How to Stay Motivated for a Long-Term Project
written by Yana Vlatchkova
When you first start a project, it always seems fresh and exciting, maybe even full of promise, and so you dive in and bang out quite a few hours.
Over time, however, your motivation may change. You may become frustrated with how slow things are going or you may run into multiple complications. Even real life may get in the way, with things going on at home or with your family.
Whatever the reason, it can be tough staying motivated throughout the course of a long-term project. Finding motivation can be even harder when you don't have a strict deadline or supervisor looming over you to make sure you're on task.
How can you ensure you don’t lose motivation? Or, if you’ve already lost your motivation, how can you increase your productivity once again?
Establish a Schedule
No matter what you are doing, whether it's writing a book or creating a mobile app, set a daily schedule for yourself and make it a point to follow it. If you stick to your schedule, staying productive becomes more natural over time.
For instance, if you're working on a book, you should set a goal to write 1,000 words every day — no matter what. Each day when you sit down to write, you don't stop until you've surpassed that goal. Keep in mind, not stopping is not the same as taking a break — it's okay to take quick breaks, which we'll get to in a bit.
The idea is to come up with a default plan you never waver from. You'll want to set a realistic yet achievable goal, like 1,000 words, 500 lines of code or whatever you deem plausible for your particular project.
Use a Pomodoro Timer
The Pomodoro Technique is a useful time management strategy that breaks down long work sessions into intervals of 25 minutes or less with short breaks in between. You can keep track of these intervals with a Pomodoro timer or tomato timer — they're all over the internet.
Believe it or not, it works because taking frequent breaks can improve mental agility, especially if you're sitting in front of a computer. By taking short breaks in between, it often allows you to remain even more productive and focused during your work sessions. This is a great strategy to use for long-term projects.
Come Up with an Outline
When you're writing an ebook or a long report, it's best to come up with an outline for the basis of the project. This same strategy should be applied to any long-term project.
For instance, when creating software or a mobile app, you can focus on the mechanics and structure first and then move to the user interface. That's just one example, but the plan should fit your goals and project and be tailored to your strengths.
You don't necessarily have to be firm when following your outline, and it's okay for things to change, but you'll want to know beforehand which direction you're going. In other words, don't dive into the deep end without taking a moment to catch your breath and plan your strategy.
Once you have your outline planned, choose personal milestones or targets you can achieve along the way. If you're feeling proud of yourself, you can even designate treats or rewards for reaching those milestones.
Upfront, this may seem a bit ridiculous, even juvenile, but once you're in the thick of the project, you'll realize how truly beneficial positive reinforcement can be. When faced with a long-term project, it's much easier to look at all the work that's left to complete and ignore the hard work you've already invested. At the least, this can be discouraging and at its worst - it can be crippling for your productivity.
Set your milestones beforehand, and even if you don't reward yourself for achieving them, ensure you take a moment to appreciate your hard work up until that point.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
It's human nature to overestimate your strengths, abilities and work ethic.
That's not to say you are unable to achieve your goals, but we all have those moments where we think we can handle a big project and then it turns out to be much too taxing.
If you get to a point in a project — such as while you're in the middle of developing an app, writing a book or even preparing a business proposal of some kind — don't write off the importance of getting help.
Learn to identify when you're backed into a corner and you need assistance to get out. If you power on by yourself, chances are your productivity is going to suffer, because you're going to burn yourself out.
If help is available — and it usually is — then ask for some. It won't hurt you, we promise.
Address Motivation Issues Early On
If you have a long-term project ahead of you, just accept the fact that you're going to become unmotivated at some point and your productivity is going to suffer. It's not defeatist thinking and it doesn't make you a pessimist, it happens to the best of us. In fact, preparing for it before you even begin a project will help later on.
Brainstorm some strategies or methods that you can use to shirk that unproductive chip on your shoulder before it even happens. By the time you reach that point, you may be too tired, burnt out or unmotivated to dig yourself out of the hole. If you already have a plan in place, you can get out much faster.
Will you remind yourself of others that have endured serious hardships throughout their life? Will you look at existing projects to find your motivation? Will you take a short break to play some brain games or watch a bit of TV?
The important thing is to choose an escape that will work for you. Everyone is different, and no one knows your mind and body like you do. So, choose some strategies that you know will work for you and have them handy when you get stuck in a rut.
In what other ways do you keep yourself motivated during long projects? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section below!