5 Tricks To Stay Motivated At Work

5 Tricks To Stay Motivated At Work

It’s difficult to stay motivated at work in almost every job. In some ways, fading motivation is inevitable. Research on flow states and eustress suggest that humans are highly motivated when there’s a perfect balance between the skills they have and the demands of the job. But getting into that balance is tricky.

When you’re starting a new job, the demands are high and your skill levels are likely not suited to it. You’re overwhelmed. But as you grow and develop in the role you grow toward that balance of being challenged, but challenged with tasks you feel you can achieve. You’re motivated and “in the zone.” But, as you keep growing, if you keep being tasked with the same old demands, you’ll end up underwhelmed, bored, and unmotivated.

And this is where most people start looking for a new job. But before you do, there’s a few tricks you can try to stay motivated at work.

Build Feedback Systems

The first trick to stay motivated at work is to build feedback systems into your daily routine. This doesn’t refer to the performance feedback you get (or give) as part of a check-in or regular appraisals. Feedback systems are mechanisms you create to monitor how well you’re doing the tasks you need to be doing that day. It could be as simple as a daily checklist with the most important tasks of the day decided at the beginning, and then compared at the end to how many critical tasks you did. It could also be tracking how many sales calls you made, or how many customer service inquiries you cleared, or how much time you got to spend with your direct reports helping them. Whatever is critical to your job, make a metric that provides feedback on how you’re doing, and you’ll quickly find you enjoy the challenge of improving that number each day.

Track Progress And Achievement

The second trick to stay motivated at work is to track progress and achievement. Research suggests that progress is a powerful human motivator. And at a personal level, it comes in two forms. You feel progress first when you know your skills are developing or when you learn a new skill, or knowledge set. You also feel progress when you achieve something, like finishing a major project or crossing a milestone toward completion. So, create ways to track that progress to be able to look back at it. If you have to, send yourself an email documenting the day you crossed that milestone or completed that training to learn a new skill. You’ll get a jolt of motivation in the moment but, more importantly, you’ll have a collection of documentations showing just how much you’ve learned and achieved over the last year or longer. And that will keep you feeling motivated as well.

Use A Commitment Device

The third trick to stay motivated at work is to use a commitment device. And this one really is a trick. A commitment device is a tool or agreement you use to lock yourself into a course of action. Commitment devices come in two forms: positive and negative. In a positive commitment device (sometimes also called “temptation bundling”) you bundle that task you need motivation to do with some other desirable task or reward. Over time, you start to connect the unmotivating task to the positive and become motivated to knock out the task. In a negative commitment device, you connect NOT doing the task with an unwanted outcome (such as making a bet or being forced to make a donation to a cause you hate). In this case, the fear of loss (or of having to live with the negative outcome) motivates you do achieve the task. In either situation, connecting the task itself to something that creates a larger emotional response in you will create a more motivated response in you as well.

Make It More Social

The fourth trick to stay motivated at work is to make it more social. If you’re an extrovert, it may be that what you’re missing in your motivation is working alongside others. Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, and accompanying work-from-home experiment, many of us have suffered from a drought of human connection. But we’re wired for human connection. Even if those people don’t work for you, sometimes just making an appointment with friends who also need to get certain tasks done can help. Meet them at a coffee shop or library, say hello, and then get to work. Like a temptation bundling device from before, you’ll find you look forward to the work because it’s now connected to people. But you’ll also find those people do a great job in keeping you committed to doing the work.

Discover The Real Purpose

The final trick to stay motivated at work is to discover the real purpose. By real purpose, we don’t mean the reason you’ve been told to do the work or even the grandiose mission statement somewhere on the organization’s website. Instead, we mean a more simple but more powerful purpose: people. Nearly everyone’s work is interdependent with other people. You need resources from others and your work provides resources to still others. And reminding yourself “who is served by the work that you do?” can be a powerful way to leverage prosocial motivation in your work. If you already know your “who,” then take it further by creating opportunities to interact with those people more often. That way you get even more reminders for why your work matters, and you get even more motivation to do it.

All five of these tricks will help you stay motivated at work, but you don’t need to implement all five. Experiment. Start with one trick, see what effect it has on you and either do it more or do something else. But keep experimenting until you find yourself re-motivated at work and doing your best work ever.


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About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

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