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19 Nov 2020 Austin Belcak

How To Stay Motivated At Work And Improve Productivity

It happens to the best of us. You start your workday with a to-do list that feels about a mile long. But no matter what you do (and how much coffee you drink), you just can’t seem to get anything done.

This can be, without a doubt, frustrating — especially when important projects depend on you having a productive day. But, as you probably already know, having days where you lack being motivated at work is also quite common.

That’s why in this post, I want to share 8 tips you can use to not only stay motivated at work, but also boost your productivity. Yep, achieving both is possible — even on days when you don’t feel like doing anything!

Let’s now dive into what each of those tips look like in action!

8 Ways To Stay Motivated At Work

#1: Schedule Your Work Day According To Science

For most of us, your motivation and willpower peak in the morning and then steadily decline throughout the day. And there’s a scientific reason why: your body’s circadian rhythm.

The gist, as it pertains to scheduling your workday, is this:

In the morning, you’re most alert. So, tackle your most important tasks that require a high level of brainpower. Think anything that requires creative, analytical, critical thinking, and/or problem-solving skills.

During the afternoon slump, do your easier, more repetitive work like responding to emails, scheduling meetings, revising the work you did in the morning, delegating tasks, etc.

The end of the day is good for brainstorming. Do your strategizing, planning, team meetings, creative idea generation, etc.

Now, this may not be possible every day. But when it is, don’t work against your body. Work with it.

#2: Start Your Day With Your Most Important Task

This tip builds on the last. But it’s important to separate it on its own. Because starting your day with your most important task — also known as “eating the frog” — builds momentum and sets your day up for success. Even if you get nothing else 100% done, you’ve at least made progress on the one or two things that really matter.

So, what’s the one thing on your to-do list that, if you completed it today, would leave you feeling the most accomplished? Start your day there.

#3: Make Starting Your Difficult Tasks Easy And Quick

You're human. So, stop trying to pretend you’re a robot that can work for 4 interrupted hours on things you don’t enjoy! Instead, use the Pomodoro Technique, which involves breaking those difficult, time-consuming tasks into easy, quick tasks.

For example, you will say to yourself: “I’m going to start by working on this task for just twenty minutes with full focus. And after that, I’m going to stop and take a short break.”

In most instances, you’ll keep working past those twenty minutes because the issue was likely never the work itself. The issue was getting started. So, trick your brain. Work for twenty minutes. Take a short break. And then do twenty more! As you become more productive, you will in turn become more motivated at work.

#4: Do Bad Work (And Revise Later)

Perfectionism is probably the #1 killer of productivity. So, let go of the idea that the first attempt at your work needs to be your best. You’re better off starting with what writer Anne Lammot calls a “shitty first draft”. That’s to say, get all of your ideas out in their sloppiest, least presentable form. Once you’ve done that you have something to mold into “perfection” while editing and revising.

So, you’re struggling to stay motivated while working on an important proposal for a new client? Start with a shitty first draft. Can’t seem to find the right strategy for a marketing campaign? Shitty first draft. Procrastinating on starting an overwhelming presentation? Shitty. First. Draft.

Editing your work later when you are feeling more motivated is always easier than trying to create perfection on the first try.

#5: Create Arbitrary Deadlines And Short Term Goals

You’re a goal-oriented person. But you may not feel like it. At least not until there's a quickly approaching deadline. The only problem is that sometimes those deadlines are weeks or even months away, which isn’t helpful right now. The solution? Create smaller goals that have deadlines coming up soon.

For best results, create goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound). You can read more about SMART goal setting in What Are Career Goals (And How To Create Them). But here’s a quick example of how to create one:

Finish creating at least the first 8 slides of my upcoming presentation before going to lunch today at 1 pm.

Once you’ve created your SMART goals, put them on your calendar. By doing so, your brain will become more motivated to get the task done or, at least, get the “shitty first draft” version done soon.

Man Staying Motivated At Work At His Desk

#6: Develop Your Own Reward System

We tend to think of our rewards for work as our salary, employee benefits, bonuses, etc. But these things aren’t immediately tangible. So, just like you need to create your own deadlines, you might also benefit from creating your own reward system.

Now, this doesn’t need to be anything extravagant. But, perhaps, only on a day where you achieve all of your SMART goals, you do something like:

  • Order dinner from your favorite restaurant
  • Watch, guilt-free, two episodes of your favorite, new TV show
  • Deposit a few bucks into a special savings to buy yourself something

And, if that doesn’t work, consider doing the opposite: create a small punishment for not achieving your goals. For example, if your daily SMART goals go unachieved, you donate $5 to an organization you detest.

#7: Find An Accountability Partner

Staying motivated at work on your own can be hard. No one’s watching to see if you’re staying on track. For a lot of us, that problem is automatically solved by having a manager or supervisor who’s regularly checking in. But that’s not what I mean.

When I say find an accountability partner, I’m talking about finding someone, like a coworker, who has similar goals that require a boost in productivity. Just make sure they want to get better just as much as you do.

Once you’ve selected your partner, develop a system where the two of you share what you’re currently working on, your short and long-term goals, your real and arbitrary deadlines, etc. Then hold each other accountable to achieve those goals and meet those deadlines.

#8: Pick A Time To End The Day And Stick To It

A lot of us are currently transitioning from working in an office to working at home. So, this one’s all the more important.

Similar to setting deadlines for your tasks, you need to set a time to end your day. That means laptop closed and no more thinking about any work-related projects until the next morning.

Why put this pressure on yourself? Because it will force you to develop more focus throughout the workday, avoid wasting time, and get things done.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re working toward getting a promotion, asking for a raise, or just trying to get work done, motivation is key. Unfortunately, though, sometimes motivation is flimsy and nowhere to be found when you need it most. To stay productive in spite of those unmotivated days, use the 8 tips I shared here!

And if you find that your lack of motivation isn’t so easily solved, consider this: is the real problem your job itself? Is it time to quit your job? Or start looking for a new one? If you’re chronically unmotivated and unproductive, maybe so.

In which case, be sure to check out “I Hate My Job”: What To Do & How To Handle It to learn how to go from quitting a job you hate to landing a job you love!

Austin Belcak

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he helps people land jobs without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online. His strategies have been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, & Fast Company and has helped people just like you land jobs at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, & more.

2 thoughts on How To Stay Motivated At Work And Improve Productivity
  1. Rea George says:

    Such a valuable article! I’ve been testing a lot of different ways to stay productive over the past six months whilst adapting to working from home. The Pomodoro Technique has been an absolute gamechanger because let’s face it, there is nothing motivating about sitting down and expecting to work solidly for 5 hours before lunch.

    Another winner for me has been turning off all notifications for social media & emails on my phone. It removes a massive distraction and means when I do check those apps I’ll be fully focused on them.

    1. 100% Rea! Turning off notifications and badges has been a game changer. I would highly recommend this article on how to make your phone work for you, not against you.



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