Lack of motivation is the number one disease of the 21st century. Projects get delayed, roadmaps spanning over a two-year period start to look like they will never end.
In those cases, periods of unproductivity are expected and common. However, the longer they last, the greater the chances of them festering and creating fertile ground for burnout. It’s the professional equivalent of a common cold turned pneumonia because it was left untreated.
Whether you’re having trouble with a school, college or workplace project; whether it’s a case study or game development, we’ve got your back. Below you’ll find a list of motivational habits and strategies you can try out to pull yourself out of the rut.
How do you motivate yourself to keep working?
- Finding motivation
- Using intrinsic motivation strategies
- Using extrinsic motivators
- Avoiding motivation killers
How to find motivation?
Not all of us are motivated in the same way. We often hear that money motivates some, success others, as well as a challenge, or a sense of purpose. But did you know they can all be sorted into two simple groups?
- Intrinsic motivation – the one that comes from within the person; where the drive to finish a task is motivated by the challenge of it, self-improvement, or the joy of completing it;
- Extrinsic motivation – the one that comes from outside of the person; winning an award, getting a pay raise, getting positive feedback and commendations;
To help you figure out which motivation suits you best, we’ve covered different strategies from both groups.
1. Intrinsic motivation strategies
For those who want to change how they work, for the sake of improvement.
Take baby steps
This is a commonly seen tip, but very effective nonetheless. Breaking up a large task into smaller steps and putting them into a to-do list gives a sense of progression. For example:
- Write one chapter of the book
- Light research reading
- Writing warm-up
- Write the first few paragraphs
- Take a break
- Come back and revise
- Write the next few paragraphs
You can do this for any kind of project. If you know what pieces make up the task, it’s easier to approach it than thinking: “I need to write a chapter today”.
With such a broad undertaking, how do you know where to start?
With projects that can span over months or even years, it’s hard to keep your eye on the prize. When the end result so far ahead, how do you stay driven to perform as best as you can?
This might sound ridiculous but bear with us: train your brain like a pet.
Like with the first item on our list, you need to reward yourself for a job well done. Pick up a calendar and mark specific milestones for your project. Or if they are also far and few in between, create shorter ones. Make bi-weekly, or bi-monthly ones. Promise to reward yourself with beer if you finish that one nagging task you’ve neglected since last week.
Having a particularly hard time actually starting something?
Then be strict with yourself. Take your stopwatch app and set a 30-second countdown. As soon as the timer hits zero, you start working, no matter how lazy you feel.
Psychologists emphasize how important it is to ignore our brains’ whining complaints. They advise taking that “icky” feeling of not wanting to work and doing the thing anyway. The emotion will wear off after a little while, and the relief after the completed task will take its place.
Most times, the lack of motivation comes with its sister – procrastination – because a lot of us fear imperfection. There is no drive because we fear failure. I mean, if we can’t do something perfectly on the first or second try, why even bother, right?
Well, as the team behind Extra Credits likes to say: “Any plan is better than no plan”.
In order for good work to be done, bad first runs are a must. That project pitch you’re stressing over won’t sound good the first few drafts. But you’ll have enough chances to iterate and improve.
Procrastinating because the words just won’t come definitely makes the motivation drop. Teach yourself it’s okay to fail, and learn from your mistakes.
Sometimes, the best way to combat the lack of motivation is to analyze it.
Take into account all the work you need to do, and why you still haven’t started or have a hard time continuing. Ask yourself:
- What is holding you back?
- Does the idea of the project tire you? Make you feel hopeless?
- Is there anything about the workday that excites you?
- (And no, going home doesn’t count)
- How long has this been lasting, and when did it start?
These are all questions to go through when you start to notice your lack of motivation lasts longer than usual. Introspectivity can lead to useful answers about your own relationship with work and the project itself.
Organizers and planners
One way to motivate yourself is to have fun with the workload.
Make it look harmless and easy to do – even if it maybe isn’t. Get yourself a planner and order a sticker plan. Amazon sells them by the truckloads. Fill up your planner with stickers that suit your personality. Throw a few “killed it” or “nailed it” stickers in there for good measure.
Visual representation is sometimes enough to give us a push. Not to mention that looking back at your planner after a few weeks or months is going to look very satisfying. It definitely gives a greater sense of achievement and satisfaction.
2. Extrinsic motivators
For those who need outside factors to keep motivated.
Eyes on the prize
The internet has somewhat spoiled us. We’re used to instant results – we click a link and expect lightning-speed load times. We start a video and unless it’s instantly engaging, we turn it off.
Similarly, when working on something that requires time and patience, we find it difficult to stay focused. There is no real-life progress bar that inches closer to the goal.
Motivation drops because we start to forget what we are working for. The best thing you can do in this case is to keep an association for your goal nearby:
- A vision board in your bedroom;
- A post-it with the number of sales you need/want to make in the long run;
- A calendar with the project launch party marked down, etc
Give your motivation a kick with the Homer Simpson treatment.
Having another person keep you accountable for your work can be just as effective as a deadline.
Set up an agreement with a coworker, a friend, or a family member. Agree that you will report your progress to them at the end of each day, or week. Set up a correspondence so they can support you, and help alleviate doubts or problems with your workflow.
In case you don’t want to rapport on progress, there’s always time management software, like Clockify. Log in, start it up, and share access to your accountability buddies. With a completely transparent project tracking feature, you can use Clockify to see what each of you is currently doing, then discuss potential challenges and solutions in a weekly report.
Workgroups and work teams
If you can’t rely on one person, then look for workgroups. They work the same as study groups in high school and college. Surround yourself with people who are more motivated than you. Work in the same room or office as them.
People tend to be more motivated when placed in a high-functioning team. Peer pressure seems to work in a positive way, too.
Put things you are looking forward to in your task system
There is more to our days than just work, we all know that. But most mornings we often go: “I have to go to work AGAIN” as soon as we wake up.
This happens because even though we know there’s more to life, we allow work to be the main event of our day. And if you’re lacking motivation, that feeling is primarily negative.
To combat this demotivating factor, enter non-work-related events into your calendar. Maybe it’s a birthday, or a party, movie night, or your kid’s recital. Having something to look forward to every time you look at the calendar will remind you that there’s more to your everyday than this current task.
Help someone else
Whenever you’re staring blankly at the screen (or paper) and nothing seems to come out of your overworked brain… see if anyone else in the office needs help. For those employed remotely, who work at home, pick up a chore that will give you a few moments away from the screen.
It’s good to clear the mind by keeping it active. When you accomplish even the smallest thing your motivation gets a boost.
Some of us work better under pressure.
If you’re faced with a project or a task that seems never-ending, set yourself some deadlines. And if you’re the type of person that never takes their own authority seriously, ask your supervisor or coworker to set the deadlines for you.
Alternatively, set them for yourself as a challenge: meet a deadline before Thanksgiving, so you can take the time off and not think about work.
Knowing how to get motivated to work is only half the battle. You also need to keep an eye out on the productivity pitfalls. On all those small, harmless things that accumulate over time and cause your lack of motivation to settle in.
Doing only smaller tasks
Don’t worry, we’re not contradicting ourselves here.
While breaking up big tasks into smaller ones does help with motivation and organization, it’s still a slippery slope. One can easily make the mistake of spending more time on the smaller tasks every single day (like cleaning out your inbox, sorting through files, or writing up your to-do list). This actively pushes back more demanding tasks until there’s no time left to do them.
Intersperse your activities based on their difficulty.
Put aside your phone when you sit down to work. Enable only important notifications to come through. Smart devices are massive time consumers and distractors.
It is only natural you’ll feel unmotivated to work, after browsing social media every few minutes.
This is a massive motivation killer. Ask yourself if you’re procrastinating because you don’t know how to tackle an assignment.
In cases like these, you need to develop a “cut-off” skill – you choose one of the options presented and stick to it no matter what. Long deliberation over particular problems (especially unimportant ones) traps you inside your head, making you more fearful than excited to keep working.
We’ve all been down this path: giving promises to ourselves and others, believing we can give 100% and then some.
“Sure, I can do this by noon along with the project reports, no problem!”
Cue five minutes to noon, and you wonder how on earth you thought this task could be done in one morning.
Before you start making a to-do list for the day, realistically assess your time and ability that day. Some days you feel more energized, others you just want to crawl under the desk and sleep. It’s normal and expected. After all, we’re not machines. So long as you’re able to gauge your productivity for that day, even the bad days will still be somewhat productive.
So, what did we learn?
Motivation is like a moody teenager. It never seems to know what it wants, refuses every kind of support we try to give, and its bursts of productivity are wholly unpredictable. Sometimes it seems like we can never get it on our side. But, just like an artist’s inspiration, motivation is a thing of practice. You need to try different approaches, and try them daily, weekly, monthly. Following one strategy of those we listed only once will surely fail.
The best outcome comes from consistency and pushing through even the bad days. And with that, we wish you good luck!