When working as a freelance musician and recording artist, I find that I can spend a lot of time at home in between gigs and sessions. While this is a great thing – I get to work on my own projects, continue to book gigs, etc. – I still have to make sure that I’m actually using my time at home to do those things. When working from home, it can be easy to get distracted by any other task – cleaning, the Internet “black-hole,” cooking, organizing, gardening, you name it – especially when I’m not feeling particularly motivated.

When you’re in a particular mindset, your mind tends to wander, and the things that you should be focusing on gets pushed to the back of your mind. Like just the other day, I was thinking about ways to enhance my garden space because it was just starting to look outdated. It was wrong of me to do this, especially when I had more pressing matters on my mind, but at least I was able to find some pretty cool landscape water features that I think would look great in my garden. I bet my friends will be super jealous of how good it will look if I ever get around to doing it. See, I’m getting distracted even now, and that seems to shape up the rest of my story about motivation pretty well.

Without a deadline or someone checking in to make sure I’m getting stuff done, my productivity sometimes needs an extra push. It can be especially difficult to get motivated when you don’t have your parents or teachers providing that extra incentive to do what you’re supposed to do right after school or when you first move out on your own (something we kind of get used to as teenagers). So how do you keep focus and become a self-starter?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Eliminate distractions. If things like Facebook, Buzzfeed, YouTube, or Twitter are too distracting while you’re trying to work from your computer, consider disconnecting the Internet or installing an app that blocks the websites you’re distracted by so that you can’t access them for a specific blocks of time.

2. Work behind a closed door. If you have a spouse, siblings, or parents that often distract you while you’re trying to work, consider working in a room where the door can be closed. When others are allowed to come talk to you, keep the door open, but when the door is closed, you’re in “work mode” and are not to be disturbed. Sit down with them in advance to let them know of your intentions so that they can support them. Trying to implement a new technique like this without discussing it first can be hard for both them (and you) to adjust to.

3. Track yourself. Use an app like RescueTime to see how much you’re actually working and how much you’re getting distracted by other things. Even if you think you’re a diligent worker, you may be surprised at how much time you’re spending doing tasks that aren’t work-related. If you’re not a fan of using your phone or other technology when you’re supposed to be working, you might want to use a tried and tested approach and use a whiteboard or even order a stick on whiteboard from Writey or something similar so you’re able to have your scheduling system easily viewable at all times. This could also serve as a great motivator to not misuse your time.

4. Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique requires that you set a timer for 20 minutes and then do nothing but work for that time. You can then take a five minute break to do whatever you like – eat, check Facebook or Tumblr, read emails, etc. Once that five minutes is up, you then need to start another 20 minute work period.

5. Assign certain time slots to certain tasks. If you create the habit of composing or recording from 1-4pm everyday, your body and mind start to transition into that mode more easily when the time comes. If you set up certain routines before you start a task, you’ll find that focusing and switching into that mode is much easier.

6. Find the right motivation. When you’re working on your own and making the effort to complete a variety of tasks (some of which you may not enjoy), it’s important to find the time to do the things you enjoy as well. Maybe emailing promoters is taxing, but practicing isn’t. Find time for both. Balance out your schedule with a mix of tasks you enjoy and tasks that are difficult. This can help keep you from feeling too stressed out. Just be careful – it’s easy for fun/work to get unbalanced. You may have a ton of work-related tasks you don’t enjoy that you need to complete and so you drive through them. Going at it this way could easily lead to burnout. On the other hand, it’s easy to get distracted with the tasks that you enjoy while avoiding those you don’t particularly want to do.

7. Keep in touch. For a lot of people, one of the best things about going to work is the camaraderie. You probably won’t realise how much you miss the social side of work until you start working from work and you don’t have it. This is why it is important to keep in touch with staff at your office – the best way to do this is through video or voice calls. Agora.io make this possible through their easy to use SDK, so you might want to take a look.

8. Focus on the greater goal. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when we’re working on specific and often frustrating tasks. Yes, it can be discouraging to send email after email to promoters with nothing but rejections (if you even get a response). The key to pushing yourself to continue doing it is to remember exactly why you’re doing it.

9. Reward yourself. When you have a particularly productive day, reward yourself with a nice dinner, a night out, or even a treat (buy yourself a new CD, book or movie). Whatever works for you. I remember I had a really good day at work so I spent my evening looking at cheap office chairs. Since I worked hard that day, I decided to treat myself with a new chair for my home office. My old one was looking very tired so I decided to splash out! You don’t have to reward yourself with lots of extravagant gifts but try and think of some rewards that will motivate you to work harder. With some tasks, there are no immediate or obvious rewards so we often wonder “why am I even doing this?” Keep yourself on track with a small reward for getting one step closer to your ultimate, “big picture” goal.

What about you? What do you do to stay motivated and keep your music business running smoothly?

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Published by Shannon Kennedy

Shannon Kennedy is a vocalist and saxophonist living in Southern California. She is author of "The Album Checklist" and the founder of Teen Jazz. She has been contributing articles to music magaizines and websites since 2004.