What if you can’t get motivated?

It’s Friday afternoon at 4:55PM, and I’ve lost motivation. I wish I had a great idea to share, but I just don’t. I want to blog, but I can’t for the life of me figure out anything to write.

So instead I’m going to walk through what I do when I’m unmotivated. (Look at me–I’m writing about not having anything to write. Trippy.) I wrote about being unmotivated at work before, but that was a list of specific tasks you can do when you can’t think of anything else. This is more like a process I use to get the juices flowing.

1. Make a list. The first thing I do when I’m unmotivated is organize. Sometimes I clean out my inbox, other times I sort the papers on my desk. I’m so much more efficient when I work from a list, so putting my to-dos down on paper is a great way to get started. I ask myself “If I was motivated, what should I be doing?” Once I see everything on a list, I often dive right in to tackle a few of the more important (or easier) items. I know I’m just tricking myself, but I don’t care. It works for me. So, to follow my own advice, here’s a list of the topics I’d like to blog about:

  1. Does your exercise schedule/amount impact your performance at work?
  2. Are there more men or women actively engaged in professional networking, like LinkedIn and Brazen Careerist?
  3. There are now 21 Fortune 500 companies HQ’d in the Twin Cities, up quite a bit in the last few years. Why is that?
  4. How do you recover from saying something really stupid at work?
  5. Top magazines for new professionals.
  6. January is National Mentoring Month. What’s the deal with that?

There’s my list. While I was writing this, I stopped in the middle to email people who can answer question 2. So I’m already on my way to finishing the list!

If you want to get nuts, the next part of this step is to define the path to accomplishing this list. In my case, what would I have to do to write about these topics?

2. See what other people are doing. It’s very difficult to inspire yourself from within when you’re unmotivated. Being unmotivated is probably the same thing as having no inner inspiration anyway. So you have to look externally. And how do we do that at work? The Internet!

I’m writing a post about keeping motivated, so I Googled “How to stay motivated.”  Here’s what I found:

Lots of different articles and options. And yes, I had to sift through a pile of swine to find the pearls (ugly new phrase mashup!), but I found some good advice, including a bunch of tip lists. (I wish I could invest in tip lists. If they don’t make up 30% of the Internet yet, they soon will.) So now I know what other people are  doing and saying about staying motivated, which is helpful. I agree with a lot of what I read, and have a few thoughts of my own to add. Now I’m inspired to contribute to the conversation in my own way.

“But wait–my job isn’t blogging.” Oh yeah, I forgot. Mine isn’t, either, though I like to pretend it is. Well, go see what your coworkers are doing. If they’re actively engaged in something, chances are their motivation will either rub off on you or remind you of something you have to do. You can easily add something to their work, or create something of your own that will help their cause. It seems simple, but it works for me all the time. When I’m unmotivated, connecting with other people is a sure-fire way to relight my flame.

3. Take your new idea and run with it. So now I have the idea to write a list of ways to stay motivated at work. I saw what other people were doing, which motivated me to do a little research and contribute my own thoughts. Now I’m motivated to write a list of steps to stay motivated, which is what this post is quickly becoming. Super! Though I’m reconsidering how to phrase everything. And I’m still a little unmotivated. Maybe not Unmotivated, but certainly not At My Sharpest. But I want to get this done, and I need to get this done, so there’s one more thing to do…

4. Allow yourself to under-deliver. Sometimes I spend 2 – 3 hours on a single blog post. I definitely don’t feel like that right now. So I’m going to allow myself to whip up post that’s only 80% of what I’m capable of. It’s another self-trick. I know that once I start it, I won’t let it out the door until it’s pretty good. Maybe not great, but good.

I do the same thing when I don’t feel like working out. Instead of skipping the gym all together, I let myself show up with significantly reduced expectations, like 20 minutes of cardio and some light weights. But you know what? I’ve used that trick a dozen times, and I always end up doing the original workout. Every time but one, which is important, because I still half-believe myself when I say “Just start the workout. If you’re too tired, you can quit.” But I never do.

Exercise aside, getting a few things half-started is always better than nothing started at all. So get off the sofa and start something, even if you know it’ll be half-hearted. You never know what’ll happen.

Here’s my final list:

  1. Clarify your goals, objectives, or to-dos
  2. Define and clear the path
  3. Look externally for motivation
  4. Run with an idea
  5. Allow yourself to under-deliver

45 minutes ago, I was supremely unmotivated to write. But thanks to this process, I now have a great new post, a list of blog topics to use in the future, exciting new thought balloon graphics, and a defined method for snapping out of it when I need to. Nice.

And now it’s the weekend, which is easy to get motivated for!

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