When Carla asked me to talk about “momentum,” I had to stop and think.
What does momentum mean for me?
After a while, I realized the answer was obvious: it’s what I do every day. Internal motivation.
“It is wiser to find out than to suppose.”
~ Mark Twain
Got that? Okay, probably not. Before I explain my annoying and enigmatic answer, let me give you a brief summary of how I got to be doing this. I started my professional life in Ottawa, working for the federal government.
From there, I moved to a large energy corporation in Calgary, before heading back to school to give this journalism thing a try. It was what I always knew I wanted to do, but lacked the…what’s a nice word for cojones? I started working in another large company, CBC Newsworld.
See a pattern? I was never alone.
I only briefly had my own, unshared office. Working surrounded by others – especially in a busy newsroom, where there’s literally zero privacy – makes momentum easy. You really have no choice but to build and maintain momentum, otherwise not only will your performance suffer, it gets noticed – fast.
“You know about the chain of command?
It’s the chain I beat you with until you do what I say.”
~ Jayne Cobb, in Firefly
Let’s call this “external motivation.” For people who have a tough time organizing and starting their workday – and this is a majority – this is perhaps the chief benefit of an office. You have coworkers, bosses and underlings reminding you (not always explicitly) what needs to get done.
One day, I decided my burgeoning freelance career was the right horse to gamble on. I wasn’t exactly rolling in cash, but I could see the possibilities, and realized I was already looking up at a glass ceiling at CBC. I would sacrifice short-term financial pain for long-term career opportunities. I started working almost exclusively from home.
Sounds great, right? Now’s the part when I tell you everything clicked, and everyone lived happily ever after. Not quite. There’s a middle bit.
The bit that comes when you wake up the very first morning of your at-home career, and you wonder: so what do I do first?
There’s nobody to ask, no boss to appease or glean insight from – you’re now officially on your own, for better or worse.
Welcome to Internal Motivation.
I have four little reminders that help me keep and build my personal momentum. These aren’t daily tasks. They’re more like aphorisms; Confucian-style nuggets of wisdom you can interpret however you like.
“I know that I am intelligent,
because I know that I know nothing.”
1- Identify your demon and conquer it.
Everyone has a weakness. For some, it’s obvious: chatting on the phone, or Minesweeper. For others, it’s something insidious enough to disguise itself as actual productivity. Compulsive cleaning, unnecessary organizing – tasks that feel like work, but aren’t. For others, it’s perfectionism.
The point is, everyone has something that keeps them from accomplishing what needs to get done. The trick is identifying it.
You may not realize how much time you waste feeding your own personal demon. Once you identify it, I find it’s actually pretty easy to avoid.
2- Be reasonable but ruthless.
This is a hard one for me. I don’t like saying “no,” especially to people who give me money. (Boy, that sounds bad, but you know what I mean.) But if you take on too much, (a) something won’t get done, or (b) everything will get done, but rushed and badly.
Nobody can sustain 18-hour workdays. Even if you could, the rest of your life would fall apart, and it wouldn’t be worth it. You have to be able to say “no” –to clients, and to yourself.
3- Write it down.
Some people can organize their lives in their heads. I envy them. I secretly think they’re freaks, but I envy their freakishness.
I’m not like that. At all. (Ask Carla.) Maybe my memory was affected after I was dropped too often as a child, or maybe I’m just anal – but if something isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. This goes for my daily, weekly, and monthly tasks.
I need to remind myself of this. Often. Whether I add a task from a phone call, skype, email – if something needs to get done, I write out a task. No exceptions.
4- Yes, Virginia, there’s a world outside your door.
This is another tough one for me. Left to my own devices, I’d probably just sit here and work until I passed out. I need to remind myself to take a proper meal break, to drink water, and to take a nice walk or swim at lunch. (That last one goes a long way.)
Why is this important? I come back energized, and find my brain suddenly less cluttered. Things make sense, and more importantly – things get done.
“By golly, Jim…
I’m beginning to think I can cure a rainy day!”
~ Dr. Leonard McCoy, in Star Trek