The secret culprit behind your lack of motivation at work

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia MartinsSeptember 21st, 202112 min read
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Summary

Motivated people are happier and more productive at work. If you’re trying to build your motivation levels, you don’t need to listen to a motivating podcast—what you need is clarity. When you understand the impact of your work, you’re more motivated and ready to get work done. In this article, get 10 tips for individual team members and five tips for managers to increase motivation.

Doing work when you’re not feeling motivated can be incredibly challenging. It often feels like you’re wading through mud, even when you’re working on tasks you know how to do. 

Here’s the secret, though: You aren’t actually unmotivated. What you lack is clarity—clarity about why your work matters, how your task fits into the grander scheme of your team’s work, and how you’re contributing to your overall company goals. If you don’t have a sense of why your work matters, you won’t feel inspired to get things done. 

First thing’s first: The tools you use matter

What do tools have to do with motivation? 

We’re glad you asked. 

Lack of clarity is the key culprit behind your lack of motivation. In fact, according to our research, only 26% of employees have a very clear understanding of how their work relates to company goals. This lack of clarity happens because you don’t have an easy way to see why your work matters. What your team is missing is a goal tracking tool

Traditional goal tracking

Traditional goal tracking happens in slide decks, spreadsheets, and email threads. Typically, teams spend anywhere from several days to several weeks setting goals at the beginning of the year. The slide deck is gorgeous, the spreadsheet is immaculate—and then these goals aren’t revisited until the end of the year. 

Not only are your goals disconnected from your daily work, but your team also doesn’t have any insight into what they’re working towards. What you need is a clear way to connect your goals to the daily work your team is doing to achieve them.

Goal tracking to increase motivation

When your goals are siloed from the work that supports them, your team may lack motivation. They don’t have clarity on why their work matters, and what initiatives they’re supporting. 

Work management tools like Asana are built to solve this problem. Instead of working in a silo, disconnected from your team and separated from the rest of your department’s information, everything lives in one place. With goal tracking tools, you have a direct line between your daily work and the goals that work is supporting. Your entire team gains clear insight into how their tasks contribute to a larger initiative, and how that initiative ladders up to large-scale team and company goals. 

Try goals with Asana for free

Motivation myths and misconceptions

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about motivation. Take a look at the three most common ones—and what’s actually happening with motivation behind the scenes.

How motivation works

Myth: Once I’m motivated, I’ll have an easier time getting started on a task.

Reality: Too often, we conflate motivation with flow state—that effortless feeling of being in the zone. Motivation isn’t necessarily effortlessness. In fact, Merriam Webster defines motivation as “the condition of being eager to act or work.” 

You don’t need to feel in the zone in order to be motivated. Rather, motivation is the sense that nothing is blocking you from being able to start your work and achieve your goals. Starting is often the hardest part, and that’s okay. When you have a reason to get started, and you understand why accomplishing this work matters, you’re unblocked and ready to go. 

What “drives” you

Myth: To be motivated, you need to find what drives you and home in on that. Focus on doing that type of work or getting a job in that industry. 

Reality: Finding a job that’s personally fulfilling is incredibly valuable. But even if you do find that type of job, not every day is going to be fulfilling. There will be some days that are more administrative, some projects you aren’t a fan of, and some months that just feel bland. That doesn’t mean you’ve lost your drive—it just means that you’re a human being. 

When you have clarity into why your work matters, you can stay motivated even if you aren’t thrilled about the work you’re doing on a particular day. Understanding how your work connects to the bigger picture can help you maintain motivation during tough days, because you always have the context and clarity to know why that work is important. 

Positive vs. negative motivation

Myth: Positive motivation and negative motivation are two different things. Negative motivation, which is caused by fear, leads to problems in the long run.

Reality: Motivation is broken into two categories, but these two categories aren’t “positive and negative”—they’re intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from inside of you and is driven by internal wants. Extrinsic motivation is results-oriented—you want to complete your work in order to achieve something or prevent a punishment. 

Intrinsic motivation is a great way to motivate yourself and your team, especially in the long term. This type of motivation emphasizes personal satisfaction, curiosity, and engagement. When you’re intrinsically motivated, you aren’t as impacted by the actions of those around you—rather, you’re focused on achieving something for your own sake. 

That being said, there are benefits to extrinsic motivation, too. Especially if you’re a new manager, knowing when to offer extrinsic motivation and rewards is critical. For example, you want to help your team members develop their own personal intrinsic motivation in order to achieve their career goals. But providing extrinsic rewards like group recognition or public thanks can help team members feel like they’re moving in the right direction—especially when you share these extrinsic motivators at the beginning of a project

Read: What is intrinsic motivation and how does it work?

10 tips for getting motivated

Whether you’re an individual contributor or a manager, try these 10 tips to increase your personal motivation. 

1. Connect work to goals

The most important thing you can do to get motivated at work is to understand why your work matters. To do this, you need a clearer connection between your daily work and your larger team and company goals. When you understand how your daily work is contributing to bigger picture initiatives, you’ll often find the kernel of motivation you need to get great work done. 

This is easier for some teams than it is for others. For example, sales team members have a direct connection between their work and the larger company revenue goals. But for some teams, this is a harder connection to make—which is where goal tracking tools come into play. 

Imagine you’re working for the help desk of a large company. Your main responsibility every day is to answer tickets and help customers. On the surface, this role doesn’t seem connected to your larger company goals—but it plays a key part. Your quick response times to customer needs directly contributes to customer satisfaction, which the entire business team tracks through a net promoter survey (NPS). 

With a goal tracking tool, you can draw the connection between your daily work and larger company goals, like the one mentioned above. 

Try goals with Asana for free

2. Set different types of goals

Setting goals is important, but it isn’t enough to just set one goal. To stay motivated, make sure you set a variety of goals. It’s not only important to set goals for different areas of your life—it’s also important to set goals that take different amounts of time to achieve. 

For example, you might set the long-term goal to get one hundred thousand followers on social media within the next three years. But to achieve that end goal, you also need to set short-term goals to serve as stepping stones. Here’s what that might look like: 

Big goal: Get to 100,000 followers on social media (Instagram and Twitter) within the next three years. 

Short-term goals to get there: 

  • Test six different post styles over the course of two months to identify which posts drive the most engagement. 

  • Develop an employee sharing program by the end of this fiscal year.

  • Partner with 10 influencers in our space within the next 12 months. 

No matter what type of goal you set, make sure they’re SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. For business goals, you can also use a goal methodology, like KPIs or OKRs to measure how you’re progressing towards your end result.

3. Reduce work about work

Things like searching for documents, chasing approvals, attending status readout meetings, or switching between apps all add up to what we call work about work. Work about work is a key motivation blocker. A lot of these manual, repetitive tasks feel unnecessary—and that’s because they are. According to our research, knowledge workers spend 13% of their time on work that’s already been completed. In total, we spend over half of our workdays (60%) on work about work. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. By reducing work about work, you can make more time for skilled, strategic, and high-impact work. This doesn’t mean you need to work more—it just means you have more hours in the day to spend on work that matters to you and to your team.

The best way to reduce work about work is to centralize your information in a single app. Instead of switching between 10 different apps up to 25 times per day, centralizing information makes it easier for you to get at-a-glance insight into who’s doing what by when. 

Try Asana for free

4. Capture your to-dos

It’s hard to be motivated if you don’t know exactly what you have to do. In order to set yourself up for success, you need a sense of what you need to do on a daily basis. And it isn’t enough to keep track of these things in your head—the best way to declutter your life is to drop all of your to-dos in a to-do list tool

This is a key element of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) method. The GTD method is all about storing your work in an external tool so you spend less brain power thinking about what you have to do and more time getting work done. To learn how to implement this method, check out our article on how to master the Getting Things Done (GTD) method in five steps.

Read: 15 secrets for making a to-do list that actually works

5. Eliminate multitasking

Unfortunately, humans can’t multitask. When we think we’re multitasking, we’re actually switching between two things at lightning speed. That amount of mental task switching has a cost: increased exhaustion, decreased productivity, and missed work. 

A lot of us multitask when we’re feeling unmotivated because it feels like we’re doing a lot—even if that work isn’t as meaningful. Instead, focus on one thing at a time. By doing so, you align your attention with your intention, and harness your motivation to get high-impact work done.

6. Stop procrastinating

We’ve all procrastinated before—but procrastination isn’t a sign of laziness. Just like motivation, procrastination stems from a lack of clarity at work. There are a few ways to fight procrastination and rekindle your motivation:

  • Break work into smaller chunks. Procrastination is a form of time-inconsistency, where immediate tasks seemingly offer more gratification than long-term goals. A great way to fight this is to break work into smaller tasks that you can complete quickly. That way, you’re still getting that good feeling every time you complete a task—while simultaneously working towards your larger initiative. 

  • Clarify your priorities. Sometimes, we lack motivation and start procrastinating because we have a lot to do and we aren’t sure where to start. When you clearly understand your priorities, you home in on the most important task and focus on getting your highest-impact work done. 

  • Set clear deadlines. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the allotted time. Without clear deadlines, you’re less motivated and more likely to procrastinate because nothing is due quite yet. Make sure your deadlines are accurate to reduce that tendency and fight Parkinson’s Law.

Read: The secret to stop procrastinating at work

7. Embrace flow state

Often conflated with motivation, flow state is that state when work is so effortless that time seems to fall away. This level of effortlessness is why people think of flow state when they think of motivation—if things are effortless, you don’t need to motivate yourself to get started. 

But like motivation, flow state doesn’t make it easier to get started—it just makes it easier to keep going once you’ve already begun. It isn’t so much about making flow state effortless to enter, but rather ensuring that you aren’t pulled out of flow state once you’re in it. 

To do so, turn off notifications and use features like “Do not disturb” to ensure you remain focused on your tasks. Clarify which communications should be live—meaning you need to respond in real-time—vs. async. Asynchronous communication is great for flow state because you can reply once you’re out of flow, while still getting back to your team in a timely manner. 

8. Try time management

Time management makes it easier to prioritize your work and ensures you’re getting the right work done at the right time. In addition to reducing distractions, time management strategies make it easier for you to get “in the zone” because you’re mentally committing to doing a certain amount of work during a certain amount of time. 

If you’ve never tried time management before, try one of the following:

  • Time blocking: Time blocking is a time management technique where you schedule out every part of your day. By physically putting your to-dos into your calendar, you can group like tasks into concentrated blocks of time and ensure you’re sticking to your to-dos as the day goes on.

  • The Pareto principle: The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that 80% of results come from 20% of actions. Using this principle helps you identify the work that’s most important to complete, so you get the most out of every day.

  • The Pomodoro Technique: The Pomodoro Technique is a time management strategy that breaks your work into 25-minute work blocks with five minute breaks in between. The short increments increase focus and productivity, while also giving you some downtime to relax in between sprints. 

  • Timeboxing: A timebox is a goal to finish a particular task within a specific amount of time. Timeboxing tasks ensures they don’t expand and prevent procrastination. 

Read: 18 time management tips, strategies, and quick wins to get your best work done

9. Build your skills

There’s nothing as unmotivating as stagnation. A great way to build long-term motivation is to invest in your professional development. Like setting a long-term goal, working towards big-picture achievements can set perspective and help you understand where you’re going. 

The type of skills you choose to build are up to you. If you’re looking to get started, check out our articles on building project management skills, developing team management skills, and enhancing your leadership skills.

10. Take care of yourself

It’s hard to be motivated if you aren’t feeling your best. Before you dive into work, make sure you’re taking care of yourself and your mental health. 

Different strategies work for different people, but make sure you’re:

  • Sleeping enough

  • Reducing stress

  • Exercising

  • Eating healthy

  • Doing things you enjoy outside of work

  • Practicing mindfulness

  • Connecting with your support network

5 motivation strategies for managers

As a team lead, you have a lot of power to unblock and support your team members. To help team members feel motivated and engaged, try these five strategies: 

1. Differentiate between individual and team goals

Every individual team member can connect their work to goals, but as a team lead, you have the ability to take this clarity to the next level. Encourage your team members to ask questions about the goals your work is contributing to. Plus, make sure the tools you’re using draw a clear connection between the projects your team works on and the goals they support. 

In addition to using the right goal tracking tools, make sure everyone on your team has at least one key performance indicator (KPI) to track their progress. Assigning at least one KPI to each individual team member gives them clarity on how their individual work is contributing towards larger team goals. 

2. Differentiate between efficiency and effectiveness

Efficiency is doing things right, while effectiveness is doing the right thing. The best teams are both efficient and effective—but differentiating between the two is key to motivating your team members. 

It can be demotivating for team members to work on things they don’t think are effective. Part of demonstrating that their work is effective is connecting it to the goals the work is supporting. But also try to give team members the opportunity to shift due dates based on their highest priority work. When team members have clarity on how their hard work contributes to larger goals, they can more effectively decide where to spend their time—so they’re maximizing their efficiency and effectiveness.

Read: Efficiency vs. effectiveness in business: Why your team needs both

3. Show appreciation regularly

Showing your team that you recognize their hard work is a key part of good team management. Even though appreciation is an extrinsic motivator, it’s a key element of getting and maintaining team motivation. 

If you don’t already, make sure you’re incorporating appreciation into your 1:1 and team meetings. This can be as simple as recognizing a team member for a job well done, letting them know that another team member praised their work, or offering a small reward after a particularly impressive performance. 

4. Invest in team morale

Team morale is directly correlated to team satisfaction. When team members are happy and engaged, they have high morale and are more likely to be motivated and productive. On the other hand, teams with low team morale suffer from procrastination, reduced productivity, and higher turnover. 

To increase team morale, try these three tips: 

  1. Lead by example and get involved in your team’s work to show them you’re invested in the projects they’re working on. 

  2. Build trust with your team by delegating responsibilities and giving team members freedom to make important decisions. 

  3. Encourage your team members to take time off and enjoy their life outside of work—this not only reduces burnout, but also increases engagement.

5. Look for bigger issues

If your team members still aren’t motivated after you implement the above four strategies, there may be something else going on. If they’re having a hard time at work or at home, their motivation may suffer as a result. 

As a manager, the best thing you can do is show your team you support them and approach every situation with empathy and understanding. Watch out for overwork or impostor syndrome. You often have to react to these situations as they arise, but one great way to prepare and support your team members is to build your conflict resolution skills

Read: The manager’s guide to preventing burnout on your team

Get motivated

You don’t need to set a New Year’s resolution in order to get motivated. When you have clarity on why your work matters and how it fits into your general company goals, you know what to prioritize and how to get started. 

For a complete view of all of your goals, use a goal tracking software like Asana. Connect your company goals to the work that supports them—all in one place.

Try goals with Asana for free

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