We’ve all had the feeling - you’re trying to focus on an important project but your gaze keeps sliding out the window. Or you’re on your ninth game of solitaire for the day. Or you find yourself making endless cups of tea, and hanging out in the kitchen to chat to all your colleagues who pass through. Or worse, your alarm goes off in the morning and leaves you lying grumpy in bed with absolutely no motivation to get up and go to work.
Whether it’s a temporary feeling or something long-term, it’s horrible to lose motivation at work. Luckily, we’ve got a host of tips to help you switch your focus back onto your work, keep your days productive, stay motivated, and save you from RSI (that’s Repetitive Solitaire Injury).
1. Try a different working technique
Sometimes sitting down at your desk and attempting to just work isn’t going to do the trick. Luckily, there are dozens of different working techniques that can help you stay motivated and productive. One popular tactic is the Pomodoro Technique, where you break work into 25-minute intervals followed by a short 5-10 minute break. Or the cheekily named “Eat The Frog”, which operates on the principle that if you had to eat a live frog every day, you should do it first so you don’t spend the rest of the day dreading it. Just pick the task you’re dreading most - whether that’s clearing your inbox or diving deep into the backend - get it out of the way, and then spend the rest of the day cruising and knowing that it’s only getting easier from there.
You could also try something even smaller, like writing a To Do List which breaks overwhelming work into smaller pieces that you can tick off and feel great about. Or you could build rewards into your work for completing tasks - maybe a square of chocolate for something small, or that new jacket you’ve been eyeing for a big project. There are also apps that can help you “gamify” and celebrate your achievements at work, like a commitment tracker which will help you keep goals on track.
2. See the big picture
It’s easy to lose track of why you’re at your job when you’re swamped with tickets or dealing with pestering colleagues. Try to take a moment once a day to remember what has brought you to this job. Consider your motivations for taking the role, as well as what you’re working towards. Why are you excited about your company? Where do you see yourself in five years? How is today’s irritating task going to lead to a future you can’t wait to wake up in?
If you’re proud of your company’s work, remember that you’re part of that work! And if you’re struggling to link yourself into the bigger picture, sometimes it’s worth asking your manager for some feedback. What are you doing well? What could you work on? Link your bigger goals to the smaller pieces of work you do from day to day.
3. Make sure your life isn’t all work
If we spend all our time doing one thing, it’s no wonder that the joy and excitement starts seeping away. Making sure you have a healthy work/life balance is a great way to ensure that when you are at work, you’re plugged in and productive.
Consider ways you could protect the boundaries of your home life. Maybe you build in an hour to sit and read in the mornings before you check your work emails. Maybe you set a definitive quit time where you log off the computer every day. Keep your weekends free by turning off notifications and your professional inbox. If you’re in a high-pressure and busy role, it can be tempting to try and manage it in recreational hours, but you’re actually more likely to be slowing yourself down than saving time for the future. If you leave work at work, you’ll be more excited to return to it after some decent time away.
4. Consider external factors
Is there something from life outside work that is intruding on your ability to focus? Are you sleeping badly? Is there a problem at home that’s distracting you? Are you working beside a noisy building site, or from a less than ideal home office?
Some of these factors can be fixed. You could put some effort into creating a home office space that is clean, organised, and inviting, for example, or incorporate noise-cancelling headphones into your working set-up. Other times it can be important just to acknowledge factors that are outside of your control: take a deep breath and say to yourself, “My teenage son is being extremely annoying at the moment, but I’m going to think about that when I get home. I’m not going to be able to change anything while I’m here.”
Or you could try talking to your manager or HR about the problems that are keeping you from staying motivated at work. For example, if you have insomnia, maybe you could work later in the evenings and sleep in so that you can come to work well-rested. Sometimes just acknowledging that you’re having a hard time goes a long way to making us feel less stressed and more motivated at work - and two heads are always better than one at coming up with a solution.
5. Consider internal factors
Maybe it’s work itself that is draining your motivation. Do you have a frustrating project that feels like it will never be done? A manager who insists on leaning over your shoulder every five minutes? Are you worried about your company’s financial situation?
Again, the best option here is to talk to your manager or HR. Ideally, they will be receptive and ready to help you find a solution, whether that’s reassessing the way they’re approaching the project, changing up the way your manager checks in or promising transparency in the way the company talks about finances.
But of course, HR and managers are also just people, who can be fallible or as unable to change a situation as you are. Nevertheless, it’s better to acknowledge a problem and feel that you’ve put it on the table. It also means that you’re protecting yourself against future criticism; if your manager tells you in a performance review that you’ve been very slow on a particular task, you could say something like, “Yes, as I flagged with you earlier, I’ve been struggling with motivation for this project. Could we take another look at how to make it more achievable for me and my team?”
6. Time to level up?
A loss of motivation is often closely linked to boredom. If you’re struggling to stay motivated for the first time in your role, it might be that you’ve hit the wall of achievement and inspiration. In this case, it’s time to change things up, whether that’s asking for more responsibility (never underestimate the ability of pressure and deadlines to motivate you!) or pursuing a promotion.
If you work for a large company, you might look into moving to another department, where you’ll be able to apply your skillset and knowledge of the company to a new set of problems. If you’ve been in the same role for years, maybe you could ask about managerial prospects, where you can share your skills and leadership abilities with newcomers to your team.
Or maybe it’s time to think about moving to a new company completely. A loss of motivation might be the first sign that you’re ready to pursue a new challenge in a new environment. As that queen of motivation Taylor Swift tells us: you know in your soul when it’s time to go.