Staying Motivated and Working Independently

By: Emily Regan, OUR Peer Research Ambassador

Staying motivated and working independently is not so difficult when every day brings the excitement of a reading a new story or studying the work of a master. However, I’ve learned that when your work evolves into steady, independent tasks, staying focused becomes more challenging, and even more important.

The exhilaration that came with being awarded a UConn IDEA Grant to write and illustrate a graphic novel was all-encompassing, and fueled the first stage of my independent project. I planned my research trip to Newport, RI, studied what supplies I would need to complete the illustrations, and read endless graphic novels for inspiration. This research was hard work, but also work that allowed me to imagine what my project would be like at its conclusion.

As I got further into my project and the work became increasingly independent and detail oriented, I realized I needed tools to help me stay on task. Here are three strategies that helped me stay focused and motivated.

Be the Boss
Independent work means you have to be your own boss. Writing and illustrating a graphic novel entails countless drafts, sketches and storyboards. All of this adds up to quite a lot of time working independently on detail oriented, sometimes tedious, tasks. The only way I have found to succeed at this type of work is to set limits and goals for myself, as an employer would. For example, when I sit down to work, I figure out ahead of time how long I need to work and what I need to accomplish in that time. By writing my goals and limits down, I create a concrete, physical plan to return to if I lose my focus or motivation.

Keep Your Inspiration Close
One of the main challenges to staying motivated is holding onto your vision while you work on the details of your project. If you lose sight of the exciting end goal, it is easy to lose motivation and get lost in the tedious, day to day work. Regularly referencing what inspires you can help you maintain your motivation. For me, this means keeping my favorite comics and graphic novels close to my workspace so I can look back at them and remind myself how much I love this medium. It also means that I need to be constantly reading new books, comics and graphic novels so my perspective stays fresh.

Turn to Your Project Mentor
The truth is, research and creative work can be incredibly challenging, and at times, discouraging. When you’re passionate about your project and things go wrong, it is easy to feel defeated. If you start to feel discouraged, it is time to turn to your mentor. Your project mentor is an amazing resource. Your mentor has years and years of research or creative work experience. This means they also have years and years of experience in feeling defeated and discouraged, and likely have developed ways to push through these feelings and continue with their work. Reach out to your mentor and explain the challenges you’re facing. It’s likely they have faced the same challenges in their own work and have very helpful advice for you.

Final Thoughts
Staying motivated while working independently is one of the greatest, and most difficult, academic and creative skills to master. Through an independent project, you’ll not only complete meaningful research or creative work, but also gain skills in working autonomously that will serve you in all future academic and creative endeavors. Set goals, stay inspired and remember to turn to your mentor for support.

Emily Regan is a junior majoring in studio art with a concentration in illustration. Click here to learn more about Emily.