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Don’t Want to Work? 15 Ways to Get Motivated to Work

Written by Ben Fanning
Ben is a Burnout Specialist. He helps frustrated executives and teams rekindle their passion for their careers.
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Learning how to get motivated to work every day is a common problem, no matter if you love or hate your job. If you hate your job, it goes without saying that finding the motivation for work is not easy. However, you’ll also find that even if you love your job, there are mornings when you’re clawing at the walls to get out of bed.

It’s easy to fall into a rut and get stuck in the same ho-hum routine, and inevitably, the excitement for work diminishes. However, if you consistently motivate yourself to show up at work every day, you’ll experience:

  • Increased energy levels to get into work mode.
  • More enthusiasm to attack challenges as they arise.
  • Better sustained results over the long haul.

If showing up at work every day were easy, everyone would be doing it, and it wouldn’t be costing businesses $84 billion a year[1]. Part of the issue, though, is that organizations attempt to motivate you with bonuses, promotions, attendance awards, company luaus, virtual dog shows, and pizza.

Not to say it’s necessary to do away with these incentives entirely, but organizations are missing a massive opportunity to provide you with the tools to teach you how to get motivated to work. Instead of depending on the organization to find motivation, you can take action to energize yourself.


Ways to Boost Motivation for Work

Everyone is susceptible to lack of motivation. If you’re wondering how to get motivated at work, we’ve rounded up some tips to follow below.

1. Create Small Goals

The process can seem daunting if you have a large project to complete. That is until you create small goals. Take one thing at a time. For example, having an annual sales goal to hit can be intimidating. So instead, try focusing on smaller weekly or even daily goals – eventually those will add up!

2. Don’t Look at it as Hard Work

To motivate yourself at work, don’t look at it as hard work. Instead, think of each day and each specific task as a stepping stone along your career path. Doing so helps you find the motivation and energy needed to accomplish things.

3. Make Your Internal Dialogue Pleasant and Compelling

Be your own cheerleader, not dictator. Use positive words of possibility and encouragement such as ‘I can,’ ‘I want,’ ‘I desire,’ and ‘I will,’ instead of judging terms like should and have to. This is one of the best ways to find motivation for work.

Include a mental or physical representation of the successfully completed task. Imagine the positive consequences associated with its completion.

4. Remind Yourself “Why” You Work

Too often, employees base their motivation on external sources like accolades, bonuses, and job promotions. These may feel good, but they’re just a “sugar high” and don’t last.

Consider your own motivation as something that’s internally sourced. The simplest way to identify these internal sources of motivation is to find your own personal “why.” This sense of purpose will fuel the long journey ahead[2].

Don’t Want to Work? 15 Ways to Get Motivated to Work

    For example, maybe you’re heading to work early every day for an entire week just to appease the boss, lay the groundwork for a raise, or trying to get through a project that’s been hanging over your head for a while.


    It’s much like losing weight for a class reunion or a beach trip. While both are definitely motivating factors to lose weight, it’s usually not sustained over the long term.

    Consider how your workday motivation changes when you think about the example you want to set for your kids, how you want to help your co-workers that you’ve been with for years, or how you believe in the overall mission at your company.

    Perhaps, you simply believe that the job you’re doing helps you learn and prepare for the next step in your career. Those are deeper, more meaningful reasons that will help you learn how to get and stay motivated to work.

    Figure out your “why” with the help of this guide.

    5. Preparation Is Key

    Before you go to bed, write down your plan for the next day. That way, when you wake up in the morning, you’re not immediately running through a thousand different scenarios in your head, anxious about everything you have to do. You know that when you get to your desk, there is a game plan completely mapped out, just waiting to be attacked.

    Doing this the night before not only reduces your stress levels but it also creates an organized path to productivity for the first critical hours of the day that will give you the momentum you need to carry through the rest of the tasks that come across your desk.

    6. Use the Hemingway Technique

    Nothing helps your motivation for work like momentum, and Ernest Hemingway had a brilliant approach. His technique was to leave the last chapter or paragraph unfinished at the end of the day, especially when he knew exactly how it would end.

    Then, when he sat down at his desk the following day, he could immediately start writing and build momentum for the rest of his day. He’d never find himself at his desk wondering what to do next.


    You can apply this technique to your workday motivation. Instead of staying late on Friday or working over the weekend to wrap up your work, strategically pick a stopping place so that when you get to work on Monday, you know exactly what to do next. This type of momentum will carry you through your workday.

    7. Find a Trigger

    Do you know what motivates you to work hard? If not, try to develop a personal prompt to kickstart each day. Now and then, you consume something that provides you with a massive spark of inspiration. This is key to knowing what motivates you to do a good job. It could be a good book, an inspirational sports movie, or a great TED talk you just watched. Many writers listen to the same playlist over and over again while they’re writing.

    Lin Manuel Miranda, famous for his role in the broadway musical Hamilton, created a playlist for when he encounters writer’s block with songs by Fiona Apple and ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic. It’s his trigger to get down and dirty—to source his creativity. As soon as he hears that song, he knows it’s time to turn on and work.

    8. Take Control

    It’s so easy to let the first few hours of your work fill up with meetings. Take control and find motivation for work by planning and scheduling your first few interactions of the day, so you’re looking forward to them. This will be one of the major answers to what drives your professional life.

    Set up a coffee meeting or a conference call with someone at the office, which is typically upbeat and creative. This is a low-stress way to get motivated to work because it just involves showing up and a little bit of planning.


    You can also gain motivation by connecting with your family at home. In my family, we often plan breakfast together and hold our little breakfast party. It really helps us get our day started right in every positive way, and the motivational momentum we get carries over into work (and school).

    9.Break Big Tasks Into Smaller Objectives

    If you know you have a big task or project waiting for you at work, it can really kill your motivation. You’ll feel stressed before even arriving. To diminish that work anxiety and feel better about the day ahead of you, break any big tasks you have into smaller objectives.

    For example, imagine you have to create a 30-minute presentation before Friday. If you look at it as one big project, it will feel overwhelming, but if you plan to work on 10 minutes of that presentation each day, it will feel much more achievable.

    10. Make a Smart To-Do List

    Getting back to work feels overwhelming when there’s a lot to do. And, these days, the endless tasks on our to-do lists make it hard to even begin to tackle them. When we’ve got a really long to-do list, our first instinct is actually to avoid doing anything rather than even look at that laundry list.

    You may ask yourself, “How do I get to work when I have to do hundreds of things?”

    Instead of focusing on all of the tasks, get smarter with your to-do list.

    Generic to-do lists don’t work for most people because they overwhelm you before the tasks start. To get started with a smart to-do list to help with your motivation for work, list everything you have to do, and then start the most pressing three need-to-do tasks and put the rest of the list aside.

    When we’re forced to prioritize only three tasks, we shift our focus to what will make the greatest impact. And three tasks is a lot more manageable than the 50 we previously had on our list, so it’s easier to muster up the motivation to get back to work. We can all finish three simple things.


    And then, if you complete those three tasks with time to spare, go ahead and choose another three., and then another three. By splitting the list up into sets of three by priority, you reduce overwhelm and increase the odds of getting more checked off the list.

    Ironically, when you choose to cut your list down to just three tasks, you actually make it possible to do more tasks because you tackle the list in manageable bits that reduce overwhelm, increase productivity, and maintain the motivation necessary to get it all done.

    11. Just Start, and Start Small

    The hardest part of getting motivation for work is always—getting back to work—or, actually starting up again.

    But every big project is really just a compilation of small, simple steps. A proposal is started with just one word. A phone call is started by dialing one number. A new initiative is started with just one e-mail. Everything is started by just starting.

    It can feel overwhelming to get started when you don’t know how to complete the entire project or have clarity over what the end result will look like. So don’t.

    Instead, just start. For example, let’s say you’ve got a massive writer’s block. You can simply start typing, “I don’t know what to write, but I’m determined to write today. So I’m going to keep typing until I have an idea.” And now you’ve gotten started. You’ve already overcome the biggest hurdle – writing words on a page.


    You may not have the clarity yet, but you’ve shifted yourself into the mode that will give you that clarity.

    By beginning in the process of working again, your mind eventually switches gears back into work mode. You don’t have to be motivated to get back into it; you just have to start.

    12. Celebrate Big and Small Achievements

    When we’re not feeling any motivation for work, the most effective way to turn it around is to create motivation. Create some reward that you’ll give yourself if you complete the task at hand—it could be an afternoon walk, an ice cream sundae, or an hour of video games at the end of the workday. Whatever reward you choose, just make sure it’s one that actually excites you and that you’ll look forward to.

    The anticipation of the reward will give you the motivation to finish the task because you begin to associate the task with the enjoyable reward you’ll get afterward. For example, if you’ve got to finish a report by the end of the day, you could decide to celebrate by picking up your favorite food for dinner. The entire day, the thought of that delicious meal can give you an added boost to get the job done.

    But you don’t just have to wait until your work is finished to reward yourself. In fact, research shows that periodic rewards earlier actually improve productivity and focus the most.[3]

    So, rather than wait until you finish the whole task to get the big reward, you could plan out smaller rewards in between, such as a coffee break after the first section or a walk around the neighborhood after the second. These small breaks are both time-restrained (as mentioned in the strategy above) and reward-based to give you the motivation to keep going.


    Don’t underestimate the power of a small reward to help you feel motivated in your day to day work life.

    13. Know That the Work You Put in Will Boost Your Reputation

    Do you know what motivates you to do a good job? What if I tell you that it can do wonders for your future self?

    Any time I think of slacking off, I feel like my reputation is being put on display. I picture my peers secretly saying to themselves, “he doesn’t work hard.” But when I work hard and put in that extra effort, I know it’s not going to go unrecognized. Even if it does, I have the personal satisfaction that I did the best I could.

    Do the right thing, regardless of who’s watching, because it’s the right thing to do. Many times you may go unappreciated for months, but eventually, that hard work gets recognized. What goes around comes around, and you’ll know no one will ever be able to say you didn’t earn it. That’s what’s important.

    14. Reach Out for Support

    According to Newton’s Law of Inertia, an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted on by an outside force. Or, in other words, you’re unlikely to get yourself moving again without a little support.

    It’s really hard to get started up again once you’ve stopped something. So the odds of willing ourselves there without some outside force are pretty low. That means that you need something outside of yourself–like a friend or colleague–to re-motivate yourself.


    If you’re feeling stuck and unable to get back to work, reach out for support from someone who can give you a little motivation. You could bounce ideas off of a colleague to get yourself re-inspired; or work through your resistance with a quick phone call to a friend; or even get new ideas on how to tackle the project from a new angle.

    In fact, research even shows that quick chats with colleagues and friends can actually boost the area of the brain that controls focus, planning, prioritization, and even organization.[4] That means that taking a moment to talk and ask for support can optimize your brain to be even more effective.

    So, next time you’re stuck, reach out for support and chat your way back to motivation.

    15. Take a Time-Restrained Break

    We all need natural breaks from work. While it might feel like we just need to plow forward and push ourselves to finish the work, research actually shows that short breaks can actually improve focus, replenish energy, and increase productivity.[5]

    So, instead of pressuring yourself to “get back to work,” take an intentional break to refuel and enjoy the momentary pause that you’re actually needing.

    But the key is for the break to be—a break. To keep yourself from getting lost in the break and never getting back to work, set a timer on the break. When your brain knows that the break is temporary, it’s more likely to maximize the restful benefits of the break and not try to get caught up in focused thinking about something new.

    Whether you’re taking a 15-minute pause or a 30-minute lunch, a time-restrained break lets you rest and rejuvenate so that you can jump back into it when the timer goes off.


    Taking breaks is especially important if you easily blend your work time with your break time while working from home! Learn about how to stay motivated while working from home here.

    Final Thoughts

    We all have our ups and downs, and there will be times when we just don’t feel like doing anything productive and think “I don’t want to work.” This is normal, and you can do something about it. Use any of the above tips to help yourself get motivated for work and improve your big picture outlook.

    Knowing how to motivate yourself to go to work is integral whatever your job is. Take time to start with one of the tips above, and adopt it for your weekly routine . You may find your motivation will naturally become a non-issue as you walk along your career path.

    If you’re a leader or employer looking for ways to motivate your team members, try these tips on workplace motivation.

    Featured photo credit: NordWood Themes via unsplash.com


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