Office Hours 1: Motivation, Perfection, and Building Relationships

Hey all! Welcome to Office Hours, my first “ask Sara”-style question and answers advice post! I posted on Facebook, Twitter, and a few groups about this new series and got some great questions for this week. Read on for the questions and my advice!

I've been really struggling with motivation lately. Classes on top of 3 jobs, a blog, a social life, a boyfriend, family, and somehow taking care of myself mentally and physically... it's so much to handle. More days than not I find myself struggling to get out of bed and get to work, how do you motivate yourself to get busy on those kind of days? -

Dani of Dani Dearest

Hey Dani! Wow, that sounds like a lot to handle! I’m really impressed at how you’ve been doing so far. My answer for you comes in two parts.

The first is focused directly on what you’re asking, about how to get and stay motivated on busy or overwhelming days. I recently watched a documentary about the Large Hadron Collider called Particle Fever, in which one of the physicists talked about her approach to long-term projects:

When you’re dealing with something that’s a long term project…you can’t think about the end. Ever. If you start off a marathon thinking “I can’t wait to get to the finish line, I’m going to have my data or I’m going to have my crispy french fries at the finish line” or whatever motives you, if you start thinking that at mile one and it’s like ten minutes into the race and you’re thinking to yourself “Wow, I’m only at mile one, I’ve got 22.5 miles to go.” If you’re thinking like that at the start, then you’re done. Mentally you are done.

I think this is applicable to many different kinds of projects, including even long days at school or work. Rather than getting up and fantasizing about being done with your busy day, or thinking about how satisfying it will be to climb back in bed when you’re finished with what you need to do, focus on finding some joy or satisfaction during your daily tasks. What do you enjoy about your classes, your blog, or your jobs? Though it may seem counter-intuitive, we get the farthest and do the most when we focus on the journey, not the destination.

You may also find a motivation board or collage to be helpful. I talk about this (and provide a workbook of worksheets for motivation) over at my blog post The Ultimate Guide to College Motivation, which you can access here. The workbook is available here for those of you signed up to my mailing list – it has inspiration sheets, SMART goal-plotting pages, a “motivation NOW” sheet, and a daily planner page! This may help you stay motivated and focused during the week.

However, my second answer to your question is a little different. You mention struggling to get out of bed, and feeling bogged down by work and obligations. It’s possible you may have too much on your plate (a feeling I’m familiar with!), or may need a little extra help figuring out how to balance everything you’re doing. If you think that may be the case, do a “life audit” and see which parts of your schedule may be more optional than they feel. You can always delegate tasks to others at work or on your team, ask for extensions on assignments, or even pursue support in the form of counseling if you keep feeling overwhelmed despite your best efforts. If that’s something that interests you, you can read my tips for starting counseling.

How do you plan your studying and how long do you spend on studying everyday? How far in advance do you start studying for tests? I have been having difficulties with how long I spend studying for stuff because according to many of my peers its too much.

Megan of Love Megan June

Hey Megan! This is a great question, and I think it really depends on the person and their needs. For me personally, I can start studying weeks in advance for a major test like a midterm, and only a few days beforehand for something smaller like a quiz. Something that may help you choose a time frame is this guide to making a study schedule that I put out last year, which goes into how I prepare my studying and how far in advance I study for an exam.

I don’t study every single day unless I have a test coming up, in which case I may study for one to three hours that day, as needed. I plan my studying using the Pomodoro method of time management, and try to set a goal for every 25-minute increment so that I know I’m working hard and staying on track.

As long as you’re continuing to make time for yourself and your health and happiness, I wouldn’t worry about making “too much” time for studying or work! There’s nothing wrong with working hard and trying your best. Your peers may not understand, but remember that these choices are yours, and as long as they are making you happy and contributing to your success, there’s nothing wrong with them!


How do you remember to invest time in meaningful moments instead of getting on social media like crazy and forgetting to build real relationships?

Samantha of As Life Grows

Hey Samantha! This is a great question on behalf of one of your readers. It’s something I struggle with a lot, especially when I’m with my boyfriend— I’m so excited to spend time with him that I want to share all our travels and experiences online, and sometimes forget to really focus on the moment.

My major pieces of advice would be to put my phone away and ask questions of the people I’m with. Sometimes (when I know I’ll quickly pull my phone out of my purse or pocket), I even hand my phone to my boyfriend at the start of our dinner so that I don’t need to think about it at all. Then, I make sure to really engage with him or with whoever I’m spending my time with, by asking meaningful questions instead of making small talk. What is a great memory they have? What kind of values are important to them? How do they feel about the current political climate? These conversation-oriented questions help get the ball rolling for deeper connection, and keep my mind away from likes and follows.

How do I stop the irrational fear of making mistakes and not being perfect?

Natalia of XO Make

Hi Natalia. Oh, boy, is this a question I have personal experience with! I struggled with intense perfectionism for years; I even wrote a post about it here, and created a ten-page “overcoming perfectionism” workbook that may help you (you can download it here if you are subscribed to my mailing list!).

I think your fear of making mistakes indicates a deeper issue, though, and one that many people struggle with. Often, people who are hard-working and high-achieving become addicted to the feeling of success because it gives them a sense of security. We start to use that success to define ourselves — as the smart girl, the successful woman, the beautiful person. In that process, we forget that we can be smart, successful, and beautiful without the constant affirmation of successes — which is good, because success is not guaranteed! Failure is normal and healthy. It happens to the best of us; this article, featuring the failures of a few of the most successful people in the world may help you see that.

Something that’s helped me in dealing with a fear of failure is reminding myself that failure is inevitable and that that’s okay. I will not always get an A. I will not always have a record-breaking month of blog traffic. Sometimes I forget things, or spill things, or postpone and delay. And sometimes, despite my hardest work and my best effort, I mess up. That’s how it is. Those mistakes, in turn, teach me to be a better, healthier, well-rounded person. If you lean towards affirmation, these few from Sound Mind may help you:

I am not perfect. Nobody is perfect.

I don’t have to be perfect. My best is good enough.

I accept the way I am.

If things don’t go the way I want, it’s okay, I accept that.

No one is perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes.

Even if I don’t succeed, it’s okay, what matters is that I try my best.

That’s all for now, friends. Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions. Do you have any advice for the askers today? Comment below! And if you have a question for me, feel free to comment on this post for next time, or (if you’d prefer to stay anonymous), shoot me an email at sara@saralaughed.com.

Sara Laughed

Hey hey! I'm Sara, an American writer living in the Netherlands and working as a product manager.

  1. OnceUponADollhouse says:

    We def go through phases at the dollhouse where we are in full gear and other times when we are stalling a bit. Yoga, acupuncture and good wholesome food are what keeps us going at this point! LIFE balance is always a struggle, this year I’ve decided to just go with the flow and understand that the NOW is perfect and that’s what matters!

  2. Kristine Circenis says:

    This is a great post! Motivation is something I struggle with more often than I’d like to admit. I’ve found that having someone to hold me accountable and nudge me every now and then has been the most helpful. Have a great weekend 🙂

  3. Jenny says:

    Love this Q&A series and your answers to the questions. Even in adult life, I tend to struggle with motivation and getting it all done.

    xoxo, Jenny

  4. Allie Bigoness says:

    This is such a great idea. I think motivation is something that everyone can relate to or feel they could be better at staying on top of. Love the idea of a Q&A post.

  5. Sara, you’re so consistently sweet and helpful, I’m constantly amazed by you! I really relate with Natalia’s question – sometimes the fear of failure is enough to keep me from starting! When I get back on campus, I’m writing “It’s okay to make mistakes” on a sticky note, putting it on top of my desk, and trying my best to remember that it’s true. After all, how else am I supposed to learn anything?

  6. I totally relate to Samantha’s question! As a blogger, I feel like I have to be connected 24/7. I’ve been working really hard to take time away from my phone and totally enjoy the moment. I loved your answer to her question 🙂

    XO, SS || Seersucker Sass

  7. I can definitely relate to Dani because motivation is something I struggle with on the daily. I also have ADHD which definitely doesn’t help. I love the advice you gave about not thinking about the end. That’s such a habit of mine.

  8. I absolutely LOVE the style of this post, starting from you calling it your office hours and ending with your advice. It’s all awesome! I’m finishing up a Masters degree and I am so terrible at only focusing on the finish line. I’ve never heard that snippet of advice from the physicist but it’s going into my file of quotes now. Thanks. 🙂

  9. Lusy Smith says:

    tips but sometimes this is not enough to solve the problem. In my casehttp://kingessays.com/ was
    my backup plan. Now I think it was right decision. Anyway good luck everybody.

  10. Bailey says:

    I found the way you decided to format this post extremely creative. I really struggle with maintaining relationships because I’m so stuck on the end game. Great advice. -Bailes

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