You can find endless life-hacky listicles on the internet on finding motivation. They’ll tell you to stick with a routine, to think positively, to set small and achievable goals—all of which is true and fine.
But in my experience, motivation is a nice-to-have—not a prerequisite—to doing the work. It’s like the writer who claims they can’t write unless they’re sitting at their desk in silence with their favorite fountain pen. In other words, it’s an excuse.
Do you know what a more valuable skill is? Knowing how to get work done when you’re not motivated. Instead of trying to force motivation, focus on taking action—regardless of your mindset. Here are some tips on how.
1. Stop waiting for your circumstance to change. Work with it.
In the real world, when you’re trying to get something done—there are a thousand other things on your to-do list, you’re time poor, you have to pick up your kid in an hour anyway so you don’t really have enough time to get stuck in, you still don’t have all of the elements in place, etc.
If you’re waiting for your external conditions to change before you get moving, you’ll be waiting a long time. I have never heard a successful person give the advice of ‘If you’re not motivated, do nothing until you are.’
Work with your circumstance instead of waiting for it to change. How can you use those small slots of time? How can you get better at zoning out when there’s noise?
When I think back to my best work, it’s often been achieved in the most trying of circumstance—when shit is hitting the fan elsewhere, there’s pressure, high stakes, with a mindset that is more ‘I have to get this done’ as opposed to ‘this divine inspiration is really floating me towards my goal.’ We’re all tired. We all don’t feel like it. Do it anyway.
2. How would you perform for your best paying client? Do that.
This pertains mainly to people who work for themselves, or who are working on a project with no employer-enforced deadlines. If you imagine that you and your personal project or business is actually a top paying client, who you need to keep happy in order to get paid—how would you perform?
Would you set soft deadlines that could be shifted due to personal priorities? Would you say that the reason the launch has been delayed by 2 months is because you were lacking motivation? No—you’d send a timeline, and you would deliver. Do the same for yourself: set hard deadlines, and treat your work with a bit more respect.
3. The only reward for doing good work is more work.
This quote, attributed to various sources, has floated around the internet for a while—and I like it for its unsexy truth. Do a good job, and you’ll get further opportunity to do a good job again. If you are struggling with motivation, know that the thing you are hoping to gain from it (hitting your goal) is going to incur further circumstance where you’ll be in need of said motivation again.
My point is that motivation is not something that you have one day, then have forevermore. There will be times when you’re fueled by it, and times when you aren’t—regardless of where you’re at in your career. But action begets action. Do the work and more work will come.
Welcome motivation when it hits you with its charming force. But expect the work to be unsexy, to be mundane. If you can revel in that, you’ll learn how to truly thrive.