How to Stay Motivated at Work

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Where does motivation to work come from?

If you really think about what most of us naturally feel when we hear the word “work,” the obvious truth is that we tend to associate negatively with it. We think obligation, commitment – something annoying that we can’t free ourselves from because it is a necessary part of survival.

We think of work as a means to an end.

The means being the money that results from spending our time engaging in some mental or physical activity we more often than not just don’t feel like doing, and the end being the ability to spend the money we make to “live our lives.”

We think money means freedom, which is why we work in the first place. Freedom to buy luxury items, freedom to partake in activities, freedom to live a certain lifestyle.

How to Stay Motivated at Work

If I asked you whether you would keep working if you knew you’d continue to get your paycheck without actually working, how would you reply?

Almost every single one of us would obviously choose to avoid work. I mean come on, who in their right mind would choose to work if they’d continue to get paid regardless of whether they showed up to the office?

Apparently, every CEO in the country.

how to stay motivated at work

Changing the way you think about “work”

The first step in answering the question, “how to stay motivated at work,” is changing the way you think about WHY you work. To help put this into perspective, let’s see if we can figure out why the average CEO works longer and more difficult hours than the average middle-class American.

The average American

The average American works 34.4 hours per week. Adults that work full-time positions work an average of 47 hours per week in the U.S. The average American makes about $52,000 a year.

Sounds about right. Most of us work our relatively stable hours. We mindlessly blow through the daily tasks we’re either required to or set out to complete, and we do it with our only sincere intention being getting that paycheck at the end of the week.

The average CEO

The average CEO works about 60 hours per week. And for the most part, that’s referring to time actually spent in the office.

In response to a question about how many hours he works a day, Mark Zuckerberg stated:

“That depends on what you count as work… If you count the time I’m in the office, it’s probably no more than 50-60 hours a week. But if you count all the time I’m focused on our mission, that’s basically my whole life.”

            Making sense of the dichotomy

Now look, there are two ways to try and make sense of this information. On the one hand, you can attribute the long, grueling hours that corporate Directors and Officers work to the fact that they’re in a position that requires them to work crazy hours – that they don’t have a choice if they want to keep their jobs.

On the other hand, you can look at the dichotomy between the hours the average American and the average CEO works to the reason they work in the first place.

Here’s why I think the latter interpretation makes sense.

The average executive at an S&P 500 company makes about $1.5 million in salary, but salary is a merely a small portion of what these top executives actually earn annually. Bonuses and other incentive pay make up the vast majority of their annual pay.

If I told you that you could make $1.5 million a year, how many years would you need to work before you felt that you would be financially “ok” for the rest of your life? 3 years? 5 years? 15?

The average tenure of a CEO is 9.7 years.

It’s easy to think, “I’d be motivated as hell to work 100 hours a week if I was making over a million dollars a year.”

It might help a bit, but the truth is that staying motivated at work is more about why we work than the “freedom” that results from earning an income.

Why passion isn’t the answer

Passion does, to an extent, result in motivation. But passion alone cannot possibly keep us fully engaged and excited all day long, every day, during working hours.

My passion is writing – I’m a self-help blogger.

I truly do enjoy sitting here and putting words together that I hope touches people in the way that I intend to. I genuinely have fun trying to adequately convey the very specific idea I have in my head that I want to share. But actually getting to sit down and write is only a small part of what I really need to do in order to get my ideas out there into the world.

In each of our individual work-lives, there is a lot that we’re required to do that we really just aren’t passionate about. If you’re a lawyer, you might LOVE being in the court-room, but dread sitting to write briefs and motions. If you’re an accountant, you might love the strategy behind the job, but despise actually dealing with numbers. If you work at a retail store, you might love dealing with customers, but hate dressing manikins and doing inventory control.

Passion is nice, but it doesn’t provide lasting motivation for work.

Think bigger

If it wasn’t about earning money, why would we work? What other reasons are there for us to subject ourselves to difficult hours and constantly performing tasks that we consider boring or meaningless?

When we die, there is only one thing that we build throughout the course of our lives that will undoubtedly exist for the rest of time. The beauty is that we all build it, whether we like it or not, and regardless of its quality.

Our reputation.

The way we approach any part of our lives is a sign of who we are.


Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of – for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”

Socrates


We generally spend 40 hours of the 168 hours there are in a week working. If you factor in sleep (say 8 hours a night), then the 40 hours we spend working makes up 36% of the time we spend awake throughout adulthood.

The question is what do we want to leave behind in terms of our reputation about this 1/3rd of our lives that we spend in work? You see it isn’t just about making money and living a certain lifestyle, but about what we’re doing on a daily basis, for the majority of our day, and whether we want to be remembered for the quality of what we did, or merely that we “showed up.”

4 Practical Tips 

Step One: Get your most annoying/routine tasks done at the beginning of the day

Every single day there are tasks, events, activities that we each know we have to do or engage in that we just really don’t look forward to.

Getting those tasks done at the beginning of the day is indispensable to staying motivated at work because the more we’re doing the work we genuinely enjoy throughout the day, the more naturally motivated we’ll be to get it done and do a good job at it.

Personally, I take the first few hours of my workday to just respond to emails, to making the articles I’m writing “pretty.” What I genuinely enjoy of my work is writing, being creative and really thinking with intention. When I get annoying tasks done at the beginning of the day the rest of my day opens up for creative work, that makes staying motivated a lot easier.

Step Two: Push yourself, for yourself

The harsh truth is that nobody really cares about your work but you. A boss or manager cares about your work to the extent that you’re getting it done because he has his own job to do in managing his employees.

But in the end of the day, the quality of your work is really for your own benefit. We all want to exert confidence, the ability to be proud of ourselves and the things we do.

What’s equally important is that the work we do affects others, regardless of what our work consists of. We work to make money, and you make money by providing either some service or value to other people in a way that warrants them paying money for it. Whether you’re a grocery store clerk or an entrepreneur doesn’t matter in this regard. We constantly have an impact on others through how we handle our work, and how we handle ourselves AT work.

Working diligently and pushing yourself to be the best you possibly can will create positive self-esteem while also enhancing the lives of the people you’re connected to through your work.

Step Three: Find ways to make work fun

We all have needs throughout the day. Nobody, and I mean nobody enjoys sitting alone at a desk all day with paperwork in front of them.

Changing your mindset about your work environment can be accomplished, and is a great way to create self-motivation at work. If you can find ways to laugh throughout the day by making jokes with co-workers, or enjoying a snack with a friend on a break, you’ll develop a positive association with your work place that will inherently keep you motivated to get done what’s necessary.

Step Four: The importance of a “got done” list

Positive reinforcement is one of the true secrets to motivation. Even if it comes from ourselves.


“Well, you know, a lot of people look at the negative things, the things that they did wrong and – which I do. But I like to stress on the things I did right, because there are certain things that I like to look at from a positive standpoint that are just positive reinforcement.”

 Tiger Woods


Having a list of all the tasks you need to accomplish in a day, or in a week is great for organizing the work you need to do, and can play a huge role in how accomplished you feel with what you have gotten done. More often than not, we’ve gotten a lot more done than we initially think we have.

Making a simple list with either check-boxes next to each task that you can check off once completed will make you feel as if you’re accomplishing things throughout the day, which motivates you to continue the momentum. If you stay strict about this, pretty soon you’ll see that you’re flying through your tasks for the day without the need for much external motivation.