Freelancers: Here’s How to Get Motivated

how to get motivated to work

One of the greatest things about being a freelancer is you make your own hours.

One of the worst things about being a freelancer is you make your own hours.

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the many years I’ve been working for myself, it’s that you need to find different ways to motivate yourself.

This actually applies to working in an office as well, but I find having meetings and coworkers who count on you tend to act as motivation most days.

It’s built in. It’s unsaid.

As a freelancer, you’re often on your own — in a coffee house or home office — and the people counting on you are far away. Maybe you’ve never even met them in person.

So how do you get motivated day after day? How do you get any work done when binging on Netflix is a viable alternative?

Rewards. The carrot has always worked much better than the stick, at least for me. So here are a few tips on using rewards I use to keep me going when I’ve got boring work, I’m tired or I just don’t feel like staring at a computer screen any more.

It’s the Little Things

Since I often find myself using the Pomodoro Technique, I’ll have windows of five or 10 minutes I need to fill with something other than work. This is the perfect time to reward myself and get away from the computer screen.

Of course, there’s not a lot you can do in five to 10 minutes, but that’s the beauty of it. Don’t try to get anything done in this time. In fact, do your best to ignore the time. Set a timer and don’t think about it again until you hear the ding.

Here are a few things I like to do during this time:

  • Sit outside in the sun
  • Brew a cup of coffee
  • Read a magazine article (paper version preferred)
  • Play with my dog
  • Lay on the couch and do a short guided meditation

You will be amazed how long these breaks last if you stop trying to be productive. That’s what a break is. It’s not time to plan the rest of your day. It’s not time to get chores done around the house. It’s time to mentally check out.

Bring in the Big Guns

There are definitely times where I’m not feeling the Pomodoro Technique. Generally these are the days when I need more motivation.

I’m feeling like maybe I should just take a day off, and putting the nose to the grindstone is not the answer. Breaking up my day into 25-minute windows of work sounds exhausting.

When this happens, I generally choose to work in bigger chunks and allow myself bigger rewards when I finish. I also set up my day based on tasks rather than time.

I will write first draft of an article. I will find four references for a new project. Then when I finish those tasks, the payoff will be longer stretches of time where I can rest, either mentally or physically.

Some of the bigger rewards I use:

  • Hike the 3-mile loop behind my house
  • Watch an episode of Misfits on Netflix
  • Read a few chapters of a book
  • Take a 45-minute nap

Now this is important: You’ve got to know what task you plan to do after your reward is finished, because it’s easy to get caught up in these longer moments. But if you have a set plan for after your episode of Lost finishes, then even if you’re tempted to watch another, you can simply say, “After I finish editing that chapter.”

Rewards on a Deadline

Of course, there are plenty of days where you can reward yourself, get some work done and feel good about it, but what about those days where you simply must push something through? What if you’ve got a client counting on you and you’re staring down a 12-hour work day?

It might be hard to believe, but rewards on days like that are the most important. They keep you fresh; they keep you going. And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you do this. Here’s how to prepare to keep motivated on days like this:

  • Create a list of 5-minute rewards.
  • Save it on the cloud so you can access it on your devices to add something new whenever inspiration strikes.
  • Don’t plan to do other chores around the house. Your breaks are for reward time only!
  • Enlist the help of a friend — offer to buy them lunch if they’ll bring it by. Then you’re forced to take a small break and have something look forward to.
  • Use the Pomodoro Technique to keep moving forward and increase productivity. Use your 5-minute rewards in between.
  • If you find yourself losing steam, get outside for a 15-minute walk. Exercise can increase your mental alertness.

Rewards can be one of the best ways freelancers can stay motivated. You catch more bees with honey than vinegar, the old adage goes, and it’s true. Too often we’re tempted to push ourselves without taking a minute to breathe. It’s unsustainable, unhealthy and often times, unproductive.

What about you? How do you motivate yourself?

(Photo by jill111 / CCO Public Domain )

Rebecca A. Watson is a freelance writer living in Freiburg, Germany. When she's not hiking in the Black Forest, she also writes articles on personal development, recipes and knitting for various blogs, including her own. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Heather on the 27th May

    Love these tips. I am definitely an advocate of getting out in the fresh air. If I’m really not feeling motivated, I’ll go for a run or take the dog out.

    If it’s really bad – I’ll take a morning off or an afternoon. It will mean that I need to catch up on work later but I find that I’m far more productive if I walk away for a while and come back to it if I’m stuck in a rut or bored.

    Sometimes, I just need a change of scene though so, if it’s practical, I’ll take my laptop and head down to the local library (if I need quiet) or a cafe (if I don’t).

    • Rebecca A. Watson on the 24th June

      I like the idea of a change of scene, although I rarely do it. There’s a library across the street. I should probably just stop in and try it out 🙂

  2. Jason Hamilton-Mascioli on the 22nd June

    A technique that works well is unplugging your laptop to work in battery mode……. it gets thrilling when it gets to 10% and I’m close to being done.

    • Rebecca A. Watson on the 24th June

      Jason, ha! That is a hilarious way to work. I can see it being stressful but like you said, exciting!

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