Maybe tomorrow? Motivation and work-from-home

One of the core struggles for people working from home is motivation. But motivation isn’t a single challenge, it encapsulates several different problems. As people who make games and think constantly about player motivation, this complexity should be obvious to us. But somehow it is harder to remember when you are the one struggling to reach the golden ring.

Motivation is much harder when working from home. In an office, we are surrounded by momentum and shared energy. The social pressure of being expected to be at your desk is a powerful thing, and when it’s gone we need to find new tactics to stay motivated.

You might be struggling with motivation because you don’t know how to get started, or because you don’t have a clear goal. You might lack resources, feel blocked by an unsupportive manager, or have the wrong incentives. You might be blocked by feelings of stress or burnout. Or a dozen other reasons. Encapsulating all these very different situations under the banner of motivation isn’t helpful — it blurs the problem and consequently blurs the solution.

In the following pages, we offer 16 tactics to try until you find the ones that work for you.

  1. Have a tangible goal and keep your eye on it.
    Set a specific goal like “finish the level” and put your goal in a prominent place where you can always see it. Clear goals are invaluable to motivation.
  2. Break work into chunks.
    It’s a rare person who can look at an overwhelmingly large project like “make a game” then confidently begin. Breaking work into small chunks makes it more manageable.
  3. Start small.
    Take one tiny step at a time. If you are struggling to get started, set a 5-minute timer and truthfully say to yourself: “I only need to do five minutes of work, unless I feel like continuing.” Getting started is often the hardest part.
  4. Have a routine.
    A work routine can carry you over smaller motivation humps. When you habitually do the work in the same way every time, it means that you can save your motivational muscles for the harder parts.
  5. Process your feelings.
    If you are feeling intense feelings when you think about your work, try to process those feelings before you sit down to work. Find a supportive ear (a therapist if you can afford it) and talk through your feelings.
  6. Consider what intrinsically motivates you.
    If you don’t know what intrinsically motivates you, think of a time in your life where you felt proud. Was it a moment where you learned something? When you were publicly recognized for your work? When you helped others?
  7. Block distractions.
    Use tools that temporarily block social media or distracting sites. It’s complicated when your work involves checking social media, but even a single hour of blocking distractions can help. Similarly, try to negotiate with family or housemates for specific hours of deep focus.
  8. Find accountability work-buddies.
    Find friends who are also struggling with motivation and check-in hourly or daily to set small goals and celebrate successes. You don’t need to be working on similar projects, but it helps if you find work-buddies that you want to impress.
  9. Set up a playtest with supportive friends.
    It’s motivating to see people enjoying your game. And strangely motivating to see people struggling with bugs. Sometimes having a playtest to work towards can motivate you to get to work and squash a bug or build a new feature.
  10. Use deadlines for their motivational power.
    Deadlines are very powerful for getting things done, but they can lead to crunch or debilitating anxiety, especially for someone who is already struggling with motivation. Use them wisely.
  11. Be forgiving.
    Getting distracted is part of the process and part of being human. Entering a shame spiral isn’t helpful for motivation. Don’t underestimate how much work from home during a pandemic can affect motivation and output, especially if you haven’t developed systems and resources yet.
  12. Have shared team goals.
    Knowing that other team members are relying on your work can be a powerful motivator. Schedule weekly meetings to share updates with your team, where everyone can see the pieces of the game coming together.
  13. Take breaks.
    It might sound counter-intuitive, but forcing yourself to stop can help with motivation. Do very different things during the break. Set a timer, step away from your computer and get some fresh air. Make tea! Do stretches! Sometimes a micro-break of just closing your eyes and doing deep breathing for one minute can help you to reset and recalibrate.
  14. Experiment with different rewards.
    If you are struggling with an especially challenging task that has a clear deadline, try using extrinsic rewards to push you through it. There’s some evidence that extrinsic rewards can interfere with intrinsic motivation, so use these sparingly.
  15. Celebrate and highlight positive news.
    Celebrate your success, and build a culture where you celebrate in general. Collect and share positive news about what’s happening behind the scenes, conversations with publishers, positive social media feedback, fan art, news about the trailer, anything new and exciting.
  16. Consider quitting.
    It might sound strange, but seriously thinking about quitting can remind you why you are doing what you are doing. Or it can help you to realize that the situation isn’t working and that you need to make a major change.

Created by Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan from GAIN and funded by Ontario Creates and the CMF, Isolation Nation tackles the tough pandemic-related problems like motivation and communication, as well as continuing challenges like market discoverability and work-life balance.

Download the full free 32 page resource here, or read another excerpt “You only get one: Take care of your body before it breaks“.