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How to be Productive Without Motivation

Unmotivated authors often act like drive is a limited resource that some people are gifted with while others lack. They say things like:

“She’s so driven. I’d love to be like that.”

Or:

“I’m smart. It’s just a shame I’m naturally lazy.”

They understand the link between motivation and success but believe that motivation generates action. In reality, however, it’s the other way around; action fuels motivation. Just look at the average creator for proof. Many state that creativity can’t be forced yet manage to produce high-quality creations when up against a deadline. Likewise, if you write through a slump, you will often look back over the words you struggled to write while uninspired and see no difference in quality to those you wrote in a fit of inspiration.

Prolific writers don’t wait for motivation. Instead, they work even when they don’t feel like it, knowing that the act of starting will create momentum. W. Somerset Maugham, for example, was the highest earning writer of the 1930s. He once said, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” His modern equivalent, James Patterson, who has released around 300 books, mirrors his sentiment, stating, “Do not sit there like, ‘Oh, I don’t feel like it today. I don’t feel like it tomorrow.’ Feel like it! Do it! Force yourself.”

You might not share their ambition, but you can certainly learn from their mentality. Indeed, model it well and you can enhance your own discipline enough to ensure relentless productivity, no matter your mood.

Automate What You Can

Automation is a good place to start. In essence, it means putting systems in place to complete tasks without you being involved. Implementing it can benefit you as an author twofold. Firstly, it will improve your mentality. With wordcount targets, a newsletter, social media and a host of other tasks to manage, many writers get overwhelmed. If some of your tasks are completed automatically, however, you don’t have to think about them. You can therefore focus your attention on a smaller, less daunting to-do list and keep making progress.

Secondly, seeing results without expending any effort can be an extreme motivator. Say your mailing list has a killer onboarding sequence that reliably converts subscribers into book buyers. That knowledge can send your mind into overdrive, wondering, How can I send it more traffic? Similarly, a profitable evergreen ad can inspire you to double your profits by writing more books, knowing you’ve cracked the advertising formula. Whether you decide to automate your work with digital systems or by outsourcing to an assistant, you might find that motivation isn’t really a problem for you. Perhaps it was overwhelm all along, and automation can help.

Get Support

We humans are social creatures, so other people can deeply impact our thoughts and actions. As a result, a good support network can help you to manage anything from financial strain to the loss of a loved one. Unhealthy networks, on the other hand, can add to the stress and make challenges harder. It’s the same with work, even as an author. Writing full time, you might not have an office of associates to share your problems or lift your mood when you’re feeling frustrated, but that doesn’t mean you can’t manufacture a similar camaraderie.

Talk about your ambitions to other writers and you will gain the support of people who understand your lifestyle and know, though experience, how to keep you motivated. The external accountability of a writer-friend can help to boost your drive while you offer a similar push in return. What you’ll find is that purposeful people reciprocate motivation. They also influence each other, spreading the uptake of positive habits. Spend a lot of time around negative people who only watch TV and you become just like them, making excuses and wasting time. Swap those friends for positive ones who meet to improve their lives and you will start to adopt the same healthy habits and mindset.

Optimise Your Environment

Starting a task is often harder than continuing with one you have already started. Just look at writers who spend months “getting around” to jobs that could be completed in a few hours. Instead of completing them immediately, they drag out the process, expending more energy thinking about them over the long term than it would take to do them. They live messy lives, with unruly to-do lists and a lack of organisation, all of which stall their progress. Thankfully, you can avoid getting bogged down like this by optimising your environment.

Not everyone is more productive in the morning, but many are, before the day has eaten away their willpower. If this sounds like you, to make the best of your most productive hours, tidy your workspace before you go to bed. That way, it will be distraction-free for the morning, making you less likely to procrastinate when you start writing. At the same time, you should also set out whatever notes you need in advance to remove any mental barriers that could trip you. If you are certain you work better at night, you can always prepare your environment in the morning to work distraction-free after you’ve finished with the day or put the kids to bed. Optimising your environment in advance will enable you to get working and enter the flow state as soon as possible.

Have Office Hours

Speak to the champions of any industry and you will see that their output relies heavily on routines, which they prioritise over most other aspects of their lives. Just a small change to your lifestyle can set you on a similar path. That’s because habits work like a muscle; the more you enact them, the stronger they become. You can start building one by blocking out “office hours” to work. They don’t have to span literal hours at first – just an arbitrary daily period in which you must work solely on your priority project. 100 words or 10 minutes; the scale doesn’t matter. It just needs to be so achievable that you can’t justify skipping a day. By setting this rule, you make yourself more likely to hit your target every day and build a good foundational habit.

Many writers choose to fill their office hours with “writing sprints”, an exercise in which they write as fast as possible. Quality doesn’t matter because the words can be edited later. All that’s important is that you get work done, which is better than procrastinating. To add a sense of peril to the situation, you could even meet with other authors or set up a live stream on Facebook so that your friends can watch you work in real-time to keep you accountable. Hardcore writers sometimes even live-stream their screen so that their accountability buddies can read their work as it’s being typed.

The magic of office hours rests in their achievability. When you know you only have to work for 10 minutes, you can talk yourself into getting it done, and often will continue working for longer than you planned. Therefore, as you strengthen your habit, you can add more hours with different agendas, stacking habits until you’re able to write thousands of words a day and obliterate your author business goals.

Reward Yourself

Motivating yourself is difficult if you’re not a naturally driven person. The situation can get harder, though, when you only ever condition your work ethic with punishments. Hit 2,000 words by midday or donate money to an organisation you hate. Create 10 Amazon ads by six o’clock or face double tomorrow. Launch two books this year or force yourself to bail on that luxury retreat with your friends. Negative penalties light a fire under some people but they don’t supercharge everyone. Some creatives need positive incentives to ignite their passion and keep them working. A mixture is usually the best course of action.

Yes, you can use accountability and penalties to troubleshoot, but do you really need to push yourself to cram in more work when you’ve already hit a pre-organised target? How about arranging a celebratory meal for reaching your monthly wordcount goal? Or simply clocking off early because you completed the day’s to-do list? Celebrate the little victories. After all, a prize can draw you towards a win just as effectively as a consequence can push you away from failure. By incorporating rewards, you promote a healthy work-life balance that stops you losing track of your author dream and turning it into a nightmare.

Being productive during a slump is a challenge we all face. However, a lack of motivation doesn’t have to hold you back forever. You can kickstart your drive and build real willpower over the long term. All you need to do is set yourself up for success and take action. Alter your systems, habits and environment and your mind will follow.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.