How To Keep Going When You Have No Motivation
Different people deal with challenging situations differently, and the way a crisis affects the individual psyche is unique to everyone.
Some people withdraw into themselves when they feel threatened: They focus on their own personal lives and obsess over what they can control in a time that generally feels out of control. Others have a more open approach: They try to connect with others and express themselves in a way that helps them connect. They share their experience, keep track of their actions, and share everything they can that could be helpful to someone.
People who have a deeper need for connection become more involved with their community, with a personal mission to make a difference. And as amazing as people can be at maintaining a level of normalcy in the chaos, no one is made of steel.
We all hit times of crisis in our personal lives, even under normal circumstances: interpersonal clashes with loved ones, professional disappointments, or simply dealing with our insecurities.
What can we expect to happen when the world is enveloped in fear? Everyone has a different idea of how the COVID-19 virus should be handled. And so everyone does what they think is best as far as their abilities allow. Despite our best efforts, no one is immune to taking a hit in terms of mental health or facing a dead end in their work.
Like many others, I’m sure, my own motivation took a hit. Working entirely remotely for a fast-paced software company developing healthcare software can be demanding in different ways from my usual office routine. So how do we go on when we have no desire to get up and show up for work, virtually speaking?
In this post I will not be talking about ways to raise your motivation but rather taking an approach that takes into account how unreliable waiting for inspiration really is. Sometimes, it is not a matter of doing as much as you possibly can but rather finding the ways to fulfill your duties to the best of your ability.
You Can’t Focus on Your Work. And That Is OK!
First things first: You are not expected to be invincible. The amount of uncertainty is staggering, so if it takes you a moment to adjust, process, and adapt, that’s OK. Things may take you longer than usual. You may hit a complete rut and have a really hard time focusing and getting work done.
And that is OK. It is simply a part of being human. After all, we are people first, employees and professionals second. It is understandable that you may need to take a moment to find out a way to be motivated about work when there is a very tangible conflict between reality and your need to go back to normal. But that is not to say you should accept it and do nothing about it.
How To Get Things Done When You Simply Don’t Want To
When push comes to shove, I believe that you should never rely on motivation. It is at best fleeting, and usually completely unreliable. You should always follow practices that are so easy to follow, that will allow you to get at least some work done, even on days you have no drive or desire to be productive.
I want to share with you some of my most helpful practices that are a constant part of my life. Some days I feel on top of the world, and I am able to get enough work done for a week. On other days I feel I can barely get myself out of bed, yet I am able to get enough done to meet my monthly targets. This is entirely thanks to having such practices in place.
Everyone has good and bad days. You should expect your performance to be in a state of flux, and at the end of the day, all that should matter is whether you were able to get your work in on time with sufficient quality.
Take a Rest When You Need It
Imagine you have a long long list of assignments you need to get done. You have no motivation, you have a hard time focusing, and you find yourself making mistakes you would normally never make. You keep trying to go at it. You work for hours on end. You are tired, irritated; you feel disappointed because you should have it done by now, but you just can’t focus.
Truth be told, the more you push yourself when you are in no condition to do so, the worse the results will be:
“Fatigue is a loss of alertness and a feeling of tiredness that can be caused by a lack of sleep, a change in your work schedule due to working overtime or working second shift, or trying to fit too many things in a 24-hour period.”
An easy way to tackle fatigue is to just stop for a few minutes. Get up, stretch a little, talk to the people around you, drink a cup of coffee. Changing your focus from grinding at your job to something else more engaging and refreshing will serve you as a temporary reset. When you get back to your tasks, you will do a much better job with them, as opposed to the time you would otherwise spend second-guessing your work and correcting all the mistakes you made.
While taking a break when you see the signs is the “quick fix,” if you want to have a more reliable performance, you need to take into account the amount of time you sleep on average. And beyond simply noting it, you need to make an effort to keep it consistently around seven to eight hours per night.
Listen to your body’s signals. A few weeks ago, I was so fatigued and emotionally drained that I could hardly wake up before having 10 hours of sleep. I once slept for 14 hours straight and was able to be so much more productive after allowing my body the rest it was so desperately begging me for.
You also need to maintain a good working schedule with fairly consistent hours and sufficient rest throughout the day. That includes getting off your PC when you are on a break to give your eyes a rest and sending “break-time signals” to your body.
Your brain associates repetitive movements and surroundings with an activity. So switching from coding to YouTube as a break on your desk will have a considerably weaker effect than getting up and going to another area for a little bit. Instead, play a video on your phone while on the couch or kitchen table. The change in the surroundings will call for better results.
Getting started is the hardest part of your work when you have no drive to do anything. It is, however, so much easier to do so if the first step is just so easy. For example, if a part of your work is to do research on a topic that is foreign to you, you can start by simply reading relevant information for 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes!
Set a timer, give it your full attention, then if you need it, stop and take a short break. After that, you can try again for another 10 minutes. Another five-minute break. And again, focus for 10 minutes. Keep up the pace, and before you know it, you will have put in hours’ worth of research without the dread of having to spend hours researching. Besides, at some point, you will likely get accustomed to the activity and will be able to go on for longer focus sessions.
Take small easy-to-achieve steps toward your goal. It is a much better approach than looking at it as one huge assignment that is too intimidating to tackle when your head is just not cooperating with you.
A tool you can use with interval work is a Pomodoro timer. Its purpose is to set a cycle of “work time” and “rest time.” The standard approach is set on 25 minutes of focused work with five-minute rest. However, you can customize the intervals to your current needs, usual workflow, and the nature of your work.
For me, 45 minutes of writing with a 15-minute break is the best pace. The sessions are short enough that I do not pack on fatigue, yet long enough to get a considerable amount of writing down without interrupting my thought process.
Prioritization and Task Management
Chances are you won’t be able to get as much done in a day as you normally would if you are not as collected as usual. So you should not beat yourself up if you are not achieving what you would under normal circumstances. When you are having a hard time focusing on your work or having the motivation, you may fall in one of two traps.
The first trap is falling way behind on your work. It is so easy to lose track of time, especially if you are relying on your brain to keep your activity in check and manage your tasks. Without using any system, you are basically hoping you will just remember everything as you need it.
As a direct result, in an attempt to make up for the inevitable sloth-slow pace, you may end up having long work days without ever really meeting your deadlines, not to mention that feeling fatigued or unmotivated can be coupled with forgetfulness. Either way, you will end up feeling tired and unfulfilled as you are underperforming.
The second trap is attempting to overcompensate for your lack of motivation by piling work on your to-do list and exhausting yourself trying to chase unrealistic expectations. This will likely result in failure. Being strict and unforgiving or trying to push through it can be equally damaging to your mental health, as you are on the highway to fatigue. Which, in turn, only makes motivation and the desire to be productive further out of reach.
You Can Still Make It Happen
You can still get work done, but you simply need to get out of your head and have a game plan while being realistic and forgiving with yourself.
Depending on your work, you will be able to anticipate a certain amount of your weekly workload. Anything you know you need to get done should go on a weekly to-do list. You can also have a monthly to-do list if it helps you.
When you write your weekly tasks, you should always leave room for all the little things that will inevitably pop up and demand their own bit of your attention. Accounting for this from the get-go will make it less stressful to find time for those tasks.
Once you have your weekly list ready, you should pull items from it on a daily basis. At the beginning of the workday, you should write down a daily to-do list.
For this practice to be successful, you need to have your list prioritized based on importance: the most important task goes on top. And you should have no more than five or six items. That being said, they should not be complex, multiple-step assignments either. Each task is warranted its own time slot. You only move on to the next task when you have crossed out the previous one.
If any work is not finished by the end of the day, those tasks are the very first to-dos in tomorrow’s list. However, the list remains with five to six items at most. You do not simply pile it on to the next day’s workload, but make room for the leftover work and finish it before moving on. It would be unreasonable to assume you can get an entire day’s worth of workload and then some, right?
To-do lists are priceless. They are so easy to follow and track, and the return in results can be inspiring. You just need to set some ground rules to not overwhelm yourself with unrealistic expectations.
See What Works for You
Depending on your work nature, your current state of mind, and what is required of you, the way you tackle your lack of motivation should vary. Naturally, you need to test out different practices for yourself and see what works best for you.
The methods I have shared in this article are, in my opinion, the most foundational ones to getting out of a slump and back on top of your workload. As stressful as the world around us is today, we owe it to ourselves to take care of our mind in any way we can. I hope this article was helpful to you, and I would love to read anything different you do to stay on top of your motivation!