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Avoid the Freelance Stupor: 4 Tips for Motivation

It’s amazing how much you can get done in a 40-hour week. It’s also amazing how little you can get done. The difference between killing it during the workweek and letting the workweek kill you often comes down to not efficiency, but motivation. If you’ve found yourself slipping into that all-too-familiar freelance stupor, here are four things you might try to recover your tenacity.

Play to Your Strengths

There’s nothing worse for one’s motivation than doing work you’re bad at. Not only does this work naturally take you longer (because you’re so bad at it), but doing too much of it can affect your happiness, and thus your motivation.

In his book Flow, psychologist (and impressively surnamed) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (MEE-hy CHEEK-sent-mə-HY-ee) found that the happiest people in the world are those who are frequently challenged while doing tasks they are good at doing. Mihaly calls this flow, and the people who can get into a state of flow most often not only have more successful careers, but they also have the best lives.

So what gets you into flow? If you’re not sure, try a simple test: Pay attention to those activities that cause you to lose track of time when you’re doing them. If two hours of work fly by, you were most likely in a state of flow. Take note of that activity and try to incorporate more of it into your daily routine.

Stay Creatively Fueled

It can be hard to stay creatively fueled when you’re a freelancer. Mostly because you’re spending large parts of your day alone. On your couch. In your jammies. When you don’t have that Hey! Check this out! inspiration that happens naturally in an office setting, you can sometimes go days without seeing anything that’s even remotely inspiring. And as your inspiration tank gets low, so does your motivation.

Make a point to spend 15 minutes every day seeking out something that truly speaks to you — whether it’s the latest Vimeo Staff Pick or a decade-old David Foster Wallace essay. Fill your tank.

Stay Physically Fueled

Speaking of fuel, how’s your diet these days? What you’re eating could be affecting your motivation more than you think. An article in the Harvard Business Review notes:

Not all foods are processed by our bodies at the same rate. Some foods, like pasta, bread, cereal and soda, release their glucose quickly, leading to a burst of energy followed by a slump. Others, like high fat meals (think cheeseburgers and BLTs) provide more sustained energy, but require our digestive system to work harder, reducing oxygen levels in the brain and making us groggy.

They suggest keeping a few things in mind while choosing foods that will keep you motivated: (1) Choose your meals before you get hungry (you’ll make better decisions), (2) Eat small meals throughout the day (to keep your blood sugar stable), and (3) Keep healthy snacks within arm’s reach (suggestions: almonds and protein bars).

Put On Grown-Up Clothes

Oh, and as for sitting on your couch in your jammies: maybe don’t do that. Dr. Karen Pine, a professor of psychology, has this to say about jammies:

When we put on an item of clothing it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment. A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s “professional work attire” or “relaxing weekend wear,” so when we put it on we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning.

In other words, jammies = stupor.

Even if you don’t plan on leaving home, try putting on some honest-to-goodness work clothes tomorrow and see if they don’t make you want to sit up a little straighter, check your punctuation a little more often, and get things done.

If you’ve found yourself in a stupor lately, don’t worry. Stupors are common — especially amongst freelancers. Some might even say it’s a mark of the trade. And curing it could be as simple as a bowl of almonds and a button-up shirt. NOW BACK TO WORK!

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