good.

With some music going on, I tend to focus my emotions more on the music and less on what I'm doing. This helps me get through my work without attaching any unnecessary emotions to it. Most of us do work out of necessity, not passion, so if that's the case, I highly recommend some music to keep you going. Just be careful what you play. Sometimes Enya is great for coming up with ideas and calming down from a bad mood but sometimes you need some heavy metal to code at the speed of light. Figure out your own mojo and then adjust your listening habits accordingly.

A balanced diet, some exercise and sleep
You can try and avoid this one all you like but the truth is that a balanced diet, some exercise and enough sleep will keep you motivated, happy, energetic and sexy ;)

Food, I find, helps me stay positive but I have to be careful what I'm eating. When I stick with a balanced eating plan (note: I didn't say diet!), then I feel balanced, positive & energetic. If I eat junk food or skip my veggies, after a couple of meals I'm downright horrible to be around and my work suffers as well. This is what has worked for me lately:

Breakfast: Cooked oats plus a scoop of USN diet fuel.
A bit later: Meal replacement shake: 2 scoops of USN diet fuel + 300ml of water
Lunch: 2 chicken breasts or portions of fish, or chicken pieces, a cup of veggies or an apple and a small microwaved potato or half a cup of rice or half a cup of pasta. (Or similar)
A bit later: Another shake.
Supper: Similar to lunch.

I'm not saying you should do the same. Maybe you hate the idea of having a meal replacement shake - that's fine but find something that works for you and make sure it's balanced.

As for exercise - that's also a tricky one. Find something you'll enjoy doing. A daily walk around the block will do you more good than you think. Try A swim, a game of soccer, shooting hoops, martial arts or even de-weeding your garden. As long as you enjoy it enough to do it frequently, you'll find that your energy levels will rocket, you'll have great ideas during the exercise and you'll also find it easier to go to sleep at night and easier to wake up in the mornings. It's definitely worth it!

Try sleeping between 7-9 hours a day. Some people need a bit less while others need a bit more. You'll find that if you oversleep or undersleep by 2 hours or more, you'll be miserable the next day - so be careful of that. Even on weekends, I stick to about 8-9 hours of sleep.

I used to go to bed at about 10PM each night but found that I would only wake up at around 8 or 9 so, instead of trying to wake up earlier (which is nearly impossible in winter), I started going to bed at midnight or 1AM. Now I feel much better.

The key to food, exercise and sleep (and everything else, really) is to find the balance that works for you. It's not likely to be the same for everyone but you can start with something that works for someone else and then tailor it to suit your own needs.

Look at the cash figures
For work-related motivation, I find that this one helps a lot. It might not help people in jobs but, for us self-employed folk, it's a very helpful motivator.

I look at both the figures going out and the figures coming in.

My income motivates me to work harder and faster so that I can get paid and spend that money on something fun.

The expenses motivate me to work "or else". If I know I have to pay my medical aid and I'm short some cash this month, a quick reminder of that fact will often help kick my butt into gear and get some work done.

If you're not keeping track of your income and expenses, start now. It will make a difference to your motivation levels AND to your eventual financial independence because you'll be able to see what you're overspending on, what to do more of to make more money and so on.

Know what you're going to do before you begin
Having a list of what needs to get done for the day helps you prevent distractions from getting in the way of the important stuff. I find that, on the days that I work from such a list, I get LOADS of work done while, on the days that I don't, I sit wondering where the day went to.

It's important to have a list that you made and don't let others influence that list. It's often easier said than done and you won't always get it right, especially not in the beginning, but you'll find that you achieve amazing things when you do.

Ignore email, Facebook, Skype, your cellphone, Google Talk and all the rest of them
It's fine to check these things once or twice a day but if you spend your whole day chatting and checking email and reading statuses, you'll never get anything done and you'll never improve your life. What I do is I only check on these after I've achieved something significant and, even then, only briefly. You need to be aware that these distractions will rob you of really important experiences and achievements if you allow them to.

By all means, socialise, have fun, chat to friends, share funny emails but don't let them rule your life. When it's time to work, work. Don't work and chat or work and check emails and... and... and... I'm sure you get my drift :)

Find ways to make your work go faster
This may sound simple but if you find real, predictable ways of making your work go faster, you'll get more done in less time and have more time left to yourself. Again, this is a bit trickier for people in jobs as working faster could mean just getting more work to do. It's different from company to company.

What works for me is to copy my work down to my local computer and work from there. I find that I code faster and, because of that, I actually enjoy my work instead of dreading it. It allows me to do my best and I believe it's human nature to want to do your best. So, take control over what you can to ensure you can do your best work as quickly and efficiently as you can.

Another way I make my work go faster is by swallowing my pride and NOT re-inventing the wheel. As a programmer, I'm often tempted to rewrite code in order to make it "better". The trouble with that is that I end up working slower and taking longer to solve a problem that's been solved before. And I don't get paid extra for that time, either. So I've stopped doing that. I now copy code I've got working elsewhere and I get on with solving problems instead of trying to make everything "perfect".

Of course, I'm still a programmer so, while I'm working, a throw in a dash of genius in now and then, for my own satisfaction and without allowing it to negatively affect my deadlines.

Brain Boosters
When you're really struggling to keep focused, you can use brain boosters. One brain booster I use is an MP3 I bought here that helps me focus creatively. I got a whole bunch of other boosters with the pack but the "creative focus" MP3 is the one I find myself coming back to time and again. It's just a 20-minute sound clip that you can listen to while you work. I play music at the same time and it still works incredibly well.

It works so well that I forgot what it feels like to hit a brain-block while coding. I'm serious! One day I forgot to put the booster on and I hit a brick wall and I couldn't figure out why I couldn't solve what should have been a simple problem. Then it dawned on me and I put on my brain booster track. 5 minutes later, I solved the problem and carried on working on other things. Magic!

You see, the trouble is that we surround ourselves with so much stress and so many inputs from the world around us that we struggle, these days, to focus. So while you might feel that a "brain booster" sounds weird and unnatural, I think it's the most natural thing. If it wasn't for all the other noise in our lives, we'd be able to focus any time we wanted. That's my story and I'm sticking to it ;)

I also find that the relaxation and deep-relaxation MP3s, available in the same pack of boosters, help a lot. I doze off and wake up, 20 minutes later, ready to take on the world. I would suggest these to anyone - they really work.

Keep a list
I have a list of "Things that Work for Me". Yes, that's what it's called :)

All it is, is a list of basic ideas that help me work when I'm not really feeling up to it. I go over the list and put some of the suggestions into action and, eventually, I start working. Here's the exact list I use, every day:
- Sleep properly (8 hours, even if I go to bed late).
- Look at the cash figures - both due out and due in. They can be inspiring.
- Write down what needs to get done before switching PC on.
- Ignore email/facebook/skype/phone/gtalk.
- Copy site down to local PC. (Or a ZA host)
- MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC. Boring music is better than no music!
- Creative focus brain booster (better than constant concentration one)
- Copy code that's working elsewhere.
So that's it. Take what works for you, drop what doesn't and come up with your own list and you'll find that, even on the worst days, you'll be able to get something done and maintain momentum which, I believe, is incredibly important. A little bit done every day makes a big difference.
"Make measurable progress in reasonable time." -Jim Rohn