By: Sarah Stone
Being able to travel and work remotely is a dream. You can explore destinations you’ve always wanted to see, meet amazing people, and even save money depending on where you go.
It’s a type of freedom that’s become much easier to attain over the past few years.
Even with all of the upsides, some potholes come with this lifestyle—like combating loneliness on the road, or staying motivated when you’re largely self-directed.
Let’s focus on the motivation side of things for this article.
I’ve been working remotely since 2015, with varying degrees of craziness in my schedule. Sometimes I’d go months working 12- to 15-hour days, while other times I’ve struggled to fill my time with anything productive. And then there are times when I’ve had plenty to do, but was burnt out.
A lack of motivation while working remotely—especially if your days aren’t structured—can snowball much faster than you think. Here are a few tactics you can try when you feel like you’re losing steam…or about to run headlong into a brick wall.
1: Set Clear Goals and Objectives
It’s the most obvious advice, but it works!
You may feel like time has gotten away from you, or you’re not where you should be on a particular project—particularly if you’re country-hopping regularly or on the road often. It’s easy to fall into a habit of completing only day-to-day tasks while losing sight of larger projects and goals.
In an ideal world, you’d know everything you need to be working on at all times, and always be moving forward. But if you find yourself in a bit of a rut, then stepping back and outlining everything you need and want to do—daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly—can be eye-opening.
Start with examining your goals from a SMART perspective: they should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. If something is too fuzzy to consider SMART, then break it down into smaller, bite-sized chunks that help your goal satisfy those criteria.
Set deadlines for everything—get as detailed as it takes to start with just one step toward each of your set goals.
As you move forward, track your progress. Write down your milestones, achievements, and tasks completed, and revisit that list as often as you need to. This will help you understand how much you’ve done, and can motivate you to keep moving forward.
And finally, be flexible with your goals. Adjust your tactics along the way if something isn’t working out the way you expected or if other things come up that are a higher priority.
2: Surround Yourself with an Engaging Work Environment
Everybody has different needs for the spaces in which they can be most productive. In my early days working for the federal government, I actually enjoyed working in a cubicle—my colleagues were fantastic, and I loved people stopping by to ask questions or just to say hello. Later, while working for a nonprofit organization, I much preferred my office to the cubicles just outside of it; the nature of my work had changed, and I valued the privacy that came with a separate space.
And then when I went off on my own as an independent consultant, I became a digital nomad working from Airbnbs and coffee shops. But because I was very self-directed, I ran into more productivity and motivation issues than I ever had while working in an office environment. I found that a small laptop wasn’t adequate for my needs, so I started traveling with two laptops, or a single laptop with a separate, larger monitor.
I also found that because I didn’t have coworkers to talk to in person throughout the day, I got bored or stir-crazy much more quickly. I couldn’t work for an entire week straight at the kitchen table, even though I had a ton of projects and two-dozen clients—I had to get out and regularly work from coffee shops or other public places that offered wifi.
Feeling unstructured and frustrated is super common for remote workers. The initial change in environment can be jarring, but staying motivated and productive over time as a remote worker can be a constant battle—and your workspace can be a major factor.
You need a suitable space, and you need the right equipment. And whatever that means for you—whether you need total silence and privacy, or if you need to be in a bustling coworking space, or something in between—it’s essential to figure it out as best as you can so that you are motivated, inspired, creative, and innovative.
Related: Digital Nomad Housing Guide: Vacation Rentals, Short-Term Apartment Rentals, Hostels and Hotels, and More
3: Take Regular Breaks Throughout the Day
Another obvious one—we all know that taking breaks helps with productivity overall. But what are you doing during your breaks, how often should you take them, and how long should they be?
The answer is different for everybody and can change throughout the day.
I like using the Pomodoro Technique in the morning: I set timers on my phone to work for 20 minutes, take a five-minute break, get back to work for another 20 minutes, and so on. During each five-minute break, I’ll putter around cleaning the house, preparing lunch, or playing with my dog. For each of the 20 minutes, I’ll get the daily tasks out of the way, like answering emails or checking metrics and updating reports.
Then I’ll eat a quick lunch and take a longer break to digest, think about what I need to do next or what larger projects are coming up, and maybe read some articles. It lets me transition into the rest of the day—once I’m back at my desk, I’m prepared to dive into bigger or longer-term projects.
You might have a completely different approach—you may have recurring meetings and check-ins that give more structure to your schedule and that you need to work around. Or you may have different energy levels throughout the day that you should pay attention to, and figure out what works the best to keep you active and interested in what you’re doing.
A few ideas:
- Exercise. Break up your time with small workouts at whatever level of intensity is best for you—or maybe plan one activity each day (and block it off on your calendar).
- Get some fresh air. It’s an instant pick-me-up and can help you reset.
- Do something creative or fun that isn’t work-related. Read a few pages of a book, work on a puzzle…spend a little time on a hobby that gets you into a different mindset.
- Meditate or practice mindfulness. This can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths and centering yourself, or you could even do a guided meditation.
- Take a nap. Set an alarm, even if you only have 20 minutes—napping is underrated, and just a quick one can give you the energy you need to think creatively and be productive for the rest of the day.
4: Set Boundaries
If you’re working from home, set distinct locations where you focus on work-related tasks, and ones that are for personal use only.
You may have a dedicated office space and still need to move around and have a change of scenery—you should develop a clear idea of where you’ll work and where you won’t. Moving to a different location can be incredibly helpful for productivity; even changing rooms can encourage you to look at a project differently.
Blending your workspace too much with your personal space can be detrimental to your mental health, though. It’s easy to bring your laptop to your bed…but will that force you to start stressing about upcoming projects while you’re supposed to be sleeping?
If you’re a remote worker, you’re accessible everywhere. It’s easy to always be available and to always think about the next thing you need to do—but it’s not healthy, and it’s a quick way to burn out.
In the two weeks leading up to my wedding, I wrote pages of SOPs for the people filling in for me, and spent hours training them on the platforms they’d need to use, and getting them up to speed on customers that I worked with. And then I answered “urgent” questions and helped with reports and research the morning of my wedding—and every day after that.
The effort spent on work for the four days I was taking off wasn’t worth the outcome. And I brought that on myself. But it did make me reevaluate my future and make changes—boundaries between work and everything else being the priority.
Use your breaks and your time off to do anything that isn’t related to your job. Put your phone in another room, or pause notifications if you’re not on call. If you have time off, take your time off and do your best not to jump into work just because you can.
If you’re feeling unmotivated as a remote worker, you’re not alone—it can be frustrating to maintain productivity and focus in a less structured environment. And even if you’ve been working remotely for years, you can still feel a bit lost sometimes!
Have ideas and tactics for how fellow remote workers and travelers can keep their energy and motivation going? Share them with the Frayed Passport community!
About the AuthorAs the managing director of Frayed Passport, my goal is to help you build a lifestyle that lets you travel the world whenever you want and however long you want, and not worry about where your next paycheck will come from. I've been to 20+ countries and five continents, lived for years as a full-time digital nomad, and have worked completely remotely since 2015. If you would like to share your story with our community, or partner with Frayed Passport, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Featured image by Avi Richards on Unsplash