Forging Ahead

September 24, 2006 by
Filed under: People 

In virtually any role, for any project or task of reasonable duration, there will be times when your energy and motivation to forge ahead are not at their peak. Indeed, for some tasks it can be difficult to even begin the work. That nasty call you have to make, the mundane tasks that you dread, the huge project and its looming deadline that you have yet to start.

Chances are there are a number of tasks that you have spent a great deal of energy loathing or avoiding in the past. It is also likely that in retrospect, the task wasn’t nearly as painful as you had anticipated, and the relief you experienced from finally completing the activity felt a lot better than the agony of finding ways to avoid the effort.

Assuming you don’t have the luxury to be able to delegate or ignore the task, how do you get these done?

I think the key lies in the relationship between those energy and motivation aspects. If you can’t find the motivation, you won’t have the energy. Whether you draw the motivation from the benefits you will reap or the challenges you will have avoided when the task or project is completed, finding the right mix of motivations will always help you move forward through the tough periods.

With a little creativity, motivations can be found in strange and mysterious places.

At the business level, if an organization is focused solely on the bottom line and fiscal success, they will be blind to a wide range of motivations that in turn can create a healthy bottom-line. Creativity, aesthetics, innovation, employee and client satisfaction can all be strong motivators that can lead to prosperity, even if there is no direct monetary value. Indeed, ignoring these sources of motivation can result in challenges themselves. Focusing solely on the bottom line can tend to drain the energy of the most creative and innovative employees, and they will eventually walk.

At the personal level we can find motivation in all of the sources described above, but personal satisfaction can be a far more compelling driver, and actions are generally more within your control.

Generally, there needs to be a good mix of motivations for sustainable effect. Strict application of the stick while ignoring the carrot (or even worse, constant expectations of a carrot that is never delivered) will not work forever.

So how to find these motivations? As with almost anything else that can be discovered, past experience is guaranteed to provide a wealth of information if you know what you are looking for. For any task or project you complete, consciously consider what the benefits were for completing the effort. Think of the positive and negative separately – the benefits you gained as well as the consequences you avoided. Explicitly capture them in brainstorming sessions after your next project: how have we benefited, what risks have we mitigated from our efforts.

If you’re stuck, step back and identify your motivators. Over time you will have a growing list of potential motivators for future work, and you should get to the point where you can build compelling motivators up front, as part of your pre-defined success criteria. Here’s a list of potential motivations to get you started:

  • the satisfaction of having crossed the activity off your list
  • the elimination of the dread of still having to do the work
  • the opportunity to learn new skills
  • the financial return provided by the results of the job
  • the opportunity to move on to more interesting or challenging work
  • the building of stronger relationships with your peers or clients
  • the creation of a more comfortable work environment
  • the development of greater potential for future opportunities

Another approach is to find a way to change your environment. Take a break or work on another task rather than simply dwelling on the challenges of moving forward.

Explicitly define the approach you will use to get it done, and you will have a mechanism for breaking the job into smaller chunks. These will give you little victories to shoot for, each with potential motivators of their own, and make the overall task much more palatable.

There is no value in simply loathing your upcoming tasks while the work remains undone. Find a way to move forward, either by finding energy elsewhere, identifying the value of completion, or by breaking the mountain of work into manageable chunks. – JB

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