Motivation. Everyone ends up writing about it at some point, (I guess it’s my turn). Especially writers and creatives, between motivation and inspiration I think a good portion of blog posts could be packaged under one of those two headers. They’re both elusive and when you don’t have them you feel worthless. Maybe you turn to self help books, those written by people who seem to have their life in order, confident enough in their ‘methods’ to push them on everyone desperate enough to read the book. And every self-help book I’ve read lately is straddling the line of helping with a personal level of motivational problems (with suggestions coming from someone who is clearly self-employed and can spend infinite time working on their journals and task lists and etc) while trying simultaneously to appeal to the managers of the world so that the ideas can be pushed by said managers (and hopefully that in turn drives book sales, because if nothing else, managers do love talking to other managers about their favourite manager books). So you end up reading books telling you to sacrifice yourself for you day job, give your all even if you’ll never get recognition or credit because you’ll regret it later otherwise.
But what if work is where the problem started?
I believe this image’s subject is frustrated because their phone only ever shows a blank white screen.
The idea of separation between work life and home life sounds pretty straight forward, you work at work, you do your own thing at home. But the human brain is not that good at compartmentalizing. There’s a reason there are a million articles about overwork, the fact that vacation less than eight days aren’t particularly relaxing and that ‘work-life balance’ is one of the new ‘come work for us’ pitches in job ads. Maybe you’re unmotivated at work too, no recognition or credit (but you’ve been diligently giving your all like that self-help book said) and this lack of motivation leads to falling behind. And then work follows us home, lying in wait at the back of our mind while we’re watching Netflix or making dinner, waiting until about midnight to pounce and keep us up at night. Which leads to getting in late, or maybe less time to get things done. Or more pressure from your manager. You stay late (even alter than necessary because you feel guilty and need to make up for your tardiness) and the time you would have spent on your personal life and projects seeps away into more sleepless nights until your body starts rebelling.
Et tu, Body?
The body is actually pretty good at dealing with short burst of almost anything (admittedly very short bursts for some things). It’s also pretty bad at dealing with things being consistently terrible. An article published in the European Heart Journal titled Overtime work and incident coronary heart disease: the Whitehall II prospective cohort study found that there was a significant increase in the risk of heart-disease in workers who consistently worked overtime.
So you’ve ended up in a bad place, with no sleep, spending more time at the office (for those of us shackled to a job) and you’re exhausted when you do get home. And now instead of just your work worries seeping into your personal life, your lack of motivation from work flows into your personal projects too. It’s hard to stay motivated when you feel like you’re simply burning 8 hours a day on pointless work (and possibly for a pittance too if your boss is cheap). So how does one motivate themselves at home again? If you listen to the self-help books, you have to write tasks lists and pull yourself up by your own boot straps. But task lists will only get you so far. Especially if they feel strangely familiar to the task lists you have at work. The ones handed to you by your manager, the ones with deadlines and demands.
The ones that are no fun.
Now you’re at the bottom of the hole, welcome to the abyss of failing motivation, insufficient time and a terrible work life.
So what now? There’s a few workable options, but take them all with a grain of salt.
1: Mediocrity & betrayal. You can slow down at work. If your work is fairly stable and you’re confident in your job security you could redirect some of your energy, take it slower at work, save your enthusiasm for your personal life. Maybe get up earlier (as counterintuitive as it sounds) and work on your projects first (and avoid the internet, Srinivas Rao has a good article on why starting the day on the net is bad here), that way your “best” hours, where you have all of your focus, can be spent on your own projects, not your workplace’s (and not the workplace politics that infect everything in your work). Though if you’re more a night owl than an early bird that might be a very painful way to go about it.
2: Discussion & compromise. Speak to whoever is in charge of your work life, a manager or HR or whoever it is and see if you can get some time off in the short term, perhaps a few extra hours of a morning before coming in or a few Fridays off. For smaller companies this conversation might be a bit easier, but in my experience larger companies are more open to actually engaging in discussions and providing help and solutions, small companies by their nature tend to only have one person per position so it gets harder for them to work without personnel. Which might be a contributing factor to overwork if you’re a small business employee. Because spending time on our own hobbies is extremely beneficial for our self-actualization (Gaetano DiNardi wrote a great article about why spending time on your hobbies is helpful here), if you can get this one balanced right it’s the best solution, but that’s a big if.
3: A holiday, but a long one. An alternative to being mediocre at your job for a while is to take time off, again, you’ll need at least two weeks for it to be useful and you’ll need to bootstrap yourself a bit to get into the swing of things (if you let yourself lounge around for the first three days it’ll be hard to force yourself into work later). And then, you just have to hope you can make progress on your projects before your time is up. The best part of this is you have days of free time to sink into your project and an deadline for yourself that might jumpstart you. The downside? Well apart from possibly having to take unpaid leave to achieve the necessary length, you still have a deadline and limited time.
4: The thermonuclear option (I really don’t recommend this but it is fun to dream about). If work is a mess and there’s nothing you can do to save yourself (and you have the financial means to support this option), you can always burn it all to the ground (metaphorically) by leaving your job. This is a no turning back situation (unless you’ve got a really understanding boss) and is going to be a do-or-die situation (well, a do-or-get-a-new-job situation at least). The biggest benefit of this is complete freedom to get everything in order, finally you can spend a day organising your task lists and journals just like the self-help books tell you to.
In all seriousness, a lack of motivation is difficult to overcome, often because there is nothing “stopping” your from doing the work but yourself, and by that I mean the mental roadblocks in your mind which do exist and do need to be overcome, but often, only you can do that. And if it is personal projects that you’re lacking the motivation for perhaps you need to re-evaluate the projects, because unlike work demands, these projects mean something to you and are actually good for you, especially if they’re creative in some way.