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August 10, 2012 11:41 AM   Subscribe

I recently moved, am unemployed and finding it really hard to get motivated. What tips/tricks/apps/whatever have helped you keep to a schedule when you don't have any other reason to?

I moved in July without a job (for reasons that made sense, at least to me). I have been applying to jobs and so far have gotten no callbacks. I didn't think I'd get a job immediately, but I am having more issues with the fact that I have no real schedule and am not so broke yet that that's lighting a fire. I have literally no day-to-day obligations besides feeding myself and walking the dog.

I have a bad motivation problem. I will plan to get up at 9 am, then sleep in until noon, then feel guilty that I "wasted" the day and accomplish very little all afternoon. I am doing some freelance work but I could be doing a lot more each day to bring in a little more money and I have trouble motivating myself to do that either.

What I need is some way to set a routine or reward myself for accomplishing x tasks a day, say "make $10 doing freelance stuff" or "apply for 3 jobs".

I am not looking for "just do it" type answers. I've been setting my alarm for the morning intending to "just do it", and then I sleep in because I have no real reason I have to get up at 9 am. I know that it will make my day more productive but that doesn't seem to be motivation enough when the alarm goes off. I know rationally that I am bringing in very little money and it's going to run out, but it doesn't seem to be "hitting" me yet. I know I should just be applying for everything under the sun but it's hard to keep sending applications into the ether and getting absolutely no reply, not knowing if your resume is even being read, if you're being considered..

I know this is probably because I am mildly depressed about being jobless and aimless, but I can't afford therapy right now and I really don't think I need professional intervention, at least not until I explore other options. I feel really guilty and gross that i am not working harder to get a job. (FWIW, I have an MA in the humanities, am trying to break into nonprofit work, but am applying to a lot of office/admin type stuff since that is much more plentiful).

I am trying to get the ball rolling on volunteering so I at least get out of the house and do something. I usually do feel better when I get out (go for a walk, get to the coffee shop to do some work) but again, the fact that I don't *have* to do those things makes it difficult when I could just read Metafilter all day.. I can't say "no computer until you do these tasks" because the freelance work and the job hunting means I need to be online.

So, especially from job hunters and freelancers, I need to know how you get yourself out of bed and doing stuff. How do you keep to your to-do list when it's so easy to say "I'll just apply to lots of jobs tomorrow"? How do you keep going when you're just emailing job apps out into space?
posted by nakedmolerats to Work & Money (16 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I will plan to get up at 9 am, then sleep in until noon...

Go to Goodwill and get an alarm clock or two. Put them somewhere hard to reach (the kitchen, the bathroom) but still audible. Once you get your ass out of bed and into another room, you'll be that much closer to "fuck it, I might as well stay up."

..."apply for 3 jobs".

While the advice that you should be treating job-searching as a full-time job in itself is really counterproductive, you should be applying for more jobs. You've only got so much time until applying for the kind of job you want becomes a luxury you can't afford. Machine-gun your resume out to entry-level admin jobs (or sort of thing you can do in a pinch) on Craigslist for practice at interviewing and/or getting desensitized to rejection. Most admin jobs have the same exact requirements, so tailoring your cover letter and resume will take five minutes. Twenty jobs that you can do came up? Make sure all twenty have your resume. It'll take maybe two hours out of your day, and couldn't possibly hurt.

Also, take the dog on longer walks; it'll be good for both of you. Plus, it's a lot easier to meet people when you've got a dog with you, and you need to meet people.
posted by griphus at 11:52 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Leave the house more. Be more social. Make more friends.

The more you're engaged in the world outside your apartment, the more you'll be engaged in your own life. Making plans with other people will give you SOME kind of schedule, and when you have less free time, you'll be more motivated to make better use of it.

And if you pick good inspiring people to hang out with, you'll likely be more motivated to step up your own game and have the resources to participate in their activities and experiences/knowledge to participate in their conversations.

Also, see if there are any cheap/free classes in your community that you can take to give yourself more structure.

But most importantly: more human contact, less hiding at home.
posted by itesser at 12:04 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Get yourself a thing that motivates you.

It could be the job hunt. But job hunts aren't all that motivating, in my experience.

Right now, I'm writing a screenplay. It doesn't necessarily get me up at 9am, but it gives me something to do when I wake up naturally. As soon as I'm awake, I shower, dress, and am OUT THE DOOR to the coffee shop where I write.

I have a whole routine of having coffee at my coffee place while I write. If I don't write, no coffee. Caffeine withdrawal headaches? Too bad. Should have been writing. I have a daily page goal. As soon as I've hit my goal for the day, I am free to do whatever other fun slacker activities present themselves. But the first order of business is ass in cafe barstool and fingers on keyboards.

I refuse to ask the people at my coffee shop for the wifi password, either, so no dicking around online.

This is a good motivating force, because it's very pavlovian. Monkey want caffeine? Monkey write. Monkey want to play with friends? Monkey write more.
posted by Sara C. at 12:06 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

-Get two more alarm clocks and set them each ten minutes after each other. Each one should be louder than the last. Decide that breakfast is your favorite meal because it will help you to get up and stay up. Get some good breakfast food.

-Promise yourself you will apply to a certain number of jobs a day and then do that in the morning. Then you have the rest of the day to do whatever and feel accomplished.

-Only apply for jobs that have been posted in the last 24 hours, anything before that has likely already received a thousand replies.

-Once, you finish your morning applications, exercise. It will give you more energy for the rest of the day. Afternoons can be spent seeing friends, setting up informational discussions with employed alumni, or just hanging out.
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 12:09 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yep, take a long walk with the dog early in the evening or even go for a run. Feed the dog the last time earlier. S/he will be your living alarm clock in the morning. This way there will be someone who will depend on you getting up earlier to feed her/him.

Try multiple alarm clocks: one at 7, next at 7:15, next at 7:20. Place them out of reach.

Get that volunteering going already! You said yourself that you feel better when you leave the house and there will be people waiting for you. It's a new city after all, so meeting new people is good. It will help you with your job search as well.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:10 PM on August 10, 2012

I agree with travelwitcats!

Get some volunteer gigs and give yourself a reason to be awake! I find I schedule things in the morning purposely to get me out of bed since I'm a student and don't have classes to attend all the time. Scheduling a gym appointment, a volunteer job for a few hours first thing gets my day motivated. I don't do well academically in the early mornings so I always schedule the gym or volunteer stuff early so that I have the entire afternoon for my studies. Also, taking the dog for a walk or exercising will release feel good hormones (or whatever they're called) and help you become more motivated. I hate waking up in the morning (hate hate hate) but after I've worked out I feel so much more alert and ready for the day (the first few weeks of working out are awful... you have to push yourself past that). I assume it would be the same with volunteering, hating that you have to do something you don't have to do, but eventually you'll build the routine which will help. I also agree with the other poster up there, I'd start applying for everything and at least you could have a part time job that isn't something you want to do full time forever because it would suck to go completely broke while you wait for the job you do want full time forever. My friend's currently gone broke b/c he's too stubborn to do anything in the meantime... he's losing his apartment and everything. He also is trying to still upkeep his social life (ie. movies, going out to eat, drinking etc.), which I think is part of his economic demise. I'd start finding ways to socialize with others in ways that don't cost a ton or learning to be social in ways that are inexpensive/free.

Good luck!
posted by DorothySmith at 12:48 PM on August 10, 2012

Do you know anybody in a similar situation, or if not could you find somebody who lives nearby (by looking online or asking friends)? I always find teaming up and having accountability to someone else to be motivating. Or if not a job-hunting buddy, maybe make more of an effort to schedule things outside the house that you are motivated to go to, and possibly also things that are good for your job hunt, like having coffee with someone in your field or attending an event that you have to pay for.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:01 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was unemployed, one thing that really helped motivate me was that one of my close friends was mildly sadistic and enjoyed helping me by calling me at 7:30 AM simply so that he could say "Hey, sugartits (or insert other mildly demeaning expletive here), rise and shine! Come on, stop scratching your balls! Are you awake? (Blows horn) How about now? Good, now get a job!" He derived genuine enjoyment out of this, and I benefitted by being much more productive, so it was a healthy arrangement all around. retrospect, he would have made a great drill sergeant.

So I guess my advice is, use your friends to motivate you. This could also be a great way to keep in touch with them!
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:07 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you ever come across the concept of 'SMART' goal setting? (link). I'm not sure it is exactly what works for me, but it is the closest thing I can thing I can think of to describe it. Logistically, I use it more as a tool to create to-do lists on a daily basis, than to manage big lifestyle changes.

I've definitely worked through some of the same types of motivation issues that you describe. What I've learned is that I frequently struggle with getting started on tasks that seem large and unspecific (ie: "work on this project", "find a job", "do volunteer work"). But once I break them down into very specific, small, and incremental tasks, I have a much easier time getting going.

I would suggest that you look at all that you want to be doing, and try to organize that into lists of very specific deliverable items. Then instead of struggling with a vacuous concept of what you should be doing, you just need to run through your list of tasks and enjoy crossing them off one by one.
posted by mmmmbobo at 1:12 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

My best motivation was of the four-legged variety. Find the nearest off-leash park, and take your buddy to it a couple of mornings in a row. Extra points for hitting it at some ungodly hour like 0500. There will be a small contingent of masochistic owners out already, and conversation tends to be light and easy. I promise you pup will take it from there. No alarms needed.
posted by whowearsthepants at 1:18 PM on August 10, 2012

Alarm clocks are not the problem. Unscheduled time is the problem. When I was unemployed I would wake up with my gf at 8, eat breakfast with her, then be right back in bed before she'd even shut the door.

You need to fill up your daily schedule at any cost. And I don't mean scheduling job hunt-related tasks -- I mean scheduling anything. My morning schedule when I was unemployed went something like

9-10am: Go to gym
10-11am: Read paper at coffee shop
11am-12pm: Job search stuff
12-1pm: Make lunch and watch TV

I know that functionally this doesn't look too much different from "Do whatever until 11, then do some job search stuff". But having that time scheduled is so important.

Related to the scheduling issue is putting limits on the time you'll spend job hunting. I had a rule: no job hunting on evenings and weekends, even if I had no other plans. When you know you're not going to accomplish anything after 6pm, it puts more pressure on you to get things done in the late afternoon. It also avoids the death cycle of "sitting in front on the computer doing nothing"->"feeling guilty about not accomplishing anything"->"continuing to sit in front on the computer instead of going outside and doing something fun"->"oops I just spent 12 hours reading MetaFilter instead of being productive or doing something fun".

Your friends in this battle are anything you can schedule on a weekly or daily basis. Exercise, coffee dates, chores, gardening, volunteering, scheduled video game time, etc. On Sunday night, plan out your week to include these things and X hours of job hunting spread out between them. If you can schedule something out of the house first thing in the morning (even a daily coffee at the neighbourhood cafe) that would be great.

A key to keeping to the schedule is, if you scheduled cover-letter writing from 3-5pm and didn't get anything done, you don't get to drag it out into the evening. Shut down the word processor and try again tomorrow. You will adapt.

Something else that really helped me was finding a career counselor that I met with weekly to keep me accountable. This could even be a parent or a friend who you could report to weekly or bi-weekly about what you'd accomplished each week.

Finally, don't be too hard on yourself. What you're going through is totally normal. It took me literally months of sitting on my ass to find a schedule that worked for me. Things aren't going to get better all at once, but you can keep making positive steps towards your goal. A year from now you'll be sitting in your office on a nice sunny day and thinking back to the good ol' days when you were unemployed (I may be projecting a bit here :) ).
posted by no regrets, coyote at 1:23 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

But once I break them down into very specific, small, and incremental tasks, I have a much easier time getting going.

Yes, this!

The reason my little writing system works is that the priorities break down like this:

2. Now that I'm sitting here, I might as well write 5 pages.

All the times I tried to tackle the task of Write In General, it didn't work. The only thing that works is focusing on the immediate task at hand.
posted by Sara C. at 1:33 PM on August 10, 2012

Is there something you really like to do? When I was unemployed, I moved to a ski town and snowboarded every single day. What are you going to regret not spending more time doing when your tush is back in an office all day? Do that every day. Waking up gets easier.*

*bonus: this lead to a job in said ski town. So now I can snowboard every single lunch break if I really tried.
posted by slateyness at 2:16 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Volunteering saved my ass from a serious depression when I was out of a FT gig for two years once. I was really slipping into a bad pattern when left up to my own devices - I could and did stay in bed until 2PM - but when I made a commitment to be somewhere early in the morning, I made sure I was up on time.

I volunteered for the public radio station near me and had a cool gig working in the education department, assisting with classes that came to the station for field trips, as well as working the phones for pledge drive, which is way more fun than listening to pledge drive. It was awesome, I met cool people (including Ira Glass, be still my heart) and kept myself motivated to keep on keepin on.
posted by deliciae at 12:00 AM on August 11, 2012

Use leechblock or stayfocsd (google those, i'm on my phone) to prevent yourself from going to mefi. Use the pomodoro technique to break up your day: work for 25 mins, break for 5 mins. I suggest doing exercise or stretches during breaks to get blood flowing to your brain rather than going on the net which is a time and energy suck.

This is how I think of my day:
9-12: work
12-1: lunch
1-5: work
Do pomodoro during work periods to break those chunks up and not make them seem so long. Have a mid morning and mid afternoon snack to keep your blood sugar up.

Another suggestion, somewhat more radical: enjoy this period of unemployment. Treat it like a vacation, explore your new city. When else in your life are you going to be able to sleep in everyday till noon and have only obligations to yourself and your dog? But first figure out until what point you'll be comfortable doing this. You say you're not so broke yet. How much money do you have, and at what amount will you start getting really worried? How long will it take to get there? Let's say you need 6 months to land a job. Do you have enough money to live on for 6 months, with the little bit of freelance money coming in?

That's how I would think of it. If you're going to enjoy your period of unemployment, make sure you have the funds to do so. I think having a break from the stress and guilt of finding a job would help too - give yourself a chance to renew yourself and get to the job search a bit more refreshed. Also check out the blog, ask a manager. Really good info there.
posted by foxjacket at 7:31 AM on August 11, 2012

Response by poster: Update for future wallowers: within two weeks of posting this, I interviewed with a temp agency and got almost-immediately placed at a temp job I'm at currently. It's unknown if I'll get hired on for good, but I think they'd like to if the higher-ups allow, and in the meantime it's a paycheck and I'm getting some good skills to put on my resume. So things can happen, more quickly than you'd expect and even in the depths of your wallowing.

I would have told past-me to apply to several temp agencies much faster than I did. My experience with temp agencies in the past was negative, so I didn't think it would reap much for me, but I guess it's as much being in the right place at the right time as anything.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:41 PM on September 9, 2012

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