How to Stay Motivated at Work When Things Become Unbearable

You’re probably reading this article because you’re thinking:


“I don’t like my job” or “I don’t want to go to work”.


In some days, our job can feel very overwhelming, and our motivation to work becomes rather elusive. No matter how much we try to start our work, we simply can’t find the right focus and motivation to push through and finish.


And it’s hard to pinpoint the root of it all. It can be due to the fact that we have already too many on our plate, or that work has simply become overwhelming physically, mentally, and even emotionally for us to handle. In some occasions, we could also just be in a dreadful slump.


Whatever our reasons are, I think we can all agree on this: we shouldn’t dwell on this slump at work as it will not allow us to move forward not only with our tasks, but also with our careers.


There can be plenty of ways to find our motivation again; however, that would mainly depend on our personal issues or challenges in work or in life. To bring back the spark that you once had, here are tips to help you stay motivated at work and get right back on track.


Always set goals

Setting up your goals, no matter how big or small, can definitely help you stay motivated at work. Goals help us have a clear vision or endpoint as to where our efforts will lead us. It also gives us a reason as to why we do what we do.


In a Harvard MBA study, 3% of graduates who had set up goals ended up earning 10 times more than the rest of the graduates in the study after 10 years. This just shows how effective having a clear goal in mind can help you stay focused on your work and career. It gives you a reason to continue working and gives you something to look forward to tomorrow.


To give you an idea on how you can start setting and accomplishing your goals, whether it’s long-term, short-term, or daily, here are some tips that you can follow:

  • Write it down. It helps to write down all your big or long-term goals so that your ideas can turn into actionable goals. It will also give you an idea of the bigger picture.

  • Make a to-do list. This not only ensures that you finish all the tasks or projects you need to do but also gives you that extra encouragement and sense of accomplishment as you tick off tasks one after the other.

  • Stick to it. While your list can be flexible, try not to stray away from it and complete every task according to the deadlines you have set for yourself. Making this a habit can also counter your urge to procrastinate.


In order to put your goals into action, it is always best to prioritise and organise your tasks or projects so you can have a clear idea of what you have to do to get where you want to be.

Related Article: 15 Project Management Hacks to Increase Productivity


Clean your desk

You might not notice it, but our environment reflects our state of mind. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed with work, take a look at your desk—is it a mess?


Writing down our thoughts on paper can help organise our thoughts, however, organising your environment may better help you sort out and accomplish your work more efficiently. In fact, a cluttered desk is directly linked to one’s productivity. A journal by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that:


Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.

To put it simply, the more clutter you see, the more difficult it will be for you to gain focus, become productive, and stay motivated at work.



Related Article: How a Clean Desk Keeps You from Being Stressed at Work


Ask for feedback

It can be quite difficult to deliberately ask for a colleague or manager’s feedback, but the upside is that knowing your strengths and your areas for improvement can give you a sense of motivation to push forward.


Feedback can be an effective tool that can get you up and running again. In fact, leaders constantly give their team feedback to motivate each member and inspire them to improve.


According to a Harvard Business Review, this due to the fact that:

Feedback creates opportunities for learning and the energy so critical for a culture of thriving. By resolving feelings of uncertainty, feedback keeps people’s work-related activities focused on personal and organizational goals.

If the feedback you receive isn’t as positive as you expected, then use that assessment to improve on key areas in your work and produce better results.


When receiving negative feedback, the key is to not sulk over it and not allow yourself to stagnate. If you don’t want to stay where you are, then you will need to take action and move.


Though this is easier said than done, don’t be afraid of what kind of feedback you will hear. Focus on how you can use the feedback you will receive to stay motivated at work. If you have set a goal, think of how you can use that feedback to help you move closer towards it.


Stop worrying about things you can’t control

Staying motivated in a negative work environment is definitely not an easy feat. After all, how can one stay enthusiastic at work in front of piles of paperwork, long pointless meetings, a divided team, or a bad boss?


The answer is to simply let go.


This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care about our work, team, or company. We simply need to not focus on things that we have no control over.


We may be able to interact with all these things around us, but we can’t control them totally. The only things that we do have complete control over are our thoughts, attitude, time and energy. How you use these will directly affect your overall physical, mental, and emotional state, so don’t waste your time and energy on matters that are simply out of your hands.


We can’t control how much work is given to us, but we do have control over how we prioritise and organise our tasks so we can accomplish them all on time.


We don’t have control over how other people do their work, but we do have control over how we collaborate with them to produce good results.


Learn to identify and work on things that are within your means and let go of those that you can’t control. If you’re not sure whether or not you should take the time and effort about something, go back to your goals and ask yourself: Will this contribute towards my goal?


Change it up

Don’t just settle for a ‘safe’ work or task. Excite yourself.


Don’t be afraid to change things up and experiment, as long as you’re not hindering other people’s work nor missing deadlines. If you’re bored doing the same task over and over again, find innovative ways to do it or to improve it, ultimately taking it to the next level.


And before you know it, you’re already halfway through your work.


Focus on the value you’re contributing

When work has become repetitive and monotonous, finding value or purpose in your work can help change your mindset.


Think of ways on how your work, no matter how simple or dull it may seem, can contribute to your project, colleagues, team, company, or your own goals. How does your current task affect the bigger picture?


Let’s say you’re a simple office worker whose main task is to compile and organise all of your department’s paperwork. It can be quite a tedious and boring work, however, one can see it from this perspective:


Without anyone at the centre organising all the files, the whole team may become disorganised and inefficient which could disrupt the team’s workflow. Your role, as the organiser, is crucial as you keep the team’s files organised and their momentum flowing.


Each of us has a role to fulfil in order for the whole team to succeed. Find what makes your role add to the team’s value and to your value.


Invest in your career

While today may be a dread, know and understand that your job now can be a crucial step towards the next level of your career.


As previously mentioned, being clear with your vision and determined to accomplish your goals will help you see the weight and value of your tasks.


Think of it this way: each day at work and each task you accomplish is an investment in your future. Procrastination can only slow down or hinder your progress. Knowing this, will you continue to wallow in this slump?


Take a break

Sometimes the simplest—yet the most difficult—thing to do when work becomes unbearable is to walk away from it.


We worry that if we stop working on our tasks, we’ll fall behind and accumulate more work. While that is true, we should also not ignore the signs our body tells us when we desperately need a break.


Several studies have shown that fatigue, quick or extreme weight loss, regular dizziness or headache, and changes in our heart rate, among many others, are all signs that the body needs to rest. If you’re experiencing one or some of these signs, then it might be time to include breaks in your daily schedule.


There can be a lot of benefits of taking a break, whether it’s just 5 minutes every hour or a whole week off.


In one study, University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras said that "From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!"


So, go and grab a coffee. Walk around the park. Go out with your friends. Travel. Life isn’t all about work, and work shouldn’t be our life. Stay motivated at work by taking a pause.

Related Article: 11 signs you lack work-life balance


Go ahead and reward yourself

Give yourself a pat on the back—especially when you deserve it! After finishing a long and strenuous task, you can reward yourself by having your favourite meal or go somewhere nice during the weekend so you have something to look forward to and keep yourself motivated.


It’s best to set a deadline and treat yourself as soon as you finish that task. Delayed gratification, the process of resisting the temptation of an immediate smaller reward for a larger and more satisfying reward, has been proven to improve motivation.


In the famous study called The Marshmallow Experiment by Walter Mischel, children were left alone in a room for 15 minutes with a marshmallow. They were told that if they did not eat the marshmallow, they would get two later on. After several years, the children in the study who were willing to delay gratification grew up having more self-motivation than their peers resulting in fewer behavioural issues, and better grades.


The study showed that delaying gratification reinforces self-motivation and leads to success. So, if you want to finish that tedious task you’ve been doing for days, challenge yourself by setting up a reward as soon as you complete it.

A common idea that you might have noticed is the importance of a goal. If you don’t have one laid down in the first place, you will definitely get lost and demotivated at whatever you do. That’s why it’s important to pinpoint it so that you always have an instant reminder on why you’re doing your work. Amidst overwhelming tasks and projects, your goals will help you stay motivated at work.


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