Working for yourself is the dream; for many people. For people working in creative fields, such as writing, art and design, working on your own terms can be one of the most fulfilling career goals to reach. Yet, once that goal is realised, the reality of motivation sets in. For some people, can be difficult to stay focused, to complete tasks, to find inspiration.

An increasing number of people are predicted to become remote workers. The American Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2003 that only 19% of employees were doing any of their work from home. That number climbed to 23% by 2014. By 2020, this number is estimated to exceed 50% of workers.

However, with flexible and remote work condition comes much personal responsibility. Without the pressure of a manager standing over your desk or coworkers to bounce off on off days, how do you stay motivated, on task and productive?

1. Work with Your Strengths

Positive psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman have said that understanding and actively practicing your best character strengths improves your overall sense of well-being and happiness. Capitalising on your unique character strengths during work can be energising and lead to a more fulfilling career.

The Myers & Briggs personality inventory, based on the work of C.G. Jung, can help people to discover their strengths and weaknesses. Many people are unaware of their abilities, their natural tendencies and how they can best contribute to a team, even one they are not sharing space with.

According to the Myers & Briggs Foundation website:

The theory of psychological type says that people with different preferences naturally have different interests and views, behave differently, and are motivated by different things. Awareness of differences between types can help people understand and value other people who think and act quite differently.

If you know who you are, you are more able to understand your motivations. However, the test is only an indicator, it cannot make you sit at your computer and produce work, it can only help give you the tools to find the source of your motivation.

2. Seek Intrinsic Motivators

According to author Daniel H. Pink, external rewards and punishments, or “carrots and sticks,” are ineffective at motivating quality work and might actually be harmful.

“Science is revealing that carrots and sticks can promote bad behavior, create addiction, and encourage short-term thinking at the expense of the long-view,” Pink said.

Instead, we are encouraged to understand intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to behaviour that is driven by internal rewards. IThe motivation to engage in a behaviour arises from within because it is naturally satisfying to you. This contrasts with extrinsic motivation, which involves engaging in a behaviour to earn external rewards or avoid punishment.

There are ways that you can engage in intrinsic behaviour to motivate yourself:

  1. Infuse your creative work with more meaning. Understand how your work might have a greater purpose in your life, which can help you feel motivated during challenging times.
  2. Use your autonomy, in the sense of mean choice, not necessarily independence. Be selective about what you do, when you do it, how you do it, and who you do it with.
  3. Make mastery a primary focus. As creative workers, you are often a perfectionist in your craft, so take the opportunity to challenge yourself to become your best.

3. Set Audacious Goals

Setting short term, achievable goals is a practical way to stay motivated. Setting long term, dream-like goals that require years of commitment and almost impossible ambition are a driving force for people to achieve something they ‘only dreamed of.’

The term “BHAG” (pronounced BEE-hag, short for Big Hairy Audacious Goal) was first coined by business consultant and author Jim Collins twenty years ago, and the phenomenon has been a major part of business leadership ever since. A BHAG is intended to be a very difficult but not impossible to achieve goal that requires ten or more years of commitment. Your BHAG is meant to be so exciting that the vision of achieving it motivates you to work toward it. The achievement will inevitably transform you, even if you never reach the finish line.

4. Set the Mood

The best time to be creative could be the opposite to your actual routine. Morning people might find they can be sparked in the evening, while night owls might find that they get flowing in the morning. One of the benefits of remote working and freelance is setting your own schedule. As long as you are meeting deadlines and attending the meetings that you need to online, you have the flexibility to work at the times that suit you.

Your workspace is also completely your space. You don’t need to compromise or share, so make it yours. If you are inspired by bright colours, paint your walls. If you want a mood board behind your screen, place one there. If you want your office to look like Don Drapers, go ahead and make it happen. The money you are saving on commuting to work means you have extra to spend on gadgets, such as three monitors and a sound board.

5. Set Your Schedule

There is no one-size-fits-all schedule. If you’re starting a new creative venture or trying to reinvigorate your current artistic practice, try experimenting with different routines.

The first place to start is in bed. Make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep for your age, health, and lifestyle. The 8-hour recommendation might be more than you need, and for others, it’s not enough. There is no right or wrong, just right or wrong for you.

When beginning a creative task give yourself enough time to find your flow. That flow can be described as the mental state associated with being “fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process” of an activity that is perfectly suited to your current skill level (i.e. not too easy so as to be boring, not so hard so as to be frustrating).

Your focus has a natural rhythm. Many people use the Pomodoro technique to break up their day and stay on task. However, there are many ways that people can reset and refocus. Taking a walk, listening to music or playing an instrument, making a cup of tea; really anything that allows your brain to wander from its focus for a while and quietly mull over the work you’ve been doing.

6. Stay Creatively Fueled

The best fuel for creativity is discomfort. Conflict can be a hidden resource for inciting innovation. This means conflict within yourself. Challenging yourself by reading from sources that you won’t not normally resonate with, listening to opinions that are opposed to your own. Even learning a language can force you into a new space expands your worldview. Authentic multicultural experiences can enhance your creative thinking.

Exposure to ideas, cultures, practices and rituals that are different from your own can spark your imagination. Your creativity can stagnate when you don’t ask yourself to step out of your comfort zone. Finding ways to challenging your thinking is not difficult, but it is necessary for finding inspiration and motivation.

7. Stay Accountable

Commit to a group of similar creatives or identify someone in your field who might appreciate some reciprocal accountability. A close friend or relative who isn’t afraid to call you out for slacking can help you stay on task and producing your best work.

Create urgency by regularly setting hard deadlines and sticking to them. Research shows that imposing strict deadlines on yourself results in far better and more consistent performance. Try creating a simple accountability chart to maintain progress.

8. Refuse to procrastinate.

Understanding the science of procrastination may help you overcome it. Psychologists believe that procrastination has everything to do with mood—we delay starting a task to avoid the negative feelings of anxiety or worry associated with the challenge. The solution is to focus on changing your mood:

  • Easy Things First: Build momentum by starting with the steps you feel most like doing.
  • Just Get Started: Tell yourself you only have to do the first one or two steps.
  • Time Travel: Visualise how good you’ll feel when you complete your task.
  • Forgive Yourself: Stop feeling guilty about your procrastination. Everyone’s done it, at least once.

9. Persevere

Recognise that disappointments and frustration are inevitable. You’ll have good days and bad days, just like you would in an office.

The key to your success doesn’t actually depend on your skills, abilities, talents, or even your intelligence. It depends on your commitment. Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth said that the best predictor of a person’s success is grit, the tenacity to commit to long-term goals despite adversity.

The first step to developing your grit is to “understand that learning and ability isn’t fixed, and that there’s life after failure,” Duckworth said.

Tenacity is a skill that you can develop. Achieving your smaller goals will help you to develop resilience. So setting and achieving goals will help you to develop the thick skin you need to succeed as an artist, a creative or a freelance worker in the evolving remote working space.