What does it mean to ‘be your own boss’? If you’re working from home you know exactly what it means. You probably have exterior deadlines to meet—but what if you don’t? What if your motivation has to come completely from within?

We grow up in a system that provides assignments, checkpoints, and deadlines. Independent thinking and self-motivation aren’t classes we take. There’s no room in high school or college where you sit down and use building blocks, of whatever form, to achieve a goal you set for yourself. That’s why it’s important to think of, and actualize, ways to self-motivate. It’s important to train yourself. As John Dewey put it, “Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” Here are some starting points to help you self-motivate while working from home.

Don’t create unrealistic expectations

It’s natural and healthy to be ambitious and to chase your dream. But goals are steps you take in a lifelong process. You can expect to achieve your ultimate dream of writing that great novel or starting a successful business if and only if your expectations are realistic on a day-to-day basis. Set simple daily goals, such as writing five-hundred to one-thousand words, and go from there. Is the writing terrible but you hit the goal? Good. Build up incrementally. Continue to hit the small goals and expect yourself to improve. A dream is not a goal. You live in the dream, never outside of it.

Organize a balanced day

Just like in any facet of life, establishing balance while working at home is essential. There’s something very Zen about this:

Balance communication – Make sure communication tech is up to date, make sure to build your network and talk to contacts daily; but make time for “water cooler” conversation unrelated to work

Simulate commute time – Before you sit down to work, set aside a time to clear your brain, a time away from the screen in which you’re mindful of everything around you

Compartmentalize – Make your workspace completely separate from the rest of your home-space, and don’t use your computer for tasks that aren’t work-related; set up Do Not Disturb times of no distraction and let your contacts know when you will and won’t be available

Create distractions – Designate times to purposefully distract yourself: every two hours get up for a breath of fresh air or a glass of water—these times are ripe for realizations

Create a system of healthy rewards

When you’re really wanting to ‘get it’ and succeed as your own boss, it can be easy to do nothing but work. Since when do productivity and creativity stem from a lack of diversity? Self-motivation while working from home is a lot like following through on New Year’s resolutions:

Exercise – Find a type of exercise you really enjoy and frame it as a reward for getting work done; you’re rewarding yourself when you exercise, because your body appreciates the increased blood-flow and oxygen distribution

Food – Incorporate a variety (variety is key) of healthy brain foods into your diet and set an eating schedule; just like with exercise, you’ll be rewarding yourself for working by helping your body feel better

Play – Schedule times for fun activities and once again, treat these times as a reward; don’t deviate from work and play schedule, so that you create a pathway in your brain, essentially tying in work with play


There’s a reason you’re seeing the word exercise for the second time here. Not only is exercise a reward for your body, it’s imperative for your creativity and health. Sitting too much puts you at risk of cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, emotional distress, and other issues. But how do you balance exercise with getting work done? Besides taking medical recommendations, try “deskercises”—exercises you can do at your desk to keep blood flowing and brain active.

Keep current and share ideas

Einstein said, “Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.” One way to do this is by paying a good deal of attention to what’s happening in your field. As you get ideas from others and begin to understand what’s valuable to them, you can in turn share your ideas. This will make you valuable to the community, you’ll make new contacts, and gain new insights to use.

Get to know yourself

Learn your peak productivity times. The great thing about working from home is you can adjust your sleep schedule based on when it’s easiest for you to get things done. Are you a procrastinator? Recognize it and be mindful of the moments when you are slipping into I’ll put it off ‘til later mode. Trying thinking the word ‘no’ when a procrastination or anxiety instinct comes up. What type of learner are you? Try the Multiple Intelligences Self-Assessment. Adjust the way you work with how you learn best. For example, if you’re musical, try listening to instrumental music or classical music while you work.

Take advantage of related technologies

There a ton of productivity apps, whether you have an iPhone, Android, or other device. These can help you get things done, but you have to be motivated to begin with—you are the one doing the work, not the app. The nice thing about productivity apps is they make it easier to focus on the big stuff.

Set aside lazy times

This is all part of balance. But take note: lazy time needs to happen away from the internet. Why? Because the internet splits your attention. Loll around, watch a movie, read an entertaining book, anything that doesn’t involve consuming tons of stimulus and information like the internet does. There’s such thing as productive laziness–it gives your brain the biggest break, an enjoyment of simple focus undivided. Once that focus melts away into reverie, the muse comes.

Pay attention to your body

You can’t motivate yourself without sleep. Be aware of what your body needs or what it has too much of. Being mindful of these things will help clear your brain. It’s like there’s a bump in the road and you’ll keep hitting it unless you recognize it’s there. Don’t try to ignore the bump. Attend to it, learn what it is, hack it, and move on.

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