We’ve all been there before. We want to put some productive time into our studies, hobbies or side hustles. We turn on our computer, get ready to work, but then lose motivation and fall into a YouTube black hole.
Unlike a job, your personal projects can often take a backseat because there’s no one looking over your shoulder and holding you accountable.
Here are the most important things I did to fire up my motivation, reduce my distractions and make serious progress on my important tasks, ranked in order of personal impact:
1. Get a glimpse of true success early on to get fired up
The single biggest impact on my motivation and focus was getting my first career job at a startup company.
It showed me what was possible using the internet and how a successful company set and achieved goals in a competitive market. It also showed me how successful professionals approached and solved problems.
Luckily today, authors, bloggers, businesses, YouTubers and podcasters regularly talk about their success stories, so you don’t need to get a job at a successful company to get the same effect. It’s never been easier to get a glimpse of true success for inspiration.
Here are some recommendations to get fired up:
- Scott Adams’ ‘How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life’
- Ashlee Vance’s ‘Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future’.
- The Smart Passive Income Podcast by Pat Flynn
- The Tim Ferriss Show
- The Joe Rogan Experience (depending on the guest)
2. Have a clear purpose
One of my idols in the business world is Mark Bouris. He came from a working class background in Sydney to launch one of Australia’s largest non-bank mortgage lending businesses. In doing so he helped shake up the Australian banking landscape for good.
One of the core ideas in his book “What It Takes: An Attitude of Hard Work, Commitment and Purpose” is that you must have a purpose, otherwise hard work will be difficult to do in the first place.
Here’s one of my favourite quotes from his book:
“Anything worth having is worth working for.
Anything worth achieving was never achieved by someone who gave up.
Without a sense of purpose, hard work and commitment is hard to sustain.”
Bouris, Mark. What It Takes: An Attitude of Hard Work, Commitment and Purpose (p. 2). Allen & Unwin.
3. Prepare for a marathon, not a sprint
It’s hard to stay focused when the potential payoff for our studies, side hustles and projects can be years away.
You need to make it clear to yourself from the beginning that most things take time. This will mentally prepare you to continue working hard over the long term. You also need to prepare for setbacks.
One of the reasons why I found Scott Adams’ book to be helpful, is that he advocates a ‘systems’ approach over a goal setting approach:
“Let’s say a goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future.
A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run.
If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.”
(Adams, Scott. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life (p. 33). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.)
The problem with goals according to Adams is that every moment we spend not achieving them we’re failing.
With a systems approach, rather than setting a goal to have 10,000 visits to your blog in a year, you could have a system where you simply aim to write 1000 words per day.
In this system, we succeed whenever we hit this daily target.
4. Start now – regardless of how ‘late’ you think you are
All the tips and articles in the world won’t help if you don’t actually work on your project or activity consistently. We’ve all seen the quote “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”.
When I started taking Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) classes at 25, I was frustrated that I hadn’t started when I was 15 – imagine how good I would’ve been by 25!
At the time of writing I’ve been training for two years. In that time I’ve seen many students of different ages start BJJ, and many of them have quit. I now see age as (mostly) irrelevant. What matters is that I took the plunge to start classes and have been consistent ever since. By the age of 30 I will have been training for almost five years.
Imagine how good you’ll be at your chosen skill in five years if you simply stick to it! Which leads me onto my next point…
5. Once you start, give it a good go!
According to Ryan Holiday in ‘The Obstacle is the Way’, perseverance is by far the most successful strategy to overcoming many of the problems we face.
“…across the board, one strategy has been more effective than all the others, and it is responsible for far more than anything else. It works in good situations and in bad situations, dangerous situations and seemingly hopeless situations.”
(Holiday, Ryan. The Obstacle is the Way (p. 158). Profile Books.)
When you start a project or hobby isn’t as important as starting in the first place and what you do after you start. We’ve all heard stories about entrepreneurs who had their biggest successes in their 40s, 50s and 60s. They include:
- Colonel Sanders, who started KFC and was successful at 62
- Ray Kroc, who franchised McDonald’s and saw success at 52
- Stan Lee, the creator of many famous Marvel Comics characters, who became successful at 39
- Henry Ford, the founder of Ford and one of the world’s first successful cars (the Model T), who saw success at 40
6. Inspire yourself as early as possible each day
Everyday I try to get into a positive and inspired mindset. This fires me up to get off my ass and start working as soon as possible.
A few of the different ways I do this include:
- Working out regularly. In Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit”, he talks about keystone habits. These are habits that can help kickstart other positive habits. One keystone habit for me is exercising regularly. When I workout, I’m more likely to eat healthier and work harder on my side projects as a way of attaining a ‘perfect’ week.
- Reading inspirational books and articles. I always have both a non-fiction book and a fiction book in my room or bag. Most of the non-fiction books I read are aimed at improving an aspect of my life e.g my diet or mindset. I find that reading these books for 15 – 30 minutes before I engage in a productive activity gets me inspired.
- Meditate. Meditation has had a huge impact on my life. Once I finish a 20 minute mindfulness meditation I feel ready to do something productive. For me it has the same effect as exercising.
7. Remove distractions
Imagine what you would accomplish if you worked non-stop with 100% focus for eight hours on an important task.
Unfortunately our minds have other plans about daily time allocation, ensuring part of the day goes down the distraction drain.
Our smartphones are one of the biggest culprits of this. Research by Deloitte suggests Americans on average look at their phones over 40 times per day, with 18 – 24 year olds looking at their phones 80 times per day!
I’ve found a lot of value in removing Facebook and other social media apps from my phone. If I desperately need a boredom fix I’ll check Quora instead. At least I’ll learn something.
Another distraction source for many are video games.
When I need to focus, I’ll put my PS4 away in a drawer. Having to set it up again takes time so for the most part I leave it there.
On my computer I delete games I’m addicted to. This is particularly useful when I don’t have a physical copy of the game to reinstall from. Downloading a large game on Steam with my crappy Australian internet takes time, removing the temptation to re-download it.
Two other quick tips which help minimise distractions:
- Make your phone totally silent and turn it face down/leave it in your pocket. I even have vibrations turned off when I’m working, and most times I’ll also turn my phone over so I don’t see the screen notifications.
- Use headphones and listen to your favourite music or Brain.fm. I personally find I can’t focus on my work and listen to podcasts at the same time, so I’ll repeat the same music track over and over or use the focus tracks on brain.fm to get me in the zone.
8. Keep it simple
I’ve used a range of tools to keep track of the tasks I need to do each day, but I still get the best results when I just fill in my paper pad with the 3 – 5 key tasks I need to do each day.
Once I finish a task, I cross it off. This simple act gets me even more focused on the other tasks I want to complete for the day.
I read this on Tim Ferriss’ blog. He advocates prioritising the one most important task of the day. He’s also a fan of making goals easy to achieve so that you are more likely to complete them in the first place.
It’s inevitable to get distracted. Sometimes you may not want to work on productive activities. That’s fine too. The key is to try to objectively recognise when you’re being too hard on yourself and to allow yourself to relax.
Do you have another tip or trick that you use to remove distractions or power through your work? Leave a comment below!