It’s something everyone struggles with, sooner or later. How, but how, to get yourself motivated?
It’s particularly difficult to do when self-employed. I enjoy writing books, and don’t particularly need to motivate myself for that, but other jobs – drawing up a groundplan, perhaps, or sitting down to editorials, take some serious brain-bashing before I get going. With no boss to bully me, I come up with a wide range of incentives, depending on the task at hand.
Lists are a big one. Every day I tend to write out a to-do list, and then power through it for the satisfied joy of striking things off it. A mixture of small jobs and big jobs on a to-do list can create a momentum of their own. Cross off enough of the small jobs, and doing the big job, it seems, becomes merely a natural progression in the already triumphant progress of ‘fold socks’ and ‘go to library’. In theatre, lists are absolutely essential, as to even attempt to juggle the dozens of things going on in even the smallest of productions without one, is just asking for trouble.
There’s also reward and punishment. I will reward myself for a job, if I can get it done, by doing something sillier that I really want to do. Or flatly refuse to do what I actually want to do, unless a harsher job is done. This, however, seems to require more self-discipline than just writing out lists, and I often have to go to great lengths to achieve this, by, say, putting the biscuit barrel somewhere really inaccessible, or burying the book I want to read somewhere hard to get, or not borrowing the thing I wanted to watch or… whatever. By making the easy things hard work, I try to force myself to do the hard things.
I respond, it turns out, well to nagging, and often encourage set designers and editors to nag me even if they don’t particularly feel the need. It’s not that I forget what needs to be done, merely that the guilt of others reminding me invariably pushes me to action even if the guilt itself is utterly irrational. Sometimes it’s just a case of common sense demanding an easy life; at university I perfected the art of being several essays ahead of oncoming deadlines, simply because the deadlines for, say, four topics tended to fall at precisely the same time, and the only sensible way to survive was to write the essay even before it was set.
That said, panic will usually win the day eventually. As deadlines approach, the pressure mounts up to and including nightmares. Thankfully, I guess, I have the kind of brain that tends to start worrying even a week before the deadline, and so somehow manage to worry myself into a grace period by attacking a project with a week to spare, as if that week wasn’t there at all. At the end of the day, the job must get done, and the essential of must means that it invariably will. I know enough about myself to know that I can’t work at 3 a.m… but also enough to know that I struggle at 3 p.m. sometimes as well.