In this ever evolving tech industry we are in a continuous state of learning, which is one of the things that attracted me to this field originally. I'm a mostly self-taught web designer and developer. I studied communication design for a year in school, but other than that, I've learned my trade on the job and on my own time. Looking back, I'm pretty amazed with myself that I was able to be so productive at self study outside of my regular full-time job. I was the kid in school who did not do homework, and now I've been able to incorporate home "work" as part of my normal routine, but even in adulthood I struggled for years on motivating myself to actually sit down and do something. The usual advice is to be strict and set a schedule or a deadline, but this kind of pressure always backfired on me. When overwhelmed, I freeze. In the end, I'll have done nothing and feel immense guilt about it, which leads me towards a downward spiral of negative emotions, imposter syndrome, and in the end, accomplishing very little and feeling like a failure.
I do have a bachelor's degree in something non-tech: psychology. I like to joke about its reputation for being one of the most useless degrees. An undergraduate psychology degree gives you skills that directly apply to no jobs, but in turn, critical thinking skills that can apply to every job. I have figured out over the years that the high pressure, get things done approach doesn't work for me. By taking a less strict approach, I become a more productive person. These are the mental tricks I use to keep me going.
Schedule "do nothing" time.
This is beyond regular "me time", "friend time", or "down time". This is lay-on-the-couch-and-play-with-my-phone time while I binge watch TV for hours (shout out to my current binge show, Golden Girls). I'll even sometimes go so far as to schedule this time on my calendar, which helps reinforce in my mind that this is allowed and is a positive thing, and I don't need to feel so guilty about it. When I give myself a night of nothingness, the next day I'll wake up mellow and kind of bored looking for something to engage my mind with, and am generally my most productive. This is my way to recharge.
Say "No" to things, even sometimes things that are opportunities. Especially sometimes these things.
I spent over a decade struggling to keep my head above water financially, and I settled into a career later in life than most. I had to be scrappy for years, and it took me a good while to let go of that feeling of desperation, that belief that I needed to take on whatever came my way to pay the bills or to advance my career. It's a luxury to be able to turn down opportunities, and it's a luxury I only have been able to do once I crossed beyond the entry-level threshold. Making time is one thing, but conserving time to allow space for a possible better opportunity is next level, a risk, and a real challenge. I try to only work on things I am incredibly super duper stoked on, but I honestly still struggle a lot with this because I am easily stoked and find everything inspiring at the onset.
Don't be afraid to drop things that aren't motivating you.
Every so often after I have started up a project that I think I am super duper stoked on, I find myself procrastinating, struggling to focus, and stressed out whenever I sit down to work on it. This is a signal that I should consider letting it go. My actions (or inactions) are telling me this isn't working for me. For example, a few years ago I decided to start a blog and had grand plans about the content, how I was going to market it, bought a catchy domain name, etc., and I spent a lot of time building out the blog and designing it. Once that was done, I wrote two articles and found I never wanted to sit down and write anymore. After weeks of beating myself up about it, I recognized that I am a web designer and developer and not a journalist, so this behavior actually made perfect sense. I let the project wither and die (although come to think of it, I'm sure I still own the domain name). I also looked back at the work I did accomplish on it, and recognized I had learned a lot just from that part of the exercise. I need to trust that my feelings of disengagement are telling me this may not be worth my time. Or maybe it's just not the right time.
Free yourself for a week, a month, a year.
Taking timing a step further, sometimes I'm just not feeling it, or I have other things going on in life, and I've let that be totally ok. Breaks are necessary to avoid burn out. My productivity comes and goes in waves. If I'm really interested in something, I find I will come back to it when I have the space in my mind and in my calendar to pick it up, whether that be next week or next year.
In summary, it appears that I am a control freak and my trick is to make myself think that I have all the time in the world and all the control. I'll concede that is at least half of it. The other half is self care. I conserve my time and energy for when I can use it the most productively on the things that matter most.