So some things blew up at work this week, and as a result there are several people, myself included, who are going to be doing a whole lot of extra work in a very short time period. This is not a case of me stepping up to fix someone else’s mistake (as I cautioned against doing in last week’s post), but a perfect storm of unforeseen circumstances that created one heck of a mess. Those of us who have to clean it up are going to be all but living at work for a while, so in the coming weeks it’s going to be very important that we all stay motivated, positive, and non homicidal. So when I started to think about this week’s post, it seemed like a good time to review the best ways to motivate yourself and others when there’s a lot that needs to be done (see also things to remember when there’s too much to do).
1) Remember why you’re doing it.
This one seems like it’s painfully obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of when you’re in the middle of things. When you get completely focused on what is directly in front of you and not the end goal you’re working towards, it can really bring you down. It’s like running a race while staring at your feet; you don’t know how far the finish line is, just that you’re getting tired and sweaty. Take time to remind yourself of where you’re going. Even if the goal seems far away, you know that you want to get there, and can recognize that gradual progress is still progress. There’s something inherently motivating about keeping your eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel, and as long as you keep that in mind you’ll be able to find that little bit of extra energy you might need when you start to lose motivation.
2) Create lots of small victories.
This goes along with the well-known technique of breaking big projects into manageable chunks, and other methods to increase productivity. When we reach the end of a task, it creates an immediate mental and emotional boost. So not only does breaking things down help avoid feeling overwhelmed, but it also increases the opportunities for a vital feeling of accomplishment. This also allows for task rotation, so you can work longer without feeling burned out or having too much mental fatigue. I find it really difficult to spend two solid hours organizing information and crunching data on spreadsheets. However, I can easily do a total of two hours’ worth of spreadsheet work in a four hour period, if it’s interspersed with other things. Instead of celebrating finishing a spreadsheet, I can celebrate finishing a section of a spreadsheet four times. You don’t want to have to wait until the end of the day to feel like you’ve made progress.
3) Find the fun.
There’s always a danger of getting distracted and unproductive, but when the pressure is on you need to take some time to relieve tension. When you’re working with others, look for opportunities to share a laugh, and remember what those moments were so you can incorporate them into your overall group culture. In an early strategy session for our mammoth project, we assigned pairs to handle specific tasks. One colleague joked that we were creating “work spouses,” and we have since really run with that. We’ve already had many comments about needing work spouse counseling, avoiding work spouse divorce, the newlyweds vs the old marrieds, and so on and so forth. This shared in-joke has helped us to bond more quickly and created a lot of positive feelings without taking away from our productivity. My “work husband” and I, who have been “together” for quite some time, are determined to survive this challenge. We’re also debating team names and slogans (many of which we would never actually use and certainly won’t be telling our boss). In this case, the ever-growing sense of camaraderie is probably going to be one of the most important factors in us pulling together and pulling through. If you’re trying to motivate yourself on a solo project, you should still look for opportunities to add a little fun. Turn on your music, give yourself a slogan, document your stress in little cartoons…whatever it is that gives you a chance to smile at the situation.
4) Acknowledge effort and accomplishments
When we were children we got gold stars and student of the week and smiley face stickers and all kinds of small affirmations that meant a whole lot more to us than they logically should. Then at some point in our lives people decided that we were “too old” for those minor extrinsic motivators to be necessary or effective. I say bull-pucky to that. We don’t outgrow the desire to feel recognized or the ability to get a boost from something small and insignificant. I have actually given gold star stickers to grown-ups, and you wouldn’t believe how proud they were to be accumulating them. When you’re working by yourself, taking the time to recognize and congratulate yourself is important. When you’re working with others, it’s critical. Nothing gets a group of tired, frazzled people back on track faster than praising and appreciating what they’ve done. Except maybe for pizza.
5) Reward, reward, reward.
As important as praise and acknowledgement is, it’s best to back that up with a little bit of actual tangible stuff. I wasn’t kidding about pizza. My coworkers are absolute freaks about pizza. It’s amazing how much more productive we are with the promise of pizza. Regular readers already know that I will move heaven and earth for a donut, and believe me, my boss knows that too. Food is, of course, just one example of ways we can reward each other or ourselves. For something more lasting than food, I have ordered humorous coffee mugs for everyone involved (carefully chosen to match their individual personalities) and will be ready to pull them out when we really need a boost. Our supervisor is exploring some more significant rewards like the possibility of some time off when this project is finished, a small bonus, or an evening out on the company dime. Tying a reward to a specific accomplishment is especially effective.
How do you motivate yourself and others?