5 min read
July 6, 2015
Last updated: July 10, 2019
Working when you feel worn out and burned out is not a great way to operate. You have to push through low points, sometimes; but you don't want to have to force yourself to do your work all the time. Powering through without any joy or internal motivation is a great way to start hating your work and resenting your goals.
Instead of mustering up willpower, take some time to remember what you're really doing and why it matters to you. This simple three-step technique can help you pull yourself out of that slump when you're just not feeling motivated, or amp up your productivity when you feel yourself settling into a rut.
Step 1: Connect the Tasks to a Goal
Stop slogging through a list of tasks that has no connection to anything you care about. Remember why you're doing the work, and the work will be easier to do.
Sure, not everything relates directly to a big goal. Some tasks simply exist to keep the systems running, but asking why can help you connect the need for the task to a real goal or desire in your life.
Remember, too, that "completing a project" may not be enough of a goal to matter to you, personally. And if it doesn't matter to your personally, it's going to be difficult to get motivated about it. Keep asking deeper questions, such as "Why am I doing this?" and "What am I achieving?" and "How does this help people?" and "What does this mean to me?" and "Why does this matter to me?" until you get to an answer that connects to your personal motives.
Step 2: Connect a Reward to the Goal
Arbitrary goals don't create motivation anymore than arbitrary tasks do. If you're pursuing a goal simply because you have to, you feel obligated to, or on any sort of comparison basis, you're not working from internal motivation. And when you hit the difficult parts, you'll feel that lack.
Ask yourself what this particular goal or desire brings you in terms of a reward. It might be a paycheck, a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of security in your job, additional career skills, or personal satisfaction. The reward is as unique as you are; the key is finding what matters to you.
Step 3: Work Backwards from the Goal
Now you're ready to think about the actions needed to get your reward. Some of these are probably already on your project list; but instead of jumping straight into that list of tasks, start at the endpoint and work backwards from there:
What is the final step?
What is the step before that?
What actions are needed to reach that step?
Listing the necessary actions from finish to start can help you see exactly how your choices and your work will get you to success. It can also help you to see what is actually needed to reach the goal and which tasks (maybe some are on your list right now) are simply busy work that you can eliminate.
Get Clear to Get Motivated
Clarity about how you will benefit from being productive is what helps you to muster the motivation to be more productive. No one can pursue productivity for productivity's sake for very long. There needs to be a deeper reason.
When you're uncertain about that reason, you hesitate, procrastinate, and find yourself getting distracted. That's because you don't want to waste time and energy on something you don't really care about. Take the time to name the goal and define the reward so you can remember why you care. Then list the needed actions in reverse-chronological order to bring clarity on exactly how to achieve what you care about.
When you clear the mental cobwebs, you can easily get rid of those extraneous tasks and focus on what brings you a reward you actually value. Your motivation will soar, and your productivity will go up along with it.