How To Find Work Motivation When You’re Lacking The Determination

Alexandra Cote

Written by

Alexandra Cote

Read Time

12 minutes

Social distancing, an influx of unfortunate news, and the abrupt change to remote work have severely impacted their overall morale and motivation though.

This lack of initiative has expanded all over. Sally M. Fox, a copywriter from the UK, sums up everyone’s low motivation in one sentence:

“With no idea when this will end and no clear delineation between work and leisure time, my usual motivational favorites, future planning, and walks in the fresh air are off-menu.”

Motivation is one of the most complex concepts out there that can make or break our days.

Why? Because literally anything can be behind motivation or a lack of drive.

Not seeing a purpose to your work. Being in an environment that’s prone to bringing up distractions. Feeling pressured or unappreciated.

Good news is that just as easily as we lose motivation, we can also boost it and make the most of our days.

The importance of staying motivated when at work

Motivation is that one tiny thing we all ignore until we realize it’s no longer with us. Behind its apparent unimportance, everything around you is the result of a highly-motivated person who didn’t give up.

This being said, having a higher dose of self-motivation drives us to keep pushing and learning until we reach our top goals. No motivation to work and you’ve set yourself to nothing.

Beyond this, you also need to work on staying motivated to keep your business going and never stray away from your targets. This subtle mix of achieving motivation and keeping it makes us feel competent, accomplished, and accountable.

“Although it can be hard to summon up work motivation each day, especially consistently, it’s well worth pushing yourself. The sense of achievement keeps driving you along. Furthermore, once you find a sense of “flow” work can be far less emotionally taxing than fixating on an endless news cycle. Yes, everybody is having bad days, but bouncing back and making sure the next is a good one is definitely the key.” – Ben Taylor, Founder @HomeWorkingClub

Frankly, every single aspect of your life is dependent on motivation to a certain degree. From staying in touch with your friends and family to getting out of a rut or improving our personal brand’s reputation.

The #1 reason you might want to gain back your motivation to work is that it just makes life easier. It gets your energy levels higher, keeps you away from procrastinating, and pushes you to do your best. All in much less time then you would if you were delaying everything. No more postponing work or snoozing in because you just can’t be bothered to do something.

How to increase your work motivation

Not all tips on work motivation are effective though. With lots of aspects influencing our day-to-day lives, how can you know what method to use first?

Every individual has one or two key things they care about. For instance, if you’re a career-driven person, your top motivation might be keeping your goal in mind at all times.

But as usual, no matter how different we are, there will always be a set of feelings and concepts that will build up to demotivate us.

Here’s how to fight back the lack of motivation:

Get rid of negative emotions

Negative feelings can keep us from focusing on our goals. All of our worries, fears, and anxieties keep us thinking of all the things that could go wrong along with other personal issues we might have. These distract us from our priorities indefinitely, having us postpone our life-long dreams until it’s too late.

The secret is to avoid having time to think about these negative aspects of your life while focusing on the good: your happiest moments, things you’ve learned, or how you’ll feel once you reach a goal.

“If you are suffering from stress or anxiety, it’s a great time to start practicing yoga and/or meditation to help change your relationship to negative thought patterns. These practices can help shift your perspective to lean towards positive thoughts and emotions, and as a result, lead to greater productivity and motivation in your personal and work life.” – Jamie-Lee Kay, Co-Founder @theotherstraw

Simply talking to other people can keep you balanced and take your mind off all the things that are bothering you:

“Talk to people, don’t bottle up your fears and concerns. Once you have let it off your chest, you may feel better and can move onwards. It’s ok to be anxious.” – Andrew Taylor, Director @Net Lawman

Plan your day and keep distractions at bay

One quick fix to help you avoid bumping into distractions is to create a schedule and stick to it. If you know you only have 1 hour to take care of a task, you’ll have to work during that time and steer clear from any social media posts, funny videos, or articles that can wait.

Use a work management tool like Paymo to plan out tasks and follow their progress as you work on getting them done. Prioritize them and start small every day, gradually expanding your goals until every single task you do on a daily basis will help you reach your ultimate goal.

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Detailed task list in Paymo

Nikki Hamilton advises on automating this entire process of managing tasks:

“If there are tasks that need to be repeated over and over, create templates to take the thinking and emotion out of them. This could be as simple as drafting up a checklist to work through each time or using scheduling software to automate the workflows.”

To actually see how you’re progressing, you’ll want to monitor how you spend your time. Clock in your tasks to see how your efforts add up and whether or not the time was spent according to your priorities. If turning the timer on and off seems too much of a routine activity to you, switch to an automatic time tracking tool like PaymoPlus. The tool records everything you do on a computer [including idle time] so you can see exactly what your top distractions were and stay away from those apps or websites in the future.

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Time tracking with Paymo

Identify the causes behind your mistakes to avoid making them again

Humans are by nature highly likely to repeat the same mistakes they’ve made before. You’d think that seeing what blunders you’ve faced, learning from them, and never going that way would be easy. Life happens and we find ourselves in the same positions repeatedly.

We procrastinate, choosing temporarily fun activities over the ones that can truly help us attain our goals, and we’re simply too distracted by everything around us.

As mentioned in the previous section, the key to a successful weekly work plan is to make sure you don’t leave time for distractions. Anything that’s not related to work should be kept for your planned breaks. If you do come across some tempting news or a viral video, bookmark it for later.

The worst distractions though are not a harmless cat video or your kids asking you a question. It’s the bad news you see on TV or social media that will only make your worry and keep your mind elsewhere in the long run.

Mitchell Kelly, Director of Digital Marketing @Pathfinder Alliance shared his own biggest distractions which are likely to be the same for many of us:

“A huge challenge for me is procrastination and distraction. They are the biggest enemies of productivity and motivation.

To get on top of them, you need to identify the source of each of your major distractions and eliminate them one-by-one.

When you’re working from home, it’s easy to get caught up in the endless parade of notifications and time-draining apps only to find your concentration and productivity melt away. At a minimum, use the Do Not Disturb mode and put your phone in another room so you won’t have it constantly tempting you.

Also, it should go without saying, but you need to keep your office separate from where you normally relax. If you have a separate study room, then this is the best option, but if you’re in a small apartment without a lot of space, then the next best option would be to set up an area in your living room facing away from the TV.”

Challenge yourself

Why add a challenge to your daily routine if you’re already finding it difficult to stay motivated?

Challenges are what keep us evolving. They help us stay focused on our goals and increase our engagement rates, making us excited to take care of our duties and not just complete them for the sake of finishing work quickly. We all seem to have different ways of looking at a challenge though.

Ben Taylor shared with us how finding a new challenge has been motivating him each day:

“Giving myself new projects to work on has been a strong motivator for me. This is a great opportunity to take stock and think of where you can develop new skills, and many companies are offering free training materials. I’m hoping to someday emerge from lockdown knowing two new languages – Python (programming) and Spanish!”

For Grant Gurewitz @Think For Yourself, keeping himself busy also works:

“I like to take a page from Japan’s longest-lived people who maintain a healthy body and active mind into their 100s by simply keeping their hands busy. Gardening, washing dishes, folding laundry, cleaning, and cooking, while some are not activities we love, are amazing ways to stimulate creative thinking. Try doing any of these necessary activities without consuming content like audiobooks, podcasts, or scrolling your phone to give your brain time to wander into some of your best creative thinking in years.”

For Becca Taylor, a Holistic Time Management Coach, simply staying accountable is enough to keep her motivation strong:

“One of my favorite ways to get motivated is to tell someone else what I’m doing and when I’ll finish it and that really lights a fire for me. Accountability is one of my favorite ways to challenge myself, especially when I give a deadline that I know is a bit of a stretch.

Another great way is to have a treat or something I really want after I get a project done. This exercises my self-accountability muscle and I get to celebrate that I accomplished a goal at work. Our brains really love positive reinforcement.”

Find that one thing to keep you going

Receiving recognition, making a change, advancing professionally, even earning some extra cash. All of these are solid reasons to stick to and keep going. Accomplishing each one of your own goals at a time helps you feel like you’re contributing to a larger cause and not just putting in work for someone else’s sake.

“Look deep inside of you for your ‘why’. What is that one big reason for what you’re doing? Sometimes it’s hard to find a reason for ourselves, which is why I make it about others as well. What I do is to support my girl, my family, and even the cat (she counts too)! This makes waking up at 4:30 in the morning easier. It also makes it easier to sit down and get my actions for the day completed. You don’t always have the biggest ‘why’ in the world, but making it emotional and attaching it to the ones that you love can certainly help you move mountains.” – James Canzanella, Owner @Isolated Marketing Nights

According to Vroom’s Expectancy Theory, this tip should work for everyone. This theory states that both individuals and companies are driven by the positive correlation between their own efforts and the outcomes of their performance. Implicitly, rewards will satisfy their needs. So the mere thought that a need of yours will be met by performing a task is enough to keep you working and staying focused on the end reward.

Prioritize your mental health

Job burnout might be keeping you from focusing on your work, giving your best performance, and seeing the end results. To steer clear from burnout, you need to know when to end your workday.

Take breaks as often as needed [maybe even when you don’t feel like you HAVE to take one, but you’ve already been working for 5 hours straight]. Go for a walk or just take your laptop to your balcony or terrace to take some pressure off your shoulders. Anything to break the routine will do the trick.

Your mental health is at stake here. So focus on one task at a time and take care of them in order of their priority. Try not to accept new work you won’t be able to finish, unless you stay to work through the night or weekends.

“Know when to stop working. Having all you work at home, you tend to work beyond your normal hours and keep working through. I even find myself working on weekends when I usually wouldn’t. This is a surefire way to burnout so this must be avoided.

Rather than looking at all obstacles, see the opportunity to test and learn and recreate what your culture means in the digital world. We understand the importance of mental health so we’re using a couple of hacks to increase team morale:

  • We surprise and delight our employees by delivering a pot plant and OKR poster to their door
  • We now hold Team leader one-on-ones weekly [not fortnightly] to make up the for the missed informal catch-ups
  • We have virtual hangouts for lunch and coffee
  • We’ve created a separate WFH-hacks & health zone Slack channel to share ideas and inspiration, plus prompts to get up and stretch” – Adam Stewart @HROnboard
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The HROnboard team sends employees plants to brighten their day

Even helping others can keep you motivated when you’re struggling:

“I also try to keep myself motivated by performing random acts of kindness throughout the week. I try to give a little money to causes and people who have it worse off than I do. Knowing that my money is going to help not just myself but others who are struggling motivates me to keep pushing forward and to give everything I can to my work.” – Jay Allen, Publisher @Unseen Japan

Celebrating every win

Sometimes nothing else works besides looking at what you’ll be able to do AFTER you’ve reached a goal or completed a project. Take a vacation after writing your book, launch an app, and write down an article on the success you’ve achieved, or just thank everyone that helped you along the way. Studies have shown that simply tracking and writing down our small achievements can boost motivation at work because it reminds us of the rewards we’re going to get, providing bursts of energy to keep us hooked on a goal.

Take the time to celebrate success, whether the goal was something you’ve always dreamed of or just a small bump you were worried about:

“Celebrating ‘every’ little win keeps me motivated. If a blog gets published, if a tweet does better than average, whatever it is, I’m celebrating it. I realize that as a team of one there’s a lot that I can (and feels like I should) do. So, the fact that I even ‘did’ something with the limited resources I’m now working with is keeping me motivated each day.

Finding people to celebrate those wins with. At a company that’s mostly comprised of engineers, it’s hard for them to fully understand or appreciate certain wins that many marketers would be super pumped about. Not because they’re not supportive, they just don’t have that full understanding of what it takes to achieve certain things. So, I lean on my community of marketers and friends who can appreciate and fully celebrate those wins with me.” – Hiba Amin, Content Marketing Manager @Soapbox

Feeling swamped with work?

A lack of work motivation becomes a bigger problem when you actually have loads of tasks to take care of. While many of the people I’ve talked to stay motivated because they know they have to deliver work on time, others are finding it difficult to focus with everything going on in their lives.

Early 2020, the world is currently going through a very strange situation: quarantine has put extra pressure on everyone, making people think they should use this time to work more.

So many people are now busier than ever.

This is largely influenced by the industries professionals are active in as there’s an increased demand for work in pretty much everything that involves staying visible online:

“I’m finding that I’m busier than ever right now, and I’m definitely feeling overwhelmed at the moment! As a website designer, I’m finding people are trying to get online or improve their online presence more than ever, and prioritization and productivity are extremely important to getting the job done and maximizing the work I can take on, and consequently my income throughout this time.” – Nikki Hamilton, Digital Designer @Seedling Digital

“In my full-time job (online technical training for a major IT company), we’re seeing a HUGE surge in demand as in-person training classes get canceled and everyone wants to move to online training. While it’s awesome to be considered useful, we’ve all found we need to set boundaries to prevent ourselves from becoming overwhelmed. For example, we’ve had to push back on requests to compress launch dates when we were certain we couldn’t have a given solution ready in the time requested. I think this aggressive boundary setting is critical for anyone feeling overwhelmed.” – Jay Allen

Many of us are also putting too much pressure on ourselves and trying to achieve more than we’ve ever thought of. Whether that’s because we’re overachievers or trying to compensate for lost clients:

“Since the start of the crisis, I’ve lost all my regular clients, but somehow I’m busier than ever. In a bid to stay afloat and distract myself from the crisis, I’ve set myself an almost impossible number of tasks and projects. From cold pitching to publications, rewriting my website to doing training and tackling my reading list. The problem is my ever-lengthening to-do list is motivating me even less.” – Sally Fox

Luckily, Sally also shared her go-to strategy to get back her work motivation, something we’re all struggling with:

“Regaining motivation will mean me accepting that I can’t plan too far ahead right now. I’ll need to get realistic about my goals for each week and realize that doing everything on it isn’t a golden ticket back to how things were before.

Then I need to take every day as it comes and not beat myself up if things slip out slightly.

Much like how we’re all taking stock and working out what kind of world we want to go back to when this is over, I want to do the same for my business. And, as my own boss, I don’t want to be an unkind one.”

Working on a side gig or taking on an additional project is commendable. But steer clear from overworking yourself to avoid burn out and its main consequence: losing your work motivation altogether. Here are some tips from Lonna who’s also quite a workload to juggle these days:

“Many of my clients are counting on me to help give their marketing plans more fluidity. I’m grateful to be over-capacity, but it also comes with intense feelings of guilt, and if I’m being completely honest, some mental paralysis, too.

I feel guilty because my business thrives while others are struggling or shuttering altogether. Then I feel paralyzed (like everyone else I know) by the distractions of daily news cycles, breaking alerts, and worry over the health of my friends and loved ones.

Productivity comes in spurts these days and these fits of energy are unpredictable, at best. So I get as much done as I can in sprints and try not to be too hard on myself for needing extra breaks during my regular work hours.” – Lonna Whiting, Chief of Content @lonna.co

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