Some days, getting out of bed and into the office, or even just over to your desk, seems about as appealing as trudging uphill through mud. When you're struggling with motivation - or rather, a lack thereof - getting through the workday can become a downright exhausting undertaking that makes staying focused on simple tasks feel impossible.
Maybe you feel disengaged from projects you once found inspiring, suddenly find even your favorite coworkers irritating, or discover that the usual drive to stay on top of your workload seems to have run dry. If you've found that everything at work is a little (or a lot) blah lately -- you're not alone. In fact, one in three workers are unmotivated and unhappy at work.
In reality, motivation naturally ebbs and flows in our lives based on our current external circumstances, career situations, and the state of our physical and mental health. And while 'drive' does a great job of propelling us forward in those motivated seasons -- building out efficient systems and routines as a sort of backup generator can really help us when motivation runs dry so we can get through the low weeks without derailing progress towards our goals.
In this blog post, we're going to take a look at some common causes of demotivation, and go over proven strategies to help recharge your drive and get back to feeling good about your work.
Motivation is what causes us to act towards a goal. The process of motivation consists of a combination of activation, persistence, and intensity towards an objective-- allowing us to initiate, act on, and maintain the required effort to accomplish our desired outcome. Simply put, it is the driving reason behind why we act, like getting a drink because you're thirsty, watching TV because you're bored, or working hard on a company project to advance your career.
So what exactly motivates us? Motivation is generated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors -- driven by either external factors like money, recognition, and rewards, or internal factors like personal gratification, pleasure, and basic survival.
In a work setting, professionals are typically motivated by a combination of these drives. You might work hard to make money to support yourself and your family, feel rewarded by team recognition for hitting milestones, and (ideally) receive some personal gratification from doing work you're genuinely interested in and enjoy. All these experiences make us feel good, and in turn, motivate us to keep doing them. So what causes motivation to run out and leave us feeling stuck at work?
- You're too "busy" and overworked
- You have trouble getting started on tasks and projects
- You aren't maintaining a healthy work-life balance
- You are mentally exhausted or burned out
- You're impaired by external stressors (like a pandemic, or personal challenges)
- You're not feeling inspired by your work, or enjoying your position
- Your job is not meeting your needs (pay, resources, inclusivity)
And just in case that self-deprecating voice is going off in your head, being unmotivated is not the same thing as being lazy. Unlike 'laziness' - which demotivation can be easily mistaken for in our hustle society - being in a motivation slump is not a character flaw. Whereas laziness is not doing anything while being able to -- feeling unmotivated is often caused by factors outside of your control. This is especially frustrating because you have the intentions and vision, but are struggling with the execution.
So you're unmotivated at work, or maybe just resonating with a few of the common causes above. Instead of getting stuck in the loop of thinking "why am I so lazy and unmotivated" - you now know these are not the same thing, and can follow some simple tips to get back the motivation you once had (and prevent demotivation from sneaking up on you in the future).
Let's dive into some strategies to work through this slump and get your mojo back.
In this new age of work, professionals are juggling more meetings, heavier workloads, staff shortages amidst The Great Resignation, an ongoing global health crisis, and horrifying conflicts around the world over, all while managing the regular stressors of life. Let's just pause to say, regardless of who you are, we know it has not been an easy year.
We often underestimate how much stress we're really handling, and that it actually affects our day-to-day life even when we're not actively thinking about it. A shocking 78.7% of professionals report being stressed, which can lead to demotivation, mental exhaustion, and even job burnout -- so try to cut yourself some slack for not functioning at a hundred percent all the time (plot twist, you actually can't) and give yourself credit for reading this article to improve the situation.
Being 'slammed' has somehow become a badge of honor in today's work culture, but there's actually a huge difference between being "busy" and being "productive". One study found that workers actually spend 58% of their day with unproductive busywork, like checking communications on email and Slack, shuffling around their schedules, and switching between apps. This is unsurprising as our 2022 Task Management Trend Report also found that individual contributors average only 2.24 hours of productive task work a day, and only 50.2% of managers' task time is spent on truly productive work.
To escape the busy trap, you have to commit to prioritizing your days and weeks with an iron fist. By getting crystal clear on the priorities that align with your short-term and long-term goals, you can begin eliminating non-priority tasks, reduce decision paralysis, learn to say "no" to meetings and projects you don't have time for, and make the most of your limited time by focusing on what's important.
It's all too easy to underestimate how long a task is going to take, or how much energy you'll need to get it done. Especially when your massive task list and to-dos are scattered across different apps and notes, it can be challenging to see which items are high-priority vs. urgent and then actually find time for heads-down work.
Creating a 'master list' - one consolidated list that you regularly update with all of your to-dos and responsibilities - can be a great way to maintain an overview of everything that requires your time. Sorting your tasks by priority, due dates, and time estimates will make it much easier to develop a productive plan for the week.
Try limiting your daily goals to just three priority tasks you can realistically complete. This ensures that you are always making daily progress on the most important things on your list, and helps you be up to 80% more productive by focusing on a single task at a time (rather than doing a bunch of context switching across many scattered tasks).
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is hard enough as it is, but if your home has become your office (working remote or in a hybrid setup), it is all the more difficult to set boundaries between work and your personal life.
Whether you're working remotely or heading into the office, start by establishing clear working hours, and stick to them as much as you can. Many people need time to decompress after a long day's work. Instead of signing off your desktop only to open your work email on your phone, try making time for exercise, or meditating, fun hobbies, or creative side projects to boost happiness and increase productivity by 31%! And don't forget to get enough shuteye.
When motivation fails us, automation can step in to help you get stuff done. Creating a productivity system using smart tools that auto-schedule your task work, defend time for your healthy routines, and optimize workflows can help you stay focused on the important things (even when your motivation is running low).
Reclaim.ai, for example, is a productivity app for Google Calendar that automatically finds the best time for your Tasks, recurring Habits, and regular breaks without jamming up your schedule. It allows you to keep your schedule flexible for new appointments, automatically navigate scheduling conflicts, and integrate your favorite project management app to make more time for your task and better plan your workweek.
This one is as straightforward as it is underrated. Sometimes we get so caught up in the big picture that we lose sight of all the little milestones we hit along the way. Positive affirmation boosts motivation and confidence! So, while it's great to look ahead, take a minute to hype yourself for the small steps you're taking towards the end goal.
But busy weeks fly by, making it even harder to reflect on your accomplishments. Try starting a gratitude journal where you note a few of your wins every day, ask your boss or direct reports for feedback on what you've been doing well lately, or introduce the practice of speaking some encouraging words to yourself in the mirror (feels weird, but it works). It can also be helpful to do a weekly time audit to see how many tasks you checked off, what days you made time for healthy habits like lunch or meditation, and where your time was spent across independent work vs. meetings.
If you are constantly feeling disengaged and have no motivation to work, it's worthwhile to reflect on whether your job is the root cause of the problem. Whether you simply aren't interested in your work, don't get along with your team, or aren't having your needs met by the company -- it could be time to explore your options.
This might mean having a conversation with your superior to resolve any immediate issues that could improve your work life, or discuss job shifts within the organization, but may go as far as applying and interviewing for opportunities outside of your company that better suit your needs and goals.
It is natural for motivation to come and go at work as your life and circumstances change, so create a system that maximizes your time and supports your priorities so you can maintain daily progress even when your drive is lacking.
By aligning your schedule with your priorities, focusing on little wins rather than an all-or-nothing mentality, and incorporating smart tools to optimize your workflow and work-life balance so you have more time for the important things -- you can begin to build out a system that actually fosters your motivation, and allows you to stay on track towards your goals.