No motivation to work? Here’s how to get back on track

Emily Starbuck Gerson

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Nearly everyone has experienced feeling no motivation to work. This is especially common among those who are suffering from burnout. But in the midst of a global pandemic, even more of us are finding it a momentous challenge to wake up motivated and focus on work.

At Flourish, we’ve found that this pandemic has actually caused some people to feel compelled to work more than usual. This could be due to a desire to have a sense of control over something, or simply from being at home more and not having much else to do. But most people are struggling with having no motivation to work.

We get it — when news and social media feeds are dominated by 24/7 pandemic catastrophe, your daily work may not feel as important and you might feel paralyzed with worry. As of late May, the United States Census Bureau reported that a third of Americans were experiencing clinical anxiety or depression, with the pandemic to blame for rising mental health concerns. And when you’re feeling anxious, it’s even harder to focus and muster motivation.

While it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and not put your head in the sand, we recommend trying these tactics to regain a sense of control and motivation.

Uncover the cause

We know that when times are stressful (hello 2020), especially if you lack a sense of control or certainty, motivation can go down the toilet.

But pause and reflect to see if there could be anything other than the current public health crisis that could be driving your feelings of having no motivation to work. Do you dislike the work you’re doing? Is there a difficult boss or toxic teammate who makes you dread work? Do you work too much and feel emotionally exhausted from burnout? It may be that there’s more than just a pandemic derailing your productivity.

If you think burnout is to blame, sign up for Flourish’s email newsletter at the end of this post to get tips on recognizing and freeing yourself from burnout. 

Understand how motivation works

Motivation and energy are finite resources, and you need to proactively replenish them if they’re running on empty. If your job was once fulfilling and now it isn’t, work may not be the problem — it could be what you’re doing outside of work.

Do you spend any time doing things outside of work hours that rejuvenate and replenish you? It’s hard if you’re working remotely and/or living somewhere with requirements to stay at home, but there are still ways to unwind and make sure you’re getting enough rest and relaxation that you can feel some motivation when it’s time to work. See if spending your free time feeding your soul rather than overworking or mindlessly vegging out helps recharge your batteries.

Figure out what you need 

Do you feel unmotivated or exhausted but aren’t sure where your energy and resources are spent? One technique we recommend on the path to alleviate burnout is to map your mindshare.

In this visual exercise, draw a picture that represents how you divvy up your mental and emotional energy (not just time). It can be a spreadsheet, pie chart, a house with rooms, or any other visual that maps out which areas of your life take up space in your brain (your mindshare). Separate them by those that give you energy and those that drain you.

Once you’ve created your map, review it to a) notice and celebrate what’s working and gives you life, and b) examine what isn’t working and needs to go or be reduced. For example, maybe you’ve carved out enough space for your family, but you’re spending so much energy on work that you’re neglecting self-care or social interaction.

After assessing the good, the bad, and the ugly, we recommend asking yourself this: “How have you conspired to create the conditions you say you don’t want to do?” It may sound like a simple question, but this is where you have control. Once you have the answer, you can be more mindful and start making changes. Having awareness of where you spend your resources can provide some much-needed empowerment and motivation.

Other ways to tackle no motivation to work 

While we love the mindshare-mapping process, we also understand that these are weird times and your schedule and mindshare probably look very different than they did pre-COVID. Here are a few other strategies to take care of yourself and regain motivation.

Build in rewards

According to the Harvard Business Review, finding external motivators can help, especially for tasks you’re dreading. It could be as small as buying yourself your favorite treat for completing a task, or planning a (future) vacation when you finish a project. However, they warn that the rewards should be both effective and not self-defeating (for example, if your goal is to lose weight, don’t reward yourself with donuts).

Take care of your whole self

The CDC reminds us that during a stressful pandemic, we should take extra efforts to look after our mental, physical, and emotional health. They suggest tactics like minimizing news consumption, connecting with loved ones, practicing mindfulness, getting enough sleep and exercise, eating healthily, avoiding alcohol and drugs, building in time to relax, and paying attention to your emotional needs (like seeking out counseling).

Live in the moment

A doctor explains in Psychology Today that some of the best ways to cope with the stress and uncertainty during this pandemic is to build positive relationships with your loved ones and find ways to live in the present. Yes, some days just suck. But when you can, try to notice and have gratitude for the positive things around you. Maybe it means really being present and enjoying cooking dinner with your family, or enjoying the greenery in your neighborhood on an evening walk. By avoiding focusing on the past or future, you can ground yourself in the  present and feel more motivated to handle the tasks in front of you.

 

These are scary, unprecedented times, and it’s OK to feel anxious, depressed, tired, and unmotivated. But for many of us, our work still has to be done, so try these strategies to regain a sense of self-efficacy and motivation.

 

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