The school year just started and you’re already burned out. Can you relate?

You might be homeschooling for the first time. Up until now, you’ve had an outside structure to build your life around: Regular office hours, drop-off time and pick-up times for the kids at school, scheduled extracurricular activities after school, and similar tasks. Now, all that is upended and you have nothing to anchor your weekly schedule.

Or maybe you’re a veteran homeschooler, but 2020 feels dramatically different than past years. The result is that you’re feeling demotivated like never before.

Regardless of your circumstances, there are some important reasons you’re struggling this year:

  • If you were a parent working outside the home, your old social structure is mostly gone, replaced by Zoom meetings or, if you’re lucky, socially distant gatherings. Switching to a home environment can be challenging when you’re accustomed to external sources, people around you, that indicate it’s time to work or participate in school.
  • Reading the news is always prone to induce anxiety in our hearts, but especially in 2020. The pandemic is just the tip of the iceberg: We also face widespread social unrest, economic upheaval, and a bitter election year.
  • Let’s be frank: Distractions at home are plentiful, especially when you’re not used to doing work or school there. Pandemic home remodeling is booming, for instance. It’s so easy to get distracted by chores, yard work, or something less useful like flipping on the TV.
  • There is so much on your agenda to do in 2020 that you can end up doing nothing. Overwhelm is a big contributor to procrastination. The mentality of “why bother?” when you know you can’t get everything done is a big reality.
  • You’re surrounded by the noise of people who seem to be using all this downtime during 2020 to become super productive. This comparison can be super demotivating as you realize you don’t stack up to your friends, or at least the often carefully curated version of your friends’ lives they want everyone else to see!

Here are some strategies to help overcome the overwhelm:

1. “Hack” yourself

Understand who you are and what motivates you. A good place to start is by differentiating between the two types of motivation: There is extrinsic (outside us) or intrinsic (inside us). “Extrinsic motivation is when we are compelled to do something for a reward—such as for praise, money, or social recognition—or for fear of punishment. Intrinsic motivation is when we are compelled by things that are personally gratifying, such as learning, satisfying a curiosity, taking an interest, problem-solving, or success.”

We’re all operating with a load of extrinsic motivation right now! Fear is a big driver. The key is to tap back into your intrinsic motivation and know what truly motivates you from the inside out. Self-examination is important here. The goal should be to set up meaningful points of motivation for yourself, and that will look different for everyone. Pursuing a time of self-reflection to determine the best way forward is essential.

2. Create a routine, but keep it flexible

One way to help is to turn as much of what we need to do each day into a habit as possible. Running on autopilot here will help reduce the amount of willpower needed to get through your day. It also reduces the dreaded decision fatigue we all face when encountering dozens of choices throughout the day. The goal is to have a routine with built-in flexibility—it’s essential to have some wiggle room as a homeschool parent!

3. Take small steps

I love what blogger Jory MacKay describes as “the progress principle”: Taking tiny steps toward your goal is better than shooting for the moon. Small wins build motivation, and “the easiest way for you to get motivated is to just start.” You’ve probably seen this truth in other areas of your life: The toughest part of a workout might be getting out the door and the first five minutes. Or the most challenging part of dealing with that heaping basket of laundry is the folding the first few pieces.

What’s the bottom line? Just get started. You might find that motivation quickly follows.

4. Limit social media and news consumption

A 2018 study from the University of Pennsylvania suggested limiting social media use to no more than 30 minutes a day in order to reduce loneliness and depression. If that applies in 2018, imagine how much more it’s crucial in 2020! 

I get it: This tip is particularly tough because social media seems like one of the few ways to communicate with people during quarantine. But the key here is “limit,” not “eliminate.” Rather than spend hours in the evening scrolling your social and news feeds mindlessly, try calling or video chatting a friend or meeting a neighbor to walk outside.

5. Accept the ups and downs

It’s important to realize that motivation, like inspiration, comes and goes. One day you might rock it. The next fall flat on your face. That’s OK. The important thing is to keep moving forward.

6. Imagine a better 2021

An optimistic view of what’s ahead is one way to cope with lack of motivation in the present. Even though it’s mid-September, the new year is truly just around the corner and will be here before we know it. Ultimately, we need to take 2020 one step at a time and look forward to a better future.