Maintain Focus: 10 Ways To Stay Motivated Through A Long-Term Project

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Committing to a year-long project can be incredibly daunting.

Over the last year, I’ve been working on a personal project to read 52 books in 52 weeks. I recently did a podcast with my good friend (and king of the 365), Will, in which we discussed each of our current projects, and how others can make the most of theirs.

The following are tips I've either learned throughout my project, or that I wish someone would have mentioned to me before I started.

1. Pick something cheap.

Whatever you choose, you're going to be doing it between 50 and 365 times. So even if it only costs a few bucks to do, or if you spend a couple dollars at the local coffee shop while you work on it, that money adds up quickly.

I’m sure some of you have the discretionary funds for it, but why spend more than you need? Maybe you need to buy equipment before you start, which is perfectly reasonable, but keep daily spending to a minimum.

2. Sleep well and exercise often.

Unless you’ve been given a rare gift, you’re going to be doing this year-long project on your free time, outside of your 9 to 5.

Accordingly, you’re going to need to be in great (or better) shape, so you have the energy and mental fortitude to keep your project going strong.

3. Get up half an hour earlier.

What works for me is getting up half an hour earlier than I would otherwise. If getting up a little earlier to work on your project is simply not an option, I’d encourage you to prove yourself wrong.

If during your lunch break or before going to bed is best for you, make time for your project then.

4. Work on it daily, even if it’s not a daily goal.

For many year-long projects, one goal is to become an expert on that topic, or to at least get a lot better at it.

Any musician, athlete or entrepreneur will tell you, you have to work daily to reach your goals. Sure, it’s fine to spend more or less time on your project as life events allow, but don't miss a day.

5. Make sure you have short-term checkpoints along the way.

A year of ambiguity can be miserable.

It’s also easy to procrastinate if your only checkpoint is the end of that year. Maybe you’re writing or doing photography, which gives way for daily accomplishments.

Maybe you need to accomplish X within a week or within a few months. Whatever you think is best for your particular project, give yourself checkpoints.

I strongly encourage checkpoints at the one week, one month, three month and six month marks, if not more frequently.

6. Tell everyone what you’re doing.

Once you verbalize something, and especially once you put it in writing, that commitment becomes much more tangible.

Now you have something to hold yourself to that isn’t just a made up thought, sitting alone inside your head. I wish I had told more people early on what I was doing, and hadn’t worried about it seeming weird to people.

As I’ve spent more and more time on my project, and as it’s naturally come up in more conversations, I’ve been much more diligent. The support I’ve gotten from family and friends has often encouraged me to keep going when I've felt burnt out, and for many, this support can be all the difference.

7. Do something you actually enjoy, not just what you feel obligated to do.

If you’re anything like the average 365-er, you’re going to spend about 10 hours or more on this project every single week.

Do you really want to make that kind of year-long commitment to something you don’t enjoy? If you hate reading, don’t make yourself read a book a week.

If you’re not a tech enthusiast, don’t make yourself learn code. Build upon your strengths. You’ll see more growth, and enjoy the process far more.

8. Have a plan or end goal for what you’ll do with your project.

Have an idea for what will come of your project at day 366. For instance, I wish I had set out to do a brief review of every book I read.

I will, however, do a full write-up on my project, along with tips on how others can do something similar. Whatever you choose to do, have an idea for finishing it.

If you want to write every day, for example, what is that going to turn into? Are you writing a book? Are you working toward becoming a freelancer?

Define your goals.

9. Define what you want to accomplish through it.

In line with the above point, know what you actually want to accomplish through your project.

For instance, do you want to be able to quit your current job and work for yourself? Do you want this project to get you a better job? Do you want to become an expert on this topic?

I wish I had better defined what I wanted to accomplish through my project. All I knew when I started was I loved reading, and I wanted to make it a priority.

But had I created more tangible goals, such as to create a blog of book reviews, I could have done a much better job along the way of furthering myself and my literacy skills.

10. Surround yourself with your goal’s environment.

If your goal is centered around photography or art, spend time in museums and galleries. If your goal is to get better at writing, spend time in open work spaces, like coffee shops or libraries.

Every Sunday, for example, I go to the local Barnes & Noble to read with a cup of coffee. It’s really enjoyable, smells like freshly printed bestsellers and encourages me to fulfill the very point of the location: reading.

Completing a year-long project is not easy, no matter how rewarding it may be. I hope you'll find these tips valuable along your journey, and you're able to make the most of your 365.