After a long, hard day at work, the last thing many of us want to do is go home, buckle down, and go to work on something else. It can be tempting to just fall down on the couch, order a pizza, and then stumble off to bed, but doing that means you never use your free time to learn a new language, read a good book, start your own blog, or work on any of the personal projects that you’re passionate about. So how do you resist the temptation to do nothing when you’re not working? Here are some tips.
Inspired by this thread at Hacker News, we asked you not too long ago how you made time for your pet projects when your willpower and energy reserves are running low. If there’s anything both threads taught us, it’s that there’s no shortage of ways to stay motivated and productive when you feel like you’re running on empty.
Get Started As Soon As You Get Home
A number of you said that if you wait until you’ve had dinner or spent some time with your family, it’s too late and your energy is gone-you’re too far out of “the zone” to really get back into it. The solution? Walk through the door, say hello to everyone, and head right for your workspace at home to do a little work. Whether it’s a few minutes or an hour, getting started as soon as you get home and you’re still in work mode goes a long way. Photo by AISPIX by Image Source (Shutterstock).
Commenter seewhatIdidthere1 says:
For me, body in motion tends to stay in motion, body at rest tends to stay at rest. If I want to get something done after work, I need to keep moving and not sit down and rest until I’m ready to call it day. For me at least, I literally avoid sitting down when i get home if there are other things I want to get done. Once I sit down, the odds me getting the next thing accomplished get cut in half.
Get Out Of the House
If the siren song of your couch or bed is just too much for you to bear, the key for you to make headway on your pet projects may be to get out of the house and go somewhere you can work or learn something new. Head out to your local hackerspace to get your DIY on, or drop by your favorite coffee shop to do some writing or coding. Reader cellophane suggests taking a class that keeps you out of the house, and reader William Mize says:
I’m working on my third novel, and I find that if I walk through my front door, I’m sunk.
There’s Netflix, there’s snacking, there’s plenty to distract me from doing my pages for that day.
Instead, I stop by the Panera that is between my day job and my home.
Give Yourself 10 Minutes. Just 10 MInutes
Lifehacker Editor-in-Chief Adam Pash gives himself 10 minutes in the evening to work on his pet projects, sometimes more, never less. If he can drag himself off the couch for 10 minutes of focused work, that’s a success-and at the end of that 10 minutes, if he feels like working some more, he does. If he feels like closing up shop and going back to the couch, he does. The important thing here is that he makes himself get started, and even on those nights when he doesn’t feel like doing anything, he at least gets 10 minutes of progress towards his goals. Photo by bendao (Shutterstock).
Pick Projects You Love
One of the best ways you can make sure you’ll have the energy and the drive to work on the things that matter to you is to pick projects that you’re passionate about and you’re naturally drawn to. If you love something, you’ll be much more likely to dedicate some of those precious after-work hours to it. Says commenter alterno2k7:
Easy. Sign up for stuff you love.
I have Danish lessons and salsa lessons in the afternoon. If you already paid for them, you are gonna show up. Plus the feeling is so good when you are there, and you are productive without really being proactive on those days when you are really tired.
Reader mindar101 reiterates the point:
“The best exercise is the exercise that you’ll do.” Brilliant and so true, and also true for hobbies. Choose hobbies and side projects that you’ll look forward to when you get home. Avoid things that you ‘want yourself to do’ but that will get all of two days’ worth of attention from you, and then leave you sitting in front of the TV feeling even more rotten.
Want more energy, or more hours in your day? Exercise. It may seem counterintuitive, but exercise is key. Even a walk around the block will make you feel energized, and the benefits grow with more regular and frequent activity. Reader Ben Bond summed it up nicely:
First, I find that exercising in the evening gives me energy for the rest of the night. Even a 15 or 20 minute walk right after work boosts my energy immediately. Second, going to a different location forces me to focus.
If you’re not making time to exercise, that may be the first thing you want to do-if you can fit in a 20-30 minute workout into your day, you’ll feel the results almost instantly, and while you shouldn’t give up sleep, you’ll at least be more motivated to do the things you’ve always wanted to do instead of wasting the evening in front of the TV. Photo by Mircea Bezergheanu (Shutterstock).
Schedule It and Keep It in the Front of Your Mind
If you use some energy earlier in the day scheduling and thinking about your projects, it’ll be easier to respond to an alarm or a beeping phone later in the day and go to work. Commenter MischiefMack also pointed out how important planning is, and suggested you get started thinking about your pet project before you even leave the office, so you’re pumped and ready to tackle it when you get home. When you do get home, have a very specific goal to accomplish, and get started. Mad Molecule also stressed the importance of specific goals:
First, plan what you want to do with your evening ahead of time. When making this plan (and all plans), BE SPECIFIC. “I want to be productive” is not specific. “I will finish ten pages of this screenplay,” “I will clean and organize the hall closet,” “I will set fire to the homes of half of my enemies”-these are specific goals.
Speaking of goals, one commenter at Hacker News makes his goals for each night public so he has to stick to them-every day at lunch, he emails his friend with what he wants to accomplish when he gets home. Then, when he gets home, his friend has responded with a little encouragement (and a desire to see the progress), which motivates him to get busy before it gets too late to work.
Stop Working After Work and Get Up Early Instead
If coming home and working on that app you’re developing just seems too daunting for you, maybe the key isn’t trying to summon the energy to do more when you’re tired, and instead giving in to the temptation to go to bed early. The earlier you go to bed, the earlier you can wake, and if you can wake up a little earlier, you can carve out some time in the morning to work on your pet project, read that book you’ve been meaning to read, or do some development on that new webapp you want to build. Plus, getting up early has other benefits, the least of which being it makes the start to your day much less stressful.
Forgive Yourself When you Stumble
Finally, realize that you won’t be productive every night. Some nights you’ll stay on the couch, and others you’ll just forget to do what you meant to do. That’s okay-forgive yourself and pick up again the next day. Remember, productivity isn’t everything, and if you beat yourself for being unproductive on a night where you really just needed to rest, you run the risk of growing to resent your project and giving up on it entirely. Another commenter at Hacker News makes this point completely clear:
- Let go of the guilt of not being productive.
- Let go of any other guilt or pressure to do something more valuable with your time or improve something that you already know how to do.
- Accomplish a small goal that is unrelated to your larger goal. The more unrelated, the better. If your goal is to start a company, teach yourself calligraphy instead or learn how to prune a fruit tree.
- Once you’re feeling good again, you know, where you feel good doing stuff after your normal work, take a look at your original goal. Can you start working on it again? Has the break given you a fresh perspective on it? Can you break it down into small achievable chunks now?
- If yes, do that. If no, go back to 1.
What are some of your best after-hours productivity tips? Have any more suggestions for how to stay motivated to work on your passions when your day job has left you tired? Share them in the comments below. Photo by eurobanks (Shutterstock).
Title photo by StockLite (Shutterstock).