Tonight a colleague asked, "How often do you find yourself feeling great about the work you did that day? When you don't feel great about it, what motivates you to try again the next day?"
I think most of the time I don't feel great about what I did that day. There's always more to do outside of that days work, and I don't always accomplish what I planned to. When I do, often times it's not work that feels like a major accomplishment because there's always way more minor accomplishments than major ones. This is just how things are and there's a certain amount of acceptance of this that's necessary.
That said, these days I do usually at least feel good with my day. I've spent a lot of time getting to a system and routine that simply allows this to happen. This system then also acts as insurance for days I don't feel as motivated.
First, the structure of a time to start working and a time to stop working held consistently is extremely important. Jason Rohrer gave a great talk about this recently. He gives the example of prolific writer Roald Dahl, who only worked two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, but consistently every day. Jason suggests the way to finish anything is you just put in the time and repeat.
People that go to work every day might think they do this, but hopefully we all know by now that "going to work" is not the same as "getting work done." Jason Fried of 37signals has written several books about this. Even though people that go to work have a structure to keep them consistently "working" that doesn't mean they're Working. So this idea of consistent, focused work time is important for everybody.
Setting your life up for this is Hard. Especially if you don't go to a job every day. It's taken me years. My recent trick is streaming my work on Twitch. I keep regular streaming hours and I'm only working during this time. I've been doing this for about a year now.
Once you have regular focused hours, and you've done enough planning that you're roughly doing the most important thing you can be doing in that time, something magical happens. For me, at least. A calm feeling takes over. It's sort of like the idea of flow but at a larger timescale. I get the sense that all I need to do to accomplish my goals is to let time pass. Time passes, work gets done, progress is always made.
With this, I don't really need motivation to try again the next day. It's part of my habit or routine. With this time in place, I make estimates about what I can accomplish in that time and make them a daily goal. You get better at this with practice, but even if you didn't make a major breakthrough, at least you probably accomplished your daily goal. This helps make the day feel good.
There's other tricks to help make the day feel good. At the end of the day, stop and write a list of everything you did. It can be a short list, but it helps you see that you did do something today. It feels good. While you're at it, make a list of things you're grateful for. It's a good habit and helps you feel good.
A variation of this is journaling. I used to keep a private work journal of what I did every day. Now I make these devlog posts and videos. I've turned my working into content itself! Content can be turned into something that ... feels good.
This brings me to a more recent discovery. I post videos to YouTube and get some occasional likes and a slow but steady stream of new subscribers. This is nice. When I started posting to Dev, though, followers started falling from the sky. Every post had some kind of feedback with hearts and unicorns. It's stupid, but this becomes motivating. It feels good. When I told my colleague that I was going to post my answer to Dev I said, "gotta feed the beast that feeds my motivation".
In reality, it's not the main source of motivation, but it helps. That's the trick: lots of tricks. Anything you can do to fortify a system of a regular, consistent work habit is going to make sure you keep moving forward even when you aren't so motivated.
There are lots of tricks to discover and try, but they should all be in service of that steady work habit. Do you have tricks to maintain your work habit and feel good about your day? Share them in the comments!
Top comments (4)
That's a really good way of putting it. I've never gained anything lasting from these articles that present "one amazing hack to be productive and healthy and funny and sexy forever and ever."
In the times where I'm doing well, my productivity is held together with a dozen confusing buttresses and duct tape.
A lot of my tricks come down to making things easy for future me. If you know it takes you too long to pick clothes, and it's not something you enjoy, consider something like a capsule wardrobe or a personal uniform.
If you always drink three cups of coffee per day, make a thermos in the morning.
In short, figure out what's getting in the way of the stuff you actually want to get done, and find a way to streamline those processes.
Most of the things I've thought deeply about so far focus on arranging the rest of my life around work & activities, so I'm really interested to hear what helps people during work hours.
Well it's worth pointing out how important getting the rest of your life/day/routine in order is to support your working hours. You don't get as much out of work hours if you aren't sleeping and eating well, for example.
During work hours, I've used pomodoro to great effect. I don't need it with streaming now. Setting a goal and regularly checking that you're not yak shaving is helpful. Proper ergonomics is a big deal. Creating an enjoyable space to work in helps me a lot.
I feel good about my day if I know what I need to do that day. That's why I like to plan my day ahead. I write down my to-do list by using task management software (I like Tick Tick and Quire). This tool helps planning and organizing less hassle, and I can later track my progress. After reading your post, I'm thinking of starting journaling. I realized sometimes I was not satisfied with my day, but I accomplished a lot. Thank you for the inspiration!
"At the end of the day, stop and write a list of everything you did."
Hi Jeff, I was wondering whether you wrote these journals on paper or used an app? What was one thing that kept you motivated to keep writing? One challenge I face is trying to be consistent with my journals