15 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Do Work

It’s not for everyone, but I love being self-employed. Not only can I make my own schedule and work from nearly anywhere in the world, I have total control over how my business is run. Sounds great—and it is—but a common problem that faces the self-employed has to do with motivation.

In order to be successful at work, school, or any other aspect of your life, you need to know the best ways to motivate yourself to do work.

When I Had a “Real Job”

Back when I still had a “real” job it was fairly easy to slack off a bit if I didn’t feel like doing much. I could walk down the hall to the break room and buy a snack, or stand at a co-worker’s desk and chit chat for a few minutes to get away from my computer and waste a little time.

Based on the number of Facebook status updates that people post when they’re supposedly at work, I’d have to guess that slacking off at work is a widespread phenomenon.

Now that I’m running the show myself, the bottom line is that I have to work in order to get things accomplished. This summer I have very limited time to work while I’m traveling, and sometimes I simply don’t want to even though I know I have to—especially if I’m near a cool place to visit or hike.

You’ve probably realized that it’s often difficult to get back into the swing of things after you’ve just returned from a vacation or you’ve been sick for a few days, and if you’re anything like me every now and then you just don’t feel like working.

So here’s a great solution if you’re having problems with motivation.  Specifically, the following are 15 of my favorite techniques for Here are a few suggestions to take into consideration if you’re feeling lazy and unmotivated.

15 Ways to Motivate Yourself and Do Work NOW

1. Start slow. The saying goes that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and it’s definitely the truth. You’ll never finish responding to fifty e-mails if you can’t bother to respond to the first one. Tell yourself that you’ll answer just one or two of them. Most likely you’ll realize that it’s not as bad as you thought it was, and you’ll keep trudging through your in-box.

2. Think of Pavlov. Pavlov is famous in the field of psychology for his ability to make dogs salivate at the sound of bell.  My advice is to set a specific time each day for certain projects or tasks.  That way you’ll automatically go into work mindset at this hour…even if you’re not feeling motivated.  So if you want to write an eBook, then make an appoint to work one hour as you start your day.  After awhile your mind (and body) will respond to this set time.

3. Start on the biggest challenge first. It’s hard to find motivation when you have a task (or project) that is a huge challenge.  That’s why I recommend you work your way from the hardest challenge all the way down to the easiest.  You’ll gain a lot of emotional energy with this technique.  Once the hard part is out of the way, it’s easier to be motivated on the easier tasks.

4. Set milestones that you know you can reach. Be realistic. If you have to tackle a huge project such as designing a new website, it’s going to take awhile. Create a chart or checklist that shows where you need to be each day until the project is complete, and cross though items as you finish them. Once you see that things are getting done, you’ll be motivated to keep going!

5. Create long-term goals that this project will help you accomplish. As you work on that new website, remind yourself that the updated design and fresh content will hopefully lead to more clients … meaning greater income for you! If you don’t work your way through the small milestones that you set, you won’t achieve your ultimate goal.

6. Pretend you actually want to do the task at hand, even though you don’t. People who work in retail are usually good at this. It’s doubtful that they really want to be stuck at work recommending products to customers all the time, but somehow they’re able to fake it and get through the day.

7. Remind yourself that you have to work in order to survive. Running your own business can be difficult at first because it means giving up a regular paycheck. Even though it’s easy to get lazy because you make your own schedule, if you don’t work you won’t receive any money. You have to work in order to pay your bills. It’s that simple.

8. Think about the people you’ll disappoint if you procrastinate. If you promise a client that something will be complete by a certain date, they’ll be expecting it. They won’t be happy if you aren’t able to live up to your end of the deal, and you won’t have a good excuse as to why you were running behind schedule.

9. Focus on the positive. It’s usually a lot easier to focus on the negative aspects of life than the positive, so mix it up a bit. You’re in control of your own income, and that’s awesome! Not everyone can say that they are. Remind yourself of all that’s good in your life, and get back to work. Things could be a lot worse.

10. Figure out shortcuts that will save time. If you can cut your work time in half by hiring someone to help you with it, why not? I’m a fan of outsourcing certain aspects of my business if it will save time and give me the opportunity to get other stuff done.

11. Look forward to being done. Most people can’t wait for Friday because it means the weekend has arrived, and that helps them get through the week.  There’s nothing wrong with looking forward to the end of a project if it helps you pull through. Look for the light at the end of the tunnel!

12. Reward yourself at the end. When you’re feeling lazy, tell yourself that you’ll go out to dinner (or finally buy those new shoes you’ve been wanting or anything else that sounds appealing) as soon as you meet a milestone or achieve a goal. There’s a reason that kids receive stickers at school when they do a good job—rewards are exciting!

13. Punish yourself if things don’t get done on time. Just as rewards are good ways to motivate yourself to do work when you don’t want to, punishments can work in a similar manner. Tell yourself that you’re not allowed to watch the movie you’ve been meaning to see or you can’t go to dinner with your friends unless you get through your to-do list. The hardest part is actually enforcing your own punishment, but I’ve found that this tactic really does help me out.

14. Embrace your mistakes. Don’t worry about mistakes… actually they can be a great thing.  You can always go back and revise things later. Don’t let the fear of “doing a bad job” keep you from starting the job. If your childhood dream was to be a writer but you’ve since lost that innocent confidence you once had, remind yourself that you’ll never get a novel published if you don’t start writing it.

15. Adjust your work schedule if necessary. Making your own schedule is one of the best parts about self-employment. If you find yourself feeling lazy every single afternoon, give yourself the afternoons off and work in the evening instead. In most cases, it doesn’t matter when you work as long as you actually do it.

Final Thoughts…

These suggestions are just that—suggestions—but I feel that they’re all good ways to motivate yourself to do work.  I’ve found that motivation is an offshoot of discipline.  If you implement the 15 “hacks” I just described, you’ll find your subconscious takes over whenever you need to do work.  So instead of trying to find a reason, you’ll simply get things done!

Now I know motivation is a passion (or obstacle) that many people share.  So I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.  Please comment below and let me know if you have any tricks you personally use to get the motivation to do work.

Take Action. Get Results.

17 thoughts on “15 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Do Work”

  1. Hey Steve,

    I like #4 set milestones that you know you can reach. I use that one all the time.

    Sometimes if I have already started a project, and figure out I might need a list, I put the things I’ve already accomplished on it, and cross them off. LOL

    It doesn’t look as daunting a task.

    Where did you dig up the picture of yourself, at “work” ?

    Talk soon,


  2. Hey Steve,

    I know it sounds kind of funny but in many ways you can even place a perceived idea that if you don’t finish it you disappointed someone. Not as if they are actually disappointed but just imagine them as if they were.

    I do this when I tell my projects to my GF; even though she won’t be disappointed, I’ve made it almost like it does. This has made me really get on track – I have to be better, not just for me, but for my GF!

    Yeah, it’s a little silly but it gets the job done 🙂

    • Murray,

      Actually it makes great sense. NO one wants to be seen to fail and letting other know means you have to “step up” and get it done. IT is a great way to add that little extra “push”

  3. I am definitely a big fan of some of your suggestions, Steve.

    I’ve never heard of Pavlov’s experiments; so thanks for educating me and giving me an idea of how I can use it for my business.

    I also loved the idea of getting the biggest things done in the morning. I try to stay away from things like email and Twitter when I first get to my computer in the am for that simple reason – you’ll get sucked up and lost for a couple of hours easily.

    Productivity, here I come!

    Ana Hoffman

    • Thanks Ana

      Yeah getting the biggest (and hardest things) done in the morning is great. Otherwise when you start losing focus it is easy to say, “screw it” and procrastinate. If all you have left is easy stuff at that point it is harder to convince yourself to put it off.

  4. Hi Steve,

    When I worked for someone – and I didn’t do it for very long — I actually felt that being captive from 9-5 entitled me to slacking off a little bit. Now, as a business owner (multiple actually) I don’t give myself permission to slack off at all. Hmmm… maybe permission to take a break is a good thing?

    I really like your tip to pretend you actually want to do the job at hand. That’s brilliant! Really brilliant. Think about it: the only way to do it is to find things you can pretend you like – and you might just realize there’s something fun in everything we do – or why do it?

    These are great motivators. Another good tip is to set yourself a deadline just as if you had a “real” job (don’t you love it when people say that? Real job, like when you’re self-employed you’re not really working!) Deadlines can be really motivating and inspiring.

    Thanks for some awesome ideas… loved your post!

    • Theresa

      Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

      You are right. The one nice thing about working for others is the ability to slack off sometimes. In a way you can still do that though. I always leave time for myself to go running in the middle of my work day. It gives me time to think through problems. And of course sometimes, just time to get away. Decompression is important too when you are self employed. I know I always used to push mysefl TOO HARD.

      Yeah, even is you have your own business there are always unpleasant things that need doing. Deadlines for yourself are great way about doing it. And the best part about it is you don’t need to spend hours in back and forth discussing the deadlines with your supervisor 🙂

  5. I’m a “Pavlov” (#2) person myself. I like keeping set schedules and such so when it’s a certain time of day, I’m usually raring to do a certain activity: exercise, write, read, prepare food, etc. I find it’s very efficient and keeps me constant.

    I never do #12, though. I find that I shouldn’t reward myself for something I should be doing anyway.

    Anyway, great article! Some of the ideas here are stuff that I’ve never thought of my self and are really fascinating.

    • Noel,

      Yeah routines are great. Making the thing you do automatic makes them pretty easy to do. The tough part for some people is getting the pain in the ass things to become automatic

  6. Hi Steve, these are really great suggestions! I love that you leave very little room for things to fall through the cracks.

    One of the absolute things that I have to do for myself is to set self-imposed deadlines. I definitely have a creative side that begs to be indulged but tweaking a brief (or some kind of written document) for the 10th time becomes futile when there are many more parts to a project.

    I’m intrigued by your #2 suggestion, however, my schedule is such that I attend functions at different times of the day so it would be a bit tricky for me.

    • Thanks Belinda

      Glad you liked it. There are definitely diminishing returns on any tweaking anything you write. At some point you just have to let it go. Schedule can certainly make hell with training yourself for #2. But you could try to train yourself for a different motivator. Maybe make yourself do one hour a day and have a specific place you go to where you always do your hour of work uninterrupted. Perhaps something like Starbucks where you can simultaneously reward yourself for doing a good job.


  7. Hi Steve
    As you reposted this on twitter I figure its still okay to comment. Love your style of writing. Easy to read and full of useful tips for this newbie to grasp hold of.
    Depending on your blog, the priorities will be different. I need to visit a lot of blogs both to learn from all you experienced and successful bloggers and also to keep my profile up there as my niche is so small and need to spread the word about the lovely lavender far and wide. So I am on twitter quite a lot. Also with the time differences have to check in morning noon and at night so I catch good posts and interact across the globe. Thanks for sharing. Once I am more established my priorities may change but for the moment it’s working for me.
    Patricia Perth Australia

    • Patricia,

      Feel free to comment on any posts you like. IF you find and like ones from the days when no when was reading this blog all the better! (of course that is why i periodically repost on Twitter too) It is good that you are so active on twitter, as long as you do not let it get you sidetracked. I would actually like to start doing more on there. For now most of my twitter time is in and out. Post a few old posts, maybe respond to a few @’s and get out. I do need to interact more myself, but it can be a dangerous time sink.

  8. I find in order to motivate myself, I often have to think about how my life would be like when/if I accomplished all my goals. NLP talks about this.. I envision my environment and setting, and make it as attractive as possible. That usually gets me rolling.

  9. It is a good thing to set hours you have to work, like if you have to go into a job for someone else. It is important that you can do other things if need be (one of high points of working for yourself) but you have to treat it like any other work time.

Comments are closed.