Since I left my corporate job in 2014, I have been working from home, coworking spaces and coffee places. I often get asked how I stay productive, what I do to motivate myself and how to have routines. I have a short week ahead – I am going back to Europe at the end of this week and will then be on the road for almost two weeks. Hence, this week, I will spend most of the time working from home to prepare all the content for the time I will be on the road.
I actually never really struggled with the fact that I do not have to go into an office. I think it was because between my first and my second job, I wrote my doctoral thesis and it was similar to working on a business project on your own – you have to motivate yourself, structure your days and plan ahead. Furthermore, because my mum always worked from home, I think I never thought that going to an office outside of your home is a must for a job.
When I left my corporate finance job, my mentor reminded me of the importance of rituals. I am still really grateful for this piece of advice. Even though every day is very different, I try to give my work days some kind of structure:
I wake up every morning at the same time, usually around 6 am. I even wake up early on weekends. (If I sleep in, it means 7.30 am 🙂 ). I shower and get ready and have breakfast at around 6.20-30. I try to start my day not by checking emails or social channels but by reading newspapers (a mix of Austrian and international news; I currently try to avoid everything related to Austrian domestic policies…).
I start to work between 7 and 7.15 am and usually work through until 10.30. I either have a quick coffee break or I exercise. If I do not exercise in the mornings, I do that at around 3 pm in the afternoon. I have lunch between 12 and 12.30. Two to three times a week, I spend afternoons at a nearby café and work from there to get a break from the house. In the evening, we have dinner together. I then structure the work around those cornerstones depending on how many things I have to do. And of course, I have to adjust if I have meetings.
Having such a structured day is very similar to going to an office and I think it is key to staying productive.
No PJ Rule
The most important thing for me is that even if I work from home, I dress myself and apply makeup as if I was going to the office. I never stay at home in my PJs without showering the whole day. (I think it happened once before the launch of my app that I was so stressed out that I forgot to change.) I also try to set up lunch dates as if I was in an office to be reminded of taking a break.
Regarding the question “How do you motivate yourself?”, I have to admit that, of course, there are days where I am not on full speed. But I think if you have trouble motivating and disciplining yourself every day, you should think if starting your own business is really the thing for you. You will not be able to afford not being motivated, because every day on which you procrastinate, your business will not move.
The Hours Do not Matter
I had to learn that running your business does not mean you have to spend a certain amount of hours in front of your laptop. It is about the results – sometimes I manage to finish something much faster and take the rest of the day off, sometimes I have to work until late at night.
Because of my previous experience as an employee, I was used to counting hours. The thing I struggled most with was the amount of face time which was required in one of my last roles. Even when I finished up everything earlier, I was required to sit at my desk and not leave before everyone else. Leaving early would make me seem lazy. Even though I spent a lot of weekends and evenings working from home, if I did not spend the face time at the office, some colleagues would complain about me leaving an hour early (yep, no joke…). I remember hearing my colleagues say “Yesterday we stayed until 2 am.”, feeling great about it because staying long equaled being productive. I am not saying this means they did not work hard. But when I took my laptop home and worked there until late at night, nobody cared because it was not face time.
If you run your business, nobody cares how many hours you put in. You work all the time anyways. And as Andrea Strohmayer said in our interview, “If you start counting the hours, you will get crazy.” But it is important to know when you need to stop and take a break, which brings me to the next point:
If I have a bad day where I realize that nothing is moving, I have to admit it and either work on something easy (organising files, planning social media posts, etc.) or I take a break. I also try to have one half day or one day per week where I am not thinking about work. I know it sounds crazy, only half a day. But actually it often does not even feel like work when I am really passionate about thing I am working on.
I think it is probably a mindset you apply to your life: if you want strict separation from your job and your leisure time, it is probably better to be employed. I actually do not mind if the two blur into each other – of course, there are advantages and disadvantages. But already when I was at university, I made the following quote my aim: Turn your hobby into your job, then you never have to go to work again. Granted, not everybody can do that and probably this is a very extreme point of view as well. But if you find something you really enjoy doing, you will often forget about the hard effort it takes to achieve results.
Have a productive short week ahead!