10 Motivation Strategies for Entrepreneurs

Motivation is elusive. Some days we’re pounding the keyboard, brainstorming ideas, and jabbering on the phone well past dinner; others, we look at the clock only to discover that lunch is still two hours and four minutes away. Especially during the holiday season, it’s hard to stay motivated.

We asked around 75 entrepreneurs how they get their motivation back. Here are some of the most popular techniques.

1. Take a Break

Taking a break is an obvious fix, but effective. It clears your mind and can even increase your creativity: exposing yourself to new ideas can help you be more creative in your own field. And, of course, some people claim to have their best ideas in the shower, or when they’re not actively thinking about work.

In fact, the Pomodoro technique for productivity and time management revolves around breaks, which punctuate 25-minute intervals of focused work. The idea is that your thinking is elevated by short rests. Working nonstop, however, can bog down the brain:

“When I’m not feeling motivated I just stop working. Personally I can’t get anything done well if I’m feeling ‘out of it,’ says Well.io founder and CEO Arin Sarkissian. “I’ll go hang out with friends, play a game, meet up with other founders, etc. Anything but work – sometimes you just need a break.”

One common way to spend that break is exercising. “I go for a run, but everybody has their own tricks. I have a friend that used to do underground fight clubs. He is one of the most talented designers I know, and a complete wacko,” says BJ Fleming, a content specialist at Grubwithus.

You can also take a walk, watch a movie, or plan a mini-vacation. BestBuzz founder and CEO Carrie Layne rents a pontoon boat and reads a book in the middle of a lake, or heads to the casino for some poker. “You most likely work seven days a week, so don’t feel guilty about running off on a Tuesday afternoon,” she says.

And Fundable founder Wil Schroter turns to good old video games:

“I come home, tell my wife how I’m feeling, sit down at my computer, and play video games for three to four days straight without a break. My wife just puts food next to my left hand and leaves me alone until I reset. Is that weird? Yes. But boy it works every time.”

2. Think about Your Customers 

One big difference between online businesses and brick-and-mortar stores is the customer interaction, and it affects motivation. While small business owners might see smiles and happy faces all day, entrepreneurs are (more often than not) staring at their computer screens.

But customers and users are so critical to a startup – they are the ones who benefit from what you create, and they keep you in business. So, many entrepreneurs turn their thoughts to their customers to get back their motivation. “When I lack motivation, I go straight to my store locator on my website! I remind myself of how many great companies believe in us and it fuels me to move forward and continue to grow the business!” says Christy Cook, the founder of TeachMy.

If you want something more tangible, take a look at customer reviews and feedback – or create a short survey to gather some. Anita Malik, CEO of BrideRush, even keeps a “kudos board” on the wall that includes reviews from brides and vendors. “It energizes our small team on slow or frustrating days,” she says.

3. Think about Your Team

If you forget why you’re doing this, your cofounders and employees might help remind you. Like your customers, they’re also benefitting from your work: they get exciting jobs and the chance to create something new.

As Julia Hartz, president and cofounder of Eventbrite, says, seeing the enthusiasm of your team can give you a boost. It’s hard to lose motivation when I go into the office every day and see 200 Britelings. I spend a lot of time focused on supporting our Eventbrite culture, and that serves as a constant source of motivation for me.”

Remember, these are people who have chosen to follow you and your dreams – and if you don’t stay motivated and give it your all, you will be letting them down.

“As a leader, motivation is essential because having it or lacking it is infectious,” says Christian Gurney, the CEO of Torsion Mobile. “I think of the team and how I am responsible to them to make each day worthwhile and rewarding.”

4. Get Social

Talking to other entrepreneurs can be reassuring when you’re feeling down. In particular, it helps you realize that the ups and downs of startup life are perfectly normal. “I typically grab a meal or cup of coffee with other entrepreneurs,” says Jacqueline Jensen, cofounder and COO of Ticket Cake. “It’s refreshing to hear I’m not alone in the mountain-and-valley terrain entrepreneurs tackle each day. After some time with the community, I usually discover I’m ready to dive back in.”

For Brent Coker of Webreep, this is one good reason to mentor young entrepreneurs – their bright attitude is infectious and untempered by the harsh realities of failure. “Intense passion is contagious – unfortunately it gets diminished as you get older,” he says.

5. Get organized

If motivation is the drive to accomplish something, obviously we can’t feel motivated to do things we think are impossible. So when work starts to feel impossible, you can lose your motivation. To get it back, get organized and convince yourself that you can do it.

“I make a list. Sounds simplistic, but it works every time,” says Malik of BrideRush. “I usually get unmotivated when I feel overwhelmed, which is nearly daily when running a startup! The simple ritual of making a list in order of priority gets my brain moving again. I feel like I’m on top of it all rather than drowning in the details.”

6. Do something new

A lack of motivation can also come from a feeling of boredom, and shaking up your routine may be just the ticket.

“Entrepreneurism is a drug,” says Craig Negoescu, CEO of NAKA Media. “When things get routine, or safe, or tedious, you begin to slip. So you need to challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone, and do something new with your business. To paraphrase a most interesting man, ‘Stay risky, my friends.’ The adrenaline of a new challenge will wake you up, energize you, give you a victory or a failure to learn from. And it’s cheaper than coffee!”

7. Take responsibility 

Many people are drawn to entrepreneurship because of the independence. When motivation wanes, remembering that everything is on your shoulders – your actions will determine the success or failure of your startup – can be a motivator. Deadlines and penalities can motivate, after all, even though they are negative incentives.

“The greatest thing that keeps me motivated and focused as an entrepreneur is that no one is paying the bills for me. Being the one in my company that is responsible for sales, it’s up to me to keep the company growing,” says Brian Bosscher of Condo Control Central.

To light the fire even quicker, take a look at a few of your metrics. “The typical motivation is looking at your fixed cost compared to revenue coming in. That’s the quickest slap in the face for motivation,” says Joel Gross, founder and CEO of Coalition Technologies.

Adds Rohan Hall, founder and CEO of Cool Mojito, “I look at my bank account.”

8. Count your blessings

 “On my desk, I keep a picture of the old, drab cubicle I used to report to every day at my corporate job. Whenever I’m feeling unmotivated, I look at that picture and then look around me and see the vibrant and fun workspace I’ve created. It brings a smile to my face every time!” says Dale Burgham, owner of Revo Exotic Wood Guitar Straps.

According to Gallup, only 30 percent of Americans were engaged by their work during the first half of 2012. That means 70 percent of people spent their days bored, unchallenged, uninspired, watching the clock until 5 pm strikes. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re probably not in that category – so consider yourself lucky.

“When I start to feel unmotivated I think back to my last ‘normal’ job and how much I hated it,” says Tech Cocktail contributor Danny Boice, cofounder and CTO of Speek. “It was a 9-5 corporate hell working for a large bureaucracy where posturing and politics mattered more than actual results. It was absolutely brutal and I really don’t think I could ever go back to a role like that. That’s not living.

“I make it a point to feel gratitude about the fact that I can do what I absolutely love with my life and there are very few people that can say that. It sounds trite but I really do force myself to stop and smell the roses. I know when I look back on this very point in my life it will be right up there with the birth of my kids in terms of happiness.”

9. Rediscover your inspiration

This is really the root. To get motivated, you need to remember why you were ever motivated in the first place: why you’re doing what you’re doing. Maybe you want to change the world, maybe add a little fun, maybe make people happy for 5 minutes per day – whatever.

“I try to go back to the beginning of my project. There was a reason why I started: passion, motivation, determination. I go back to the starting days of my business and rekindle my motivation in my company,” says 19-year-old Jeet Banerjee.

But inspiration can come from other places, too: quotes, the life stories of Steve Jobs or Thomas Jefferson, the Eminem song “Lose Yourself” (as one entrepreneur said), or a movie like <Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Or, of course, your family:  

“When I feel unmotivated, I close my eyes and think about (a) how hard my immigrant family worked to enable me to pursue my dreams,” says Sparkology founder Alex Furmansky.

10. Suck it up

If all else fails, a few entrepreneurs said, just suck it up. That basically means: tell yourself that being unmotivated isn’t an option. You chose this career, you choose this startup, and you’re the only one who can keep it going.

“Get tough. It’s important to remember that every minute of every day counts and you own your attitude and effort. There is always a solution to the problem. Staying motivated requires tremendous perseverance and creativity, but that’s what separates those who make it and those who don’t,” says David Rush, cofounder and CEO of Evzdrop.

How do you stay motivated?

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Written by:
Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.
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