To be successful, one must be motivated––motivated to work hard, put in long hours, show grit. That’s how we achieve our goals, how we accomplish anything worthwhile.
As a species, humans are inherently lazy. We’re hardwired in any given situation to find the most economic means of conserving our energy, which is why when choosing between going for a run and watching TV, so many of us choose the latter. It’s simply our nature.
This also explains why it can be so hard to motivate ourselves at work, especially when our work on a given day entails performing mostly monotonous or tedious tasks, like answering emails, making sales calls, or compiling pitch decks. The problem, of course, is that motivating yourself to perform effectively and persistently at work is key to your ultimate success. To be successful, one must be motivated––motivated to work hard, put in long hours, show grit. That’s how we achieve our goals, how we accomplish anything worthwhile.
The question, then, is how do we combat our natural lazy tendencies to motivate ourselves to work tenaciously?
This is a question as relevant to managers, team leads, and company founders as it is to individual employees. But too often, company leaders resort to the same means of motivation over and over: money. Don’t get me wrong, incentives like raises and bonuses can be strong motivators. But it’s only a temporary motivator, the way that a few beers only brings temporary contentment, or a new car only brings temporary happiness. Pretty soon, that slightly higher salary simply becomes a part of your new normal. It no longer inspires.
The good news is––as I’ve learned in my own life and in building Skylum––there are ways to motivate yourself more intrinsically, in a way that translates more reliably to long-term success.
1) Remind yourself of the bigger picture.
Most of us are compelled to work hard each day not by minute, short-term goals, but by big-picture imperatives.
For me, my primary motivator is my family––providing for them, ensuring they feel safe, and creating a solid foundation for my kids so they can pursue their dreams. Ultimately, that’s the reason I dedicate so much of my time and my energy to building Skylum.
Most every person has such a centering inspiration in their life––an inspiration that’s presence in your mind propels you to work hard. In your case, you may be propelled by the dream of being paid to practice the craft you love––writing, coding, photography, teaching, etc. You may even be inspired by the pursuit of improvement more generally: the satisfaction of self-development, the feeling of becoming better and better at something you enjoy doing. Whatever it is, the first step is identifying that thing that most meaningfully drives you, as that’s what will be your fuel.
2) Break a big goal into smaller goals.
More tangibly, what breaks the will of many people is the feeling of being overwhelmed by the task at hand––looking at a new project and thinking, “I’ll never be able to get this done.”
We can combat this tendency by breaking that one big project into smaller goals. Once you do so, you can gamify the process of completing each smaller step. Personally, I think of the conquering of each small goal in a big project as reaching the next “level,” like in Super Mario. You can adapt this approach across all aspects of your work, too––breaking down every big task into more easily achievable chunks. To me, this has proven essential.
3) Reward yourself when you accomplish those goals.
Of course, one key aspect of “gamifying” your work is rewarding yourself when you reach certain new “levels.” Such rewards, though not truly intrinsic––they amount to a form of tricking yourself, essentially––can prove powerful. For example, I’ve told myself that once my team and I launch Luminar (our next big product we’re releasing), I’m going to reward myself with a new car instead of just buying it outright. That succeeds in kicking me into higher gear.
Again, this sort of motivation won’t sustain you for long, but it does provide a nice little push when you need it.
4) Pay attention to metrics and user feedback.
If you find motivation in driving the success of your company––which, if you’re a company leader, especially, you should––then there’s perhaps no better way to motivate yourself than by tracking your key metrics and paying attention to user feedback. Recognizing that perhaps your users aren’t happy, for example, will catalyze you into recalibration or into working extra hard so that you get your next product release right.
Moreover, setting specific goals for yourself and your team––reaching X amount of users, pageviews, or orders next month, for instance, or receiving Y amount of happy emails from customers––will give you a goal line to shoot for in your day-to-day work.
Paying attention to key metrics and pieces of informative data will also allow you to more easily celebrate smaller accomplishments with your team––like crossing those aforementioned thresholds. This is something we do at Skylum every second Friday, which we call “Winning Fridays.” We simply go over our accomplishments from the past two weeks to determine what wins we’ve amassed––and then we celebrate.
5) Talk with your team leader to set up smaller goals for yourself.
The importance of setting goals for yourself is equally important if you’re an individual contributor. Knowing what will make you more money, earn you a promotion, or help you obtain some other incentive will motivate you––give you an extra boost––to more quickly do that thing.
To this end, talk with your manager or team leader to create incentives for yourself. This will help you perform better, but it will also sort of naturally push you out of your comfort zone, which is crucial to your ongoing development as a professional and as a person.
Motivating yourself at work isn’t just about making it to work.
Rather, it’s about inspiring yourself to achieve specific goals in the service of an important, big-picture imperative. It’s about pushing yourself to become better at something that interests you, and it’s about growing as an individual.
These are the elements that motivate people over the long-term, that inspire us to overcome our natural propensity for laziness. Short-term “tricks”––like aspiring for a raise, or rewarding yourself after hitting a smaller goal––certainly help. But for a more sustainable solution, look inward, and think about what really makes you tick: what you truly, ultimately want to accomplish, and why.