Motivation is never enough

Motivation gives us the reasons to do things, but by itself, it’s not enough. The only way things happen is when we decide what needs to be done, then go and do them. Motivation, or non-motivation, doesn’t get a look in.

I learned this when I left full time employment two months ago. I had a metric tonne of ideas and things I wanted to achieve. Things that I had documented, journaled and kept in my mind for years. The free time, and a few dollars, would supposedly give me the resources I needed to sort through them all, find my priority, and get to it.

I should’ve woken up earlier

I learned fast that productive work, without the discipline of a formal work environment, is hard. Damn hard.

Let me explain. In work environments, most of the tasks we do daily are defined by the requirements of the job and supported by a history of successful completion. Together, these two things create the work processes we follow to knock them over.

When a task presents itself, the automaton in us all kicks in and we follow those work processes we’ve internalised over time, on the job. Whether it’s by the book or something we’ve put together ourselves, the task gets done and we move on to the next challenge.

I’m not knocking this, in case it reads like I am. Businesses generate value through the collective efforts, not individual efforts, of its people. And every business is a link in the value chain, so value flows outwards in inconceivable complexity. Those work processes, whether they’re formal or informal, are the source of pretty much every business’ value.

Preparing board papers, the daily grind of sales and followup, staff issues, problems with suppliers, customers, partners and stakeholders — the list is endless and we’ve all developed our processes to deal with them, hopefully effectively and efficiently.

And because they’re processes they don’t need much original thought.

For some of us, it’s different

Those processes aren’t there for soloists. Without an evolved structure, we have to evolve our own. That’s no easy feat. It’s brought many experienced and successful business people unstuck when they strike out on their own.

Here’s the secret. Motivation by itself doesn’t cut it. Motivation is important and necessary, but it doesn’t pay bills.

I may sound like a Nike advertisement or a James Altucher fanboy (which I am, BTW) but … just do it. Make that decision. It’s the only way things get done. Our current state of motivation, or demotivation, is irrelevant.

As a soloist you’re already intensely motivated to achieve your goals. You’re busting to get important stuff done. But if, in the moment, you’re tired/ anxious/ drunk/ confused/ hungry/ horny/ thirsty/ bored/ distracted/ happy/ sad/ sleepy … your motivation suffers. Alongside your productivity.

Motivation is a fickle master

Ignore your current state of motivation. If it’s so easily affected by these trivial externalities and feelings, then just put it to one side. You know what has to be done, so get to doing it.

If structure helps, create it

Some people I know who work from home get dressed like they’re off to the office. Others have routines, like set times to work — start times, stop times, break times. Some may play background music, and others need perfect quiet. These are all self-imposed and are examples of mind tricks that put order into a soloist’s day.

I keep a journal. I document what I do, how long it takes, and what could be done better. I note down what keeps me going and what spoils the flow. Over time, I recognise my patterns and discover natural and comfortable ways to deal with them.

Remember, there’s no-one to delegate to

Action is the core of a soloist’s existence. Just get to doing, regardless of how you feel.