Motivation is fickle. For most people, the drive to do something — anything — can flare into life out of nowhere and completely fizzle out within the next 24 hours. This is a huge problem for long-term projects.
And it doesn’t really matter what that long project entails. Whether you want to create your own mobile game, develop the next trendy web app, write a novel (or a series of novels), or double the profit margin of your business, motivation can be difficult to maintain.
The good news is that we have several tips that might help, but be aware that there are no shortcuts.
If motivation was easy to cultivate, nobody would have any problems doing so! But if you’re feeling lost, these following words may prove fruitful.
Avoid Rushing or Over-Committing
The first thing to know about long-term projects is that they require a long-term commitment. And while this truth may seem obvious, it can lead to two mistakes that will sneak up on you and kill your project before you even realize what went wrong.
Impatience. It’s so easy to look at a project that realistically needs a few months or years and believe you can get it done in half the time if you just make a few sacrifices. Why spend weeks doing things “the right way” when you can take a few shortcuts and get it done now?
The problem here is that you’re just pushing your problems into the future. At some point, your code or your novel is going to run into a dead end, and you’ll be stuck with two options: start over or quit. And by that point, you’ll be so frustrated that starting over won’t seem like a valid course — so you’ll quit.
So if you start feeling impatient and wanting to rush things, take a deep breath and relax. If necessary, take some time to figure out why you need things done right now.
Overcommitment. This problem can manifest in several ways, but the most common form of overcommitment is focusing so hard on one project to the detriment of every other aspect of your life: mental, physical, spiritual, marital, social, etc.
When you’re committed to a long-term project, it’s important that you learn how to maintain a proper balance between work and life. Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep and exercising on a regular basis. This will help prevent the onset of burnout.
Overcommitment can also cause you to bite off more than you can chew. In that case, remember that it’s okay to take a step back, re-evaluate your goals, and reduce the scope of your project.
Split the Project Into Milestones
The aforementioned problems of impatience and overcommitment both point to the biggest difficulty in long-term projects: they’re so big and demanding that they can start to seem insurmountable. It’s easy to feel like you aren’t making any progress, which can convince you to quit.
That’s why it’s so critical that every long-term project gets broken down into milestones. You can think of these milestones as sub-projects, or chapters, or incremental releases. It doesn’t really matter what you call them, but they must exist.
But in order for a milestone to be effective, it must have the same five qualities that are necessary in proper goal setting. We’ve elaborated on these qualities before, but here they are in abridged form: your milestones must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.
Milestones serve two important purposes. First, they allow you to work toward shorter-term goals, which can help stave off feelings of stagnation. Second, they provide evidence of your progress. Nothing is more satisfying than looking back and seeing how far you’ve come.
Practically speaking, these milestones can be organized however you want. You could use actual project management tools like Freedcamp or Trello, but I prefer the simplicity of a dynamic task-tracking app like Todoist or WorkFlowy.
No matter which tool you use, the key is to plan the project milestones ahead of time so you can build an extended to-do list. Break the project into milestones, then break those milestones into individual tasks, and break those tasks into individual steps. This makes it easy to take things one literal step at a time.
Remember that general project management tips still apply, such as making sure each step has a reasonable but timely deadline. And if you’re the kind of person who easily succumbs to negative emotions, try keeping a digital journal throughout the entire project. You’d be surprised at how beneficial this can be.
Allow Yourself Room for Breaks
One thing that many people tend to forget is that long-term projects are marathons. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve trained — nobody can sprint the distance of an entire marathon. You have to pace yourself according to your own endurance.
If that means taking a rest here and there, then by all means, take a rest! If you’ve never successfully weathered a long-term project before, then don’t expect to flawlessly get through your next attempt. Instead, expect that you’ll stumble along the way and prepare for it ahead of time.
You might miss deadlines. You might even want to quit altogether. You aren’t alone! The key is to remember that mistakes and breaks don’t mean you’ve failed. The only time you’ve failed is when you’ve decided to give up.
So go ahead and take a break. Recharge. You can even walk away for a week or two and scratch your other hobby itches. Every so often, do whatever it takes to get yourself reenergized and to get those distractions out of your system, but make sure you return to the project when the break period is over.
And while we’re on the topic of recharging, don’t underestimate the power of fellowship and community. Find like-minded people and build relationships. Not sure where to go? Try starting with online forums, open Slack teams, Skype groups, or even real-life meetups and gatherings.
Another great way to recharge is to watch TED Talks and motivational YouTube videos of successful people who have gone through the same struggles that you’re facing now. Whether you’re a writer, programmer, or photographer, there’s something out there for you to relate to.
How Do You Keep It Up Long-Term?
Ultimately, chasing after motivation is the truest recipe for disaster. Motivation is fickle (repeat that to yourself every morning and every night) so if you’re always waiting on motivation, you’ll never get anything done. As Jim Rohn famously said:
Motivation is what gets you started. Discipline is what keeps you going.
If you really want to succeed in the long-term, you’ll have to view motivation as nothing more than a spark. The tinder itself is quickly consumed, but logs can keep a fire going indefinitely. Just remember that tinder is easy to collect while logs require real effort.
When you run out of steam on a long-term project, what works for you? What doesn’t work? Got any tips for the rest of us? Share them in the comments below!
Image Credits: bored man by Syda Productions via Shutterstock, Pointing to Screen by welcomia via Shutterstock, Frustrated Programmer by Dean Drobot via Shutterstock, Man Leaping Hurdles by Dooder via Shutterstock, Break Button by Tashatuvango via Shutterstock, Team Coffee Break by Rawpixel.com via Shutterstock