How I stay motivated as a solo-creator
Working solo has its difficulties. For one, my income is somewhat tied to my productivity, and my productivity highly correlates to my state of mind. This is combined with a lack of co-workers. Comrades in the trenches, if you will. And finally there's the ability to not do anything, which can be quite nebulous and dangerous if not managed.
One nice thing about being employed is when you wake up, you know what you're going to do. You're going to work. The choice has been made. The structure around that work, and the underlying purpose are set by others and you just need to make it happen. Yes, there is a big variety in occupations, but in general, an employee has to go to work, receive direction, and be productive.
When you're working solo, however, there isn't a specific thing you have to do. No pre-set route to take. If I decide to not do any work today, no-one will notice. But if I continue doing so for too many days things start falling apart. Slowly at first, then rapidly, until everything I've built comes toppling down around me.
Listed below are a few ways I try to stay motivated as a solo-creator:
I work on things that I find engaging
This is the most important point for me, and perhaps the hardest one to fulfil. When going down the early stages of product development the main question on my mind is "If this project works out, do I want to spend the next few years working on it?"
If the answer is yes, awesome. I keep at it. If no...well, it's probably not going to succeed anyway.
Smarter people than I have written at length about finding engaging work, so I won't delve into it too deeply. I can, however, recommend 80,000 Hours for those interested in the topic of finding meaningful and engaging work.
I build routine into my day
Since I don't have a boss to ensure I put in the hours, I have to choose to do the work. This is surprisingly difficult at times, especially when the less-interesting things need to be handled (tax returns/bug reports/refund requests).
And so my day has a fairly simple but dynamic structure:
- Coffee and a walk with my partner
- Gym for about an hour
- Journal and write
- Work block 1 (about 3 hours)
- Lunch and chill
- Work block 2 (also about 3 hours)
The exercise and writing sets me up for the day. It's my primer and gets me into the right frame of mind.
The first work block is where I try to tackle the most difficult problems or the tasks with the least inertia. I don't check my email until after lunch. This is important since I want to focus on the big tasks while I'm fresh, and email has a habit of stealing that freshness away.
After lunch, and if the momentum is good, I may continue working on my big tasks, but now I allow myself to check my email and open Slack to see if anything else needs my attention. This is my second work block, which handles the myriad of small tasks that come with running a company.
Do I manage to keep to this structure this every day? No. But I try and mostly succeed. It's a framework. Sometimes I'm just not feeling it and allow myself a day off to read or play Playstation. Without forcing myself to grind I never get too ground down.
I'm intentional with my down-time
I'm not on traditional social media so don't have that eating away at my attention, but Hacker News is pretty good at derailing my day. So is YouTube to a lesser extent. To preserve my focus I don't engage with any of these platforms until the end of the work day. It's way too easy to open Hacker News and then get nothing else done for the next few hours.
At around 4 my work day is generally complete and the rest of it is mine to enjoy. I try to not work past 5 since I want to spend time with people I love, get some fresh air, cook a good meal, and decompress so I have the energy and drive to jump in again tomorrow.
"You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again."
This leaves me with something to pick up in the morning, and makes getting into the zone slightly easier.
I hang out with people in my field
Since I don't have any coworkers, I don't get to hang out and talk shop during the work day. To address this I stay active on a Slack community of devs and creators in my country, as well as go to meet-ups and events in interesting communities. I have lunch dates with other creators and founders where we can shoot-the-shit and talk product.
This keeps me social and sane, provides a sounding board for ideas, and is a nice way to have low-touch, semi-professional relationships. I have my close friends who I enjoy spending time with, but they don't share my problems, and having the catharsis of being "in the trenches" with others is something I appreciate.
I write about it
And finally, I write about my thoughts and experiences. Things I've worked on and what I would like to work on next. This post is an example of exactly that.
Through writing I better understand what I'm doing and how I'm doing it. It's a public self-retrospective, in a way. I sometimes receive feedback, opinions, and advice from strangers and friends alike. And, most importantly, I enjoy sharing my journey with the world.