Tried and True: 7 tips on staying motivated and productive
I’ve been working on Soul Reaper on and off for more than 2 years. It’s a lot of time working on the same project without having released anything yet. For most people, it would be hard to find the motivation to still work on the project on a day to day basis.
For me, it’s as easy as it’s ever been! I wake up at 6am every morning and work until 7 or 8pm, 6 – 7 days per week. I’m super motivated and highly productive, and so can you be with these tips!
Note: I’m saving the best tip for last, so don’t skip it (or any other one for that matter)!
Tip #1: Split Tasks into their smallest components
Here’s a task I had as a Trello card: “Menu for organizing team”. Seems kinda small right? But this task can take 1 to 7 days to complete, or more. Where do you start? When does it end? What is the menu about? How does it work? This is too big a task! You can easily break it down into more manageable parts. Here’s how I broke it down:
As proven by science and explained in this article, the brain dumps a little dopamine every time we successfully accomplish a task — no matter how big or small.
This habit also has a tendency of keeping you moving toward your goals, and clearing the mental clutter in your mind. — TheMindUnleashed.com
Tip #2: Start the day with one or two easy tasks
You might find this tip less frequently from other articles, but it works great for me. Even though I consider myself to be highly motivated, I still need a “win” or two to start my day. After completing easy tasks, I have the motivation and energy to tackle the real hard problems.
I typically start with an easy bug fix or small UI change that can be done in 10 minutes or less. Pushing the code up and moving the Trello card to “Done” gives me the drive to keep going.
Tip #3: Work on your hardest tasks when you work best
For me, it happens in the morning, right after I finish my one or two easy tasks. I start so early that I don’t have any distractions for about 2 hours, and I have all the energy from having woken up not too long ago + coffee + dopamine rush from previously completing tasks. It’s a recipe for success!
Hard tasks for me include game design/balancing and engineering new systems. Things that require all my brain power. It will be something different for you.
The point is: Don’t spend your high-quality energy on low-importance tasks, otherwise you’ll end up with high-quality results for low-importance tasks.
Always aim for high-quality results for high-importance tasks. It’s that simple!
Tip #4: Prepare your next day the night before
This greatly helps with waking up in the morning! At the end of my work day, I write down all the tasks I’ll be working on for the next day and review it before going to bed. This helps me wake up with a sense of purpose. I know what needs to be done, and I want to do it!
As a bonus, my brain keeps working while I sleep, so sometimes I come up with genius ideas on how to complete my tasks while I sleep! Everyone has heard the expression: “sleep on it”. Well, there you go! It’s been proven many times that it helps and here’s an explanation:
REM [sleep] helps to stabilize, consolidate, and enhance connections between memories. Information that was stored in long-term memory during the day is activated (also called rehearsed) and turned into useful connections while we experience REM sleep. — factmyth.com
Tip #5: Take breaks and relax
Have you ever worked on a problem you couldn’t figure out for hours, and later went back to it and solved it in a matter of minutes? Often right?
The problem is we obsess over problems we can’t solve. We spend the little energy we have left trying to figure it out, but the mind just doesn’t work as it should. Take a damn break! It’s a skill that takes practice: figure out when and how to take breaks. Don’t do it on a schedule, that makes no sense. Take a break when you can’t solve a problem that you should be able to solve with minimal to low-effort.
Here are my favourite ways to resource my brain power:
- Power Nap: My personal favourite. Sleep on your chair, a couch, a bed, a bean-bag, anything really. If you really are mentally tired, you should fall asleep in between 5–15 minutes. And even if you don’t fall asleep, the rest from trying still helps. I always set an alarm for 25 minutes. 10–15 minutes to fall asleep (for me) and 10–15 minutes of sleeping. After practicing for a while, I rarely wake up to the alarm; I usually wake up a few seconds before the alarm goes off. It takes another 10–15 minutes to be fully energized, so you might want to tackle an easy task first before jumping back to the hard task.
- Coffee Nap: One step more hardcore than the power nap. A coffee nap is when you chug a coffee before a power nap. The effects of the caffeine take about 20 minutes to kick in. Just in time for your nap to finish! When done right, I find this technique to be the most efficient. I’m immediately refreshed right after the nap, but the problem is that I have a harder time sleeping at night, so I don’t use it that often.
- Take walks: Another favourite of mine. I go out, put some uplifting music in my ears and just stroll around for 15–60 minutes. I think about nothing important, like what I going to do for dinner and other mindless thoughts. Near the end of my walk though, I try to transition to thinking about the task I was working on before the break. This helps me be ready for when I’m at my desk again.
- Take “thinking” showers: I don’t know about you, but I’ve had most of my most brilliant ideas while showering or walking. “Since [showering] do[es]n’t require much thought, you flip to autopilot. This frees up your unconscious to work on something else. Your mind goes wandering, leaving your brain to quietly play a no-holds-barred game of free association”. More explanation here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/52586/why-do-our-best-ideas-come-us-shower.
- Entertain myself: This one doesn’t work as well for me, but I know it works for other people. If I do entertain myself, I play on my Nintendo Switch, watch an episode of a TV show on Netflix or read a chapter of a book.
Bonus tip: Ignore the people judging you for taking a well-deserved break.
People may label you as a slacker but they’re wrong. Ignore them, reap the rewards and be more productive than them!
Tip #6: Remember the ultimate goal
When you work for two years on the same project, it’s hard to see the big picture. I look at my Trello board and all I see is a mindless list of “micro” tasks, leading to something… but what?
For motivation and sanity’s sake: you need to visualize the end result. Every day. Ideally at all times really.
What can you see on Elon Musk’s desk? A miniature model of a rocket, amongst other things. Subconsciously, it keeps reminding him of the big picture: “Traveling to Mars”.
Me? I carry around a paper foldable version of Soul Reaper. It reminds me how much I want to play the final game.
Tip #7: Every day, surround yourself with like-minded, highly motivated, individuals
I saved the most important tip for last. In my experience at least.
If you work in an office with your co-workers, you might have that one taken care of already, but not necessarily, especially in larger corporations. Sure, everyone is working towards the same goal, but they might not be highly motivated. Working with people who hate their job is poisonous. They drag everyone down. If you have colleagues like that, hang out with the others who are motivated and it will uplift you.
The Power Level Studio team is fully remote. Most live in Toronto, but we don’t physically work together. I tried working from home, with bad to good results. As with any habit, it gets easier with time.
But back in August, everything changed. My productivity levels increased 10x. That’s when I started working 80+ hours per week while not even being exhausted and having enough time to hang out with friends regularly, watch Netflix, play video games, read, learn 3 new skills per month and start side businesses.
How did I manage that?
I found a great co-working/co-living space in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It’s called AngkorHub. Here’s a photo of my friends and I at the family-style lunch table:
Firstly, I lived above the coworking space, reducing my commute time to 30 seconds. Leaving me with probably 1–2 hours more than most in a single day.
Secondly, everyone working there are highly motivated people working on things they care about. We shared stories and motivated each other every lunch time over the communal table, where a cook would prepare food for everyone (for a very low price). In addition to being a much-needed social moment, it allowed me to save time (and money) by not having to cook or find food outside. I’m estimating 1 hour saved here on average.
Thirdly, by living at the co-working space with other people, I surround myself with like-minded people I quickly called friends. Every night, after our crazy 12+ hour days, we would go out to eat at the restaurant. It’s a really nice and much needed break.
So if you count 16 hours awake, 12 went to work (with lunch in between) and 1–2 for dinner out, 30 minutes max for the essentials (like showering) and the rest is free. If we round up, that means I had at least 1 hour of free, alone time, where I would play games, watch Netflix or start side businesses. Not too bad!
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