It’s been one of those days. The house is a disaster, your kid(s) melted down seven times since waking and you’re barely through lunch (leftover chicken nuggets and fries). You’re behind on your latest work in progress, there are deadlines to meet for your clients, and you and the spouse have barely been able to exchange more than necessary instructions for survival as you pass each other coming or going. You’re exhausted, the caffeine isn’t sufficient (no matter how many cups you microwave), and you’re wondering when or IF it’s going to get better. How are you ever going to get through your mile long to-do list?
Take a breath and prepare to reward yourself!
No, I’m not a millennial. I’m a child of the 80s, raised on the belief that you’ve got to pull yourself up by your astro-boot straps, jump on your bike, and take on the neighborhood bullies yourself if you want to enjoy your poprocks and your Bruce Springsteen in peace.
But did you see how many rewards were up for grabs in that idealized 80s reflection? Not just the poprocks and the music, my friends, but also the freedom of flying on two-wheels, the joy of pulling on those boots that you picked out yourself, and the bliss of owning your environment. Potential rewards are all around us, and if we structure the rewards program the right way, they’ll help us not only achieve our goals but boost our productivity and sustain our achievements.
This is something the HR world figured out long ago. When you’re employed by someone else, rewards come in many forms, and they can be relied upon to be doled out with regularity: employee-of-the-month, quarterly awards, semi-annual performance evaluations, annual ceremonies. The rewards range from You’re a Star! certificates to cash bonuses – with many top employers effectively employing the full range to help keep the work force positively motivated, i.e PRODUCING.
But at home…well, that’s a different story. When did you last get a gold star for keeping on top of the dishes? A certificate for paying your bills on time? Perhaps a performance bonus for putting away the stacks of laundry threatening to consume anyone who walked into the dining room? Me either – though my four year old once said to me “Good job, mommy! You got this!” when I surprised him with a ‘good’ snack. Let me tell you, I still get excited when I think about that moment! Maybe sometime in the next four years, I’ll earn another verbal reward, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
And if you’re no longer in the office, if you’ve been accustomed to regular rewards, but now you’re self-employed (or free-lancing, or taking time away to focus on your family), whooowheee! That can be one tough transition. We all need to feel like we’ve done good every now and again. And when you work for yourself, no one’s going to give you that pat on the back but you.
Those of you writers out there know what I’m talking about. For me, a good day is when I get a personalized rejection letter that tells me specifically why someone doesn’t believe the word-baby I’ve presented them is good enough. So in order to keep the form rejections from turning into crippling self-doubt, I’ve got to be able to reward myself for meeting goals that I can set and control.
But in order for it to be meaningful, I’ve got to have an accountability system in place. (No cheating!) So let’s set up a system to reward ourselves when we meet the goals we set, so that we’ll continue to want to meet more! (Who doesn’t love a good self-perpetuating system?!?)
Here are a few things to consider as you build your custom “Hooray for What I’ve Done” program:
1 – Tie the reward to a task you want to repeatedly successfully complete. Want write 1000 words a day on your work-in-progress? What will make that feel even sweeter? Rocking out to your favorite song? Reading three pages of a great book? 15 minutes of social media time? The key is to make the reward meaningful to you.
2 – Make your rewards small and frequent. Daily and weekly rewards reap greater accomplishments than big ones that take more time to build up to. Better to achieve 500 words every day for a week (3500 words total or 14,000 in a month!) and set yourself up for continued success than tell yourself you’ll write 15,000 words this month and risk missing the mark.
3 – Make sure your reward doesn’t unintentionally cause you more stress. For example, if you’re having trouble making time for something, don’t give yourself a reward that is going to take a lot of time to enjoy. Make it something quick but meaningful. Put a dollar in a jar and when you save up to $25, treat yourself. Or make a grab bag of small rewards ahead of time, so that when you meet a goal, you can just reach in and pick one out. (A word of caution: don’t use food as a reward. It can be a slippery slope toward developing other unhealthy habits. My sweet tooth and I really struggle with this pitfall, so I feel ya. One work around I’ve develop is to make myself a cup of herbal tea when I meet a goal like, say, finishing a draft of a blog piece or dusting.)
4 – Consider making rewards visible – at least periodically. That way you will be reminded of your past successes as you work toward new goals. Visual rewards can be as simple as making yourself a certificateto hang on the wall, writing a compliment for yourself (put it on your white board!), uploading an inspiring new screensaver, or buying yourself some flowers.
5 – Celebrate achieving the bigger goals. Involve other people. Use that social media to brag or take your family out to dinner (no food to make, no dishes to clean up AND they all think you’re great – bonus!)
Having a hard time thinking of the right rewards for you? It’s funny how we all think of things we’d rather be doing when we’re supposed to be doing something else, but when pressed to come up with a structured list, our minds go blank. Don’t worry, here’s 101 ideas for you.
You work hard. You set goals. Now give yourself the credit you deserve – and enjoy how the incentive cycle boosts your motivation and therefore your productivity!
(I’d love to hear how you reward yourself! Please shout out in the comments below. I’ll enjoy reading them as I sip my tea….)
I’ve made countless reward charts for my kids, but for myself? Not so much. That’s going to change! I love office supplies in an unhealthy way, so I’ll probably need to go to Office Max to prepare for my reward plan. It may involve stickers and certificates, but I’ll also check out the 101 ideas!
I’m also a big fan of bath bombs from Lush. I’ve also started making my own – they aren’t as pretty as the pros, but they’re still fizzy! I’m going to put the recipe I use on our Pinterest page. You can check it out here.
Thanks, Thea, for all the awesome tips and for reminding us we deserve a pat on the back – and we might need to be the ones doing the patting!