I am not gonna lie, the news of the stay-at-home order extending sort of had its toll. Back then, it meant another month cooped up in a tiny New York studio, with for sole outdoor activity, going grocery shopping. We all get the why of this decision. Of course, now is too soon to loosen restrictions as it could make the curve go up again. The point of this all is after all to flatten the curve, ensure the outbreak is under control and that we can safely go back outside without risking our health. And yet, it is still hard to stay motivated every day during self-isolation as social-distancing goes on.
Human beings are social creatures. They are meant to socialise, interact, communicate with others. We thought texts and social media would fill that need. Boy, we were wrong! We need more. And we also need space. Except that right now, it’s difficult to go enjoy the great outdoors. First, the weather has been shit lately. Second, we do not all have a dog to walk. Third, and probably the most important of all, that’s not how social distancing work.
Eight tips to stay motivated during self-isolation
In self-isolation, we stay inside. Whether we like it or not. Because it is not about us as single individuals. It is about every body else. While frontline workers are outside everyday trying to control the outbreak, some others are lucky enough to be working from home. And while it is good to acknowledge that privilege, it is also acceptable to admit that we are not coping that well, that our mental health is taking a toll and that it is hard to stay motivated during self-isolation.
1. Accept the situation
It took some time for Americans to accept the situation. Well, it took even longer for most of them to acknowledge that COVID-19 was not the flu and that the situation warranted immediate action. Back in November, when China has its first case, it felt far away. It geographically was. That was without counting on international travel and the incubators that plane cabins can be.
Back in February, when the US had its first case, then at the beginning of March when NYC did, again, we thought that it would just go away. That’s sort of what the flu does after all. Unfortunately, that did not happen. The virus was much more contagious and spreading like fire. The rest is history: social-distancing, self-isolation, lockdown. And that is were we are at now.
The best way to stay motivated is to stop fooling ourselves. Indeed, accepting the situation, that maybe we overlooked it, that we were wrong, and that things are different now, is the best way to make peace with it. Literally. Being in denial never took anybody anywhere. Once you accept the situation for what it is, you can focus your energy on something else. Maybe something productive or just anything you’d like to do.
2. Stay motivated with a positive environment
Although I am a huge fan of what many call “organized chaos” and that I am perfectly comfortable with mess around me, I get that it does not work for everybody. I get that tidy desk, tidy mind do work for a lot of people. Furthermore, I acknowledge that an overall tidy space create a much nicer environment to will help you stay motivated.
I have never heard of people feeling all the good vibes with tone of dirty laundry on the floor and dirty dishes in the sink. Or with a working space that is so cramped, you cannot achieve anything. Before adopting a positive mind and seeing the glass half full, you need to create a good environment. No need for a huge spring clean here, just ensure that there is no unnecessary mess everywhere and that you can actually see yourself work in that space.
Then, when your space is tidy and clean, smells nice and feels welcoming, may you spread positivity around you. Indeed, while negativity only breeds more negativity, positivity as the opposite effect. And being positive despite self-isolation and the lockdown is the best way to stay motivated!
3. Make S.M.A.R.T. goals
I talked about being smart with your work and personal goals in our blog post on how to stay productive while working from home. Being ambitious is great, it gives drive and a bigger goal to reach. Which, when you do reach it, is rewarding, a good proof that you can do it and sets you up for your next challenge. Big goals are good challenges and rather stimulating. However, even these big goals must be S.M.A.R.T.
The problem with goals is when they become over-ambitious. When they are so big and so far away that despite your best effort, you are no way near reaching them. Which can quickly become disheartening, frustrating and may have a huge toll on your mindset. In the end, you may feel very discouraged and lose all motivation to carry on.
That is why it is important to set goals that are S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and done in a timely manner. No one will be upset with you if your goals are slightly less ambitious than what they used to be in an office environment. No one will blame you considering the crazy times we live in. Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals is the best way to ensure you achieve everything you set your mind for and stay motivated.
4. Make to-do lists to stay motivated
Staying motivated can be hard when you’ve got no clue what you are meant to do. While sometimes improvisation is great, it is also good to have directions. Making to-do lists will help you know everything you need to do on a certain day, additional tasks you may want to get into and will help you frame your working day.
You can adjust your to-do lists to your S.M.A.R.T. goals and thus create a list of maintenance things to do that need to be complete. In addition, you can have a side to-do list with other extra tasks you’d like to get into. To-do lists are great to know how much you need to do in a day and break your day accordingly. If they are tasks you did in the office, you know how long each take and then can allocate time to each accordingly.
Of course, it is also important to prioritize and get the biggest most important things done first. If you feel a task is enormous, you may break it down into smaller goals. Crossing each one out one after the other to complete the bigger task will leave you with a great feeling of accomplishment. That feeling will turn into more energy and will definitely help you stay motivated.
5. Remember it’s not forever
When I look at the window from my flat, I see a ghost town. New York is empty. A street that used to be lit up with car lights at night is now dark. The only time people seem to congregate in one location is when they queue to get to Trader Joe’s. This long queue which was preceded by shortages with so many essential grocery items along with the empty streets is a stark reminder of the crazy times we live in.
Who could have ever thought that the city that never sleeps, bursting with life at all times of the day and night, loud and smelly, would one day, sound like a peaceful countryside village? No more honking, barely any noise beyond sirens, birds chirping. What even is that? And then, this whole eerie vibe reminds you that the lockdown started a month ago already. It’s been a month.
Yet, it feels forever. Christmas seems so far away, when all the streets were lit up, people happily shopping for the holidays and everyone was outside. Now, the lockdown will go on for some more weeks and it really feels like it is never gonna end. But it will. Life may not get back to what it was before for a long time. However, self-isolation won’t carry on forever. It is temporary, meant to deal with the outbreak. Telling yourself that there is light at the end of the tunnel will help you stay motivated.
6. Do not compare to stay motivated
We all have a different coping mechanism to what is happening right now. Of course, to stay motivated during self-isolation also vastly vary from one person to another. Some of us have been a bit overwhelmed, taken aback and do not really know how to handle this new source of stress. Let’s not kid ourselves, this lockdown and all the consequences it produces are stressful.
The problem is when some people decide that the so-called newly found free time should be used productively. And that if you do not do so, if you do not create something mind-blowing, launch your own business or whatever their argument is, you are a loser and wasting your time. Also, you’d be to blame if things go sour for you. Yes, they made that rule generic for everyone.
Thus, obviously, if you either do not go that route, well you end up feeling bad and discouraged. Because you look at those super productive people nailing the time they’ve been given with self-isolation while you… Stop right there friend! Do not compare. Nor do you think that they are better than you. They choose how to occupy their time, good for them. You choose how to occupy your time and there is no right way to do it. The pandemic is not a productivity contest and comparing will sure not help you stay motivated.
7. Rethink the way you work
Working from home is not like working in the office. Sure, the setting is different. The vibe also is. And your place might not be the best place to work and be productive all day. Especially if you are not used to working from home. You will indeed associate your flat with personal time, not working time. Which might not help you stay motivated. That is why you need to rethink the way you work.
Of course, some patterns will be similar to working in an office. How you structure your day, how many hours you work, when the working day starts and finish. But you also must be aware of differences. You will have a bigger control over your hours, will have more distractions, might not have all the equipment you need, etc. Which can become frustrating and of course have a toll on your motivation.
The first step is to acknowledge that working in an office and working from home are different. That you may face a lot of distractions and that productivity may not always be there. So you will have to adjust to this new environment and make the most of it to work well and stay motivated.
8. Take small breaks
Last but not least, the best way to stay motivated when you work from home all day (or in an office) is to take small breaks throughout the day. Your brain needs to rest. The productivity span of a human adult goes from 50 to 90 minutes. Some people will be able to focus for longer than that and power through the day without barely taking any break.
Although checking your phone and social media here and there does count as a micro break. Taking a break every two hours or so for a few minutes will help your brain rest and give you time to give in to distractions. Then, those distractions will be out of your mind and you will be able to focus on your work again.
When you take a break, walk away from your work space. Even to go to the kitchen or sit on the couch for a few minutes. Do things that are not related to work to really have a clear break and rest your brain. Again the ideal break length will vary from one person to another but it seems that the consensus agrees on 15 minutes. If you feel like your productivity is slipping away, it is time to take a breath.
That is it for our eight tips on how to stay motivated during self-isolation. Working from home is not something every body can do and being cooped up inside will make the adjustment harder. Yet, after a time, you will get used to it and will be super productive at home. The secret to staying motivated is to listen to your body, take breaks, and create a positive work environment.