Morale booster: 14 ways to motivate yourself when the chips are down

'Sole trader' is a misnomer. It sounds dry, sterile, boring. It doesn't reflect the hundreds of thousands of people, from plumbers to market stall holders to designers to dog-walkers, running their businesses all by themselves. They do it because they love being their own boss, because they couldn't conceive of working for someone else, or because life has dealt them an opportunity they can't turn down.

While being a sole trader, a lone entrepreneur, a one-man band - whichever label you prefer - can be marvellous: you choose your own working hours; your destiny is in your own hands; you reap the rewards of your hard work and kowtow to no one, there can be downsides. There can be days when you just don't want to get out of bed. Days when obstacles feel insurmountable and the odds are stacked against you.

As part of SoleTrading Month 2011, sponsored by Viking, we have put together a guide with the tools you need to help you through. These tried and tested motivational tips and tricks will help you out of the doldrums, get you back on your feet and give you the impetus to carry on. Try them. They really do work.

1)     Reward yourself

You are brilliant at being hard on yourself when things go wrong. You're a master of self flagellation when you discover you've made a mistake. But how often do you pat yourself on the back when you do something great? Or even something pretty good?

When you have ambition and drive, it's tempting to see your successes as the 'norm', the bare minimum you expect from yourself. Change your attitude. Reward yourself with little treats when you do something really well. That could be a trip to the cinema; a couple of hours to read your book; an evening with your Xbox. Whatever you choose, make sure that you consistently reward yourself for your achievements: no one else is going to.

2)     Write down the problems that are draining your energy

Lists are a godsend when everything just gets too much. When you feel listless (no pun intended) and unmotivated, try and work out why. List all the factors that are contributing to your state of mind, whether it's difficult customers, a lack of targets, too much admin or simply an overwhelming workload. Once you've identified all the barriers to your success, you can create a plan to deal with each of the motivation roadblocks.

3)      Do a task swap

Anyone who grew up with brothers and sisters will understand this concept. I'll make the beds if you do the dishes. I'll water the garden if you sweep up. A friend of mine had an agreement with her flatmate: she hated washing plates and pans, he hated doing the mugs and cutlery. So they split the washing up accordingly. Barter your skills with another sole trader, or pay someone else to do the jobs that you don't want to do so that you can concentrate on running your business.

4)     Take baby steps

Try and divide huge projects into a series of small tasks. When you look at a problem as a whole, it can seem insurmountable. Rather than panic and think, 'How am I ever going to get all of that done', take baby steps. Once you have your bite-size tasks, work out a timetable for getting it done. Don't be too ambitious otherwise you'll fall behind and end up back at square one, but plan properly and give yourself a reasonable window of time to get each piece in place. Once you've drawn up your plan, try to forget the big picture entirely and focus on each baby step in turn. Only when that baby step is complete, move to a new baby step, and so on. Before you know it, you will begin to build up momentum.

5)     There is no such thing as perfection

Forget perfection. Perfection is myth. Focus on trying to make positive progress and do the best you can do with the time you have, rather than getting caught up in endless details. Perfectionists are rarely satisfied, and when things don't turn out just so, they are often completely de-motivated.

You're under enough pressure without heaping on any additional stress. Focus on completing each baby step (see above) to the best of your ability, and then move on. And you know what, when you stop focussing on perfection and actually just get on with the task at hand, you'll find you'll actually do a better job and you'll be happier with the results.

6)     Why are you doing this?

You've got a pile of invoices on your desk that need to be paid, a tax return that needs to be filed, stock to unpack, changes to make to your website - any number of annoying or dull tasks that sole traders face every day. Before you give in to that sinking feeling, remember why you're doing this in the first place. Think about how much you would hate to work for someone else, or about the future you're working towards. Remember your ambitions and dreams. Remind yourself why filling out that form and dealing with that customer complaint is actually worth it, because it brings you one step closer to where you want to be.

7)     Start with just five

Like the 'baby steps' tip? Here's another gem. Try the five minute rule. This is particularly useful for writer's block, or for tiresome admin tasks. Tell yourself this simple phrase: "I'm just going to work on this for five minutes. Five minutes and then, if I want to, I can do something else for a while." The five-minute rule works magic. You know why? Because more often than not that little push will be enough to get you going and keep going until you've finished the task.

8)      Shout it from the rooftops

If you're launching a new business, working on a new range, creating a new website, or chasing a new stockist, tell people about it. When we think other people are watching us, we are motivated to do more and do better. When you decide to run a marathon, the first thing you do is put out a status update on Facebook or Twitter. This means you have to stick to your guns and see it through. If you keep all your plans under wraps, beavering away in your ivory tower, you'll have to rely solely on your own drive to get you through. That's not always enough. Tell the world and your pride and self respect won't let you back down.

9)     Try and drop a few 'certainty anchors'

When you run your own business, there are countless decisions to be made. Innumerable opportunities and options to be sifted through. This can be over-whelming, not to mention draining. To counterbalance the stress of decision-making, try and create a few certainty anchors in your day-to-day routine. This might sound like guru-speak, but the idea is a simple one: certainty anchors are just repeated daily experiences where the decision-making aspect has been removed.

It can be simple as doing the same thing when you wake up each day: a friend of mine will always have coffee, orange juice and read the paper for an hour. It's a routine. It gives her a sense of order in a world of chaos. Try walking the same route to your office or studio every day. Or ordering the first hour of your work day into regulated chunks: check email, make tea, write blog, open post. The key is to remove the decision-making element and turn a handful of moments (don't try and remove all choice form your entire day!) into safe, repetitive habits where you can drop out of the land of choice and unknown and get on with a task that's as comfortable as a pair of old slippers.

10)  I like to move it, move it

If your brain is frozen with indecision or you arrive at a professional impasse, get your body moving. Go through the motions of being busy, organised and getting things done. Tidy your desk or head out to get some new stationery. Despite the fact that you know you're faking it, the act of getting in motion can kick you out of your rut.

11)   Plan ahead

Many entrepreneurs swear by this little darling. One of the easiest ways to kill motivation is being unsure what to do next. At the end of each day, while it's all still fresh in your mind, draft a 'to do' list of tasks to crack on with the next day. Getting it down on paper can also help you switch off for the evening and get a real break - a luxury for most sole traders - as you know the next day's jobs are already in hand. Alternatively, if you're more of a morning person, get up early and work out the day's timetable. By building momentum early in the day, you'll feel prepared, driven and 'in the zone' faster.

12) Make sure you have all the tools you need

Technology and practical tools are part and parcel of running a business. Make sure you have everything you need to get the job done, from a decent printer, to a whizzy bit of software, right down to having a pair of scissors handy. Feeling hamstrung by a lack of resources has a profound effect on your enthusiasm. If you work at a computer all day, get a decent machine. If you sew for a living, invest in some proper lighting. Create the ideal environment in which to run your business and you will feel far more positive about getting things done.

13) That'll learn ya

There are courses in just about everything these days - and quite a few of them are available online for free. Think about the tasks you really hate doing. Are they boring, tiring, or do you feel like you don't quite have the knowledge or training to get them done? If it's the latter, mug up! Some useful resources include: Learndirect; Forum Network; TED; ManyBooks.net. Once you've done some research and properly understood what needs to be done, you'll not only complete the task more competently, you'll also feel more confident to take the next step.

14)   Give up

We're not actually telling you to give up. We're telling you to sit down and really imagine what it would be like to quit. You've invested time, money and passion into your business. You may be up against a brick wall, but imagine what it would be like to walk away from it all now. Is avoiding the difficult or dreary task really worth giving up on your goals and dreams? Sometimes envisioning that sense of loss is all it takes to regain your determination to succeed. Think about quitting and find out if your love of your long-term goal can motivate you not to.

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