Lacking Motivation? How to Stay Inspired and Engaged at Work

7 Mar ‘22
5 min
Work performance
Editorial Board OpenUp
illustratie van gemotiveerd persoon
One day you’re blessed with it, like a gift from the gods, the next it’s nowhere to be found: Motivation. This is something we all struggle with at some point or another. Sometimes it’s on a small scale, where you have trouble concentrating and find yourself peeking at your phone screen a little too often. Sometimes it’s on a much larger scale and you feel like Sisyphus, forever trying to push a heavy boulder up a hill.


These tips can help you to re-discover your mojo and inspiration.


Break up your tasks into small chunks


Staring up at a tall, steep mountain and realizing that you’re going to have to slog your way to the top can be demotivating. But if you don’t see the summit as your goal and instead focus on making your way to the first camp, then camp two, and so on, the task immediately becomes more feasible.


The same applies to the mountains of work you need to get through. A seemingly impossible task becomes more manageable when you break it down into a list of realistic tasks. So, strike ‘write a report’ from your to-do list and replace it with: Interview Jan, write an opening paragraph, and make a graphic. This way you’ll keep up your momentum and you’ll eventually reach the top after all.


Gravitate towards tasks that make you feel energized


Look at what you can influence at work. How can you fulfill your role in a way that makes you feel energized? This might not always be possible in every position and within every organization, but it’s worth taking a look and seeing if there are any particular tasks you can take on or others you can let go of.


Check in with yourself to see what is making you feel energized and what is draining your energy. If you have a clearer idea of this, you’ll find that it’s easier to discuss it with your manager.


For example, say that you like leading training sessions. Maybe you have another colleague who isn’t such a fan of this and you can perhaps ‘trade’ particular tasks. Job crafting is the term used for this and it can have a positive impact on your motivation.


Reward yourself


If you find it difficult to derive satisfaction from a certain project or a certain period in your career, but you need to just get through it, then you might want to consider rewarding yourself when you get to the end.


For example, schedule a vacation for after the project deadline or after you’ve landed that coveted promotion. Or treat yourself to a nice book that’s on your reading list, or a meal out.


Rewards like this are also effective on a smaller scale: Promise yourself that you can go for a walk, make a tasty cappuccino, or watch a TEDx video when you complete a certain task.


Feed off the motivation of other people


It’s a lot harder to motivate yourself when you work from home. If you’re surrounded by your colleagues, you’re not as likely to lose quarter of an hour scrolling through Instagram. But when it’s just you and your houseplants, it’s a whole other story.


Even a stack of laundry, a package that needs to be collected or your comfy couch can sap your motivation. Especially if it’s a project or task that you don’t find particularly rewarding.


This means that being physically present in the office is often a huge boost to your motivation and inspiration. When you see your colleagues hard at work, it acts a little pick-me-up.


Simply sitting next to somebody who is performing well can cause your own productivity to skyrocket. What’s more, creativity tends to flow more freely in a room full of people, which will leave you feeling inspired.


Look at your task in a broader context


Even the most desirable jobs involve certain boring tasks. Actors spend days memorizing scripts, many chefs got their start washing pots or chopping onions, and most consultants spend more time formatting the texts and pictures on their PowerPoint slides than they’d care to admit.


In these moments, it helps to think of your boring tasks, projects or periods as part of a larger goal. You’re doing this because you eventually want to perform at your city’s theater, get a Michelin star, or be promoted to project manager. By zooming out and reminding yourself of these goals, it becomes easier to motivate yourself.


That being said, this broader context needs to actually align with what you’re doing right now. It’s much easier to motivate yourself if your job choices match your mission or goal.


For example: If you start working at Unilever because it’s a big company and there are lots of advancement opportunities, you’ll probably find it harder to motivate yourself than if you work at Unilever because you feel it’s important to contribute to innovations in the field of fast-moving consumer goods.


Read more on this: How to Live Your Values (and Learn More About Yourself in the Process)


Set deadlines (even if they aren’t really necessary)


It’s a universal phenomenon: Shortly before a deadline, you suddenly get way more done than normal. In his TED talk, Tim Urban describes the moment when your panic monster, the one that sleeps in your brain all day long, wakes up. He scares your procrastination behaviors away so that your rational self can take the wheel.


You can scare away your own procrastination behaviors by giving yourself a deadline and putting it in your calendar. If you find it difficult to “trick” yourself with a self-imposed deadline, you can ask a colleague or manager to set you a deadline and hold you accountable.


Follow the ten-minute rule


The ten-minute rule doesn’t mean that you can still eat your sandwich ten minutes after it’s fallen on the floor. No, this rule helps you to get through the tasks you really dread: Tell yourself that you only have to do the task for ten minutes and then you can stop.


You’ll often find that you’re still doing this task long after that ten-minute mark. Getting started is usually the hardest part, but once you get going, it’s really not that bad.


Create an energized atmosphere


It’s easy to trick your brain. For example, when you smile – even if it’s fake – you make your brain believe that you’re happy. As a result, you actually feel happy. Similarly, in a work situation you can “fake” a certain mood to increase the chance that you’ll actually start to feel this way.


Likewise, you can start your day with a visualization practice. Before you launch into what you’re doing, think about what you want to accomplish or where you want to go. Imagine that you’ve already accomplished it. What can you see, what can you smell, what can you feel, what are you doing?


Try to picture it all as realistically as possible. This might sound a little crazy, but by doing this regularly, your brain will start to see this future as a reality and you’ll be more likely to make choices that contribute to your ultimate goal. When you know what you’re working towards, this has a positive effect on your mood and motivation.


So, awaken your panic monster, visualize how you’ll reach your goal, call up Sisyphus and roll that boulder up to Mount Everest Base Camp together (or try it out for ten minutes first), and reward yourself with a tasty cappuccino at the end of it all. Because all the clichés are true: You can learn to motivate yourself.


This might also be interesting for you: How To Make Each Day Special