Cruise on over to any business-related blog and you’ll probably find at least one article ‘above the digital fold’ addressing the topic of burnout.
While burnout is a very real thing for a lot of people, for others, the issue isn’t so much about paralyzing overwhelm and dissatisfaction. It’s about motivation, or rather, the lack of it.
What’s the Difference?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. Lack of motivation can be a symptom of burnout, but simply being unmotivated doesn’t automatically mean you’re experiencing burnout.
Think back to your high school geometry class: a square is a rectangle with four equal sides. A rectangle, however, is not always a square. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not. So yes, your lack of motivation may be one sign that you’re not properly managing stress or that you're trying to tread the rising waters of persistent, unmanaged stress. It may also be that you aren’t feeling challenged or that you don’t feel like your work has purpose.
You may be unmotivated because the career that once thrilled you and pushed you has plateaued and become mundane…or at least it feels that way. Regardless, understanding the root cause of your lack of motivation is step one to getting yourself engaged again.
Break It Up
Sometimes we procrastinate because the project before us feels huge. In fact, it feels so huge, we can’t imagine how we’re going to get from where we are today to where we need to get. We sit frozen without progress because we can’t wrap our head around how we’re going to get it all done. That’s a good time to break your project into a smaller task list.
Overhauling your company website is a big project. It can feel overwhelming at the starting line especially when you’ve got a deadline staring back at you. Instead of aiming your sights on a completed website, break down the project into bite-sized pieces and focus on each step.
Create a site map. Hire a designer or agency to manage the development of the site. Write the home page. Write another page. Take photos. Edit your information. Conduct some market research to learn how folks are using your site. Little by little make progress.
Celebrate Your Wins
Check off an item on your to-do list and celebrate it. Take time to recognize the hard work you’ve done and to savor the accomplishment of completing a task even if it’s a small one. Build from there. Feeling like you’re getting stuff done is a good way to motivate yourself to get more stuff done.
Sure, maybe all you did was clear out your inbox or get your expense report in before its due date. It may not be the same as completing that website we were just talking about, but it’s something. Don’t ignore it.
Do Stuff You Enjoy
What’s your favorite part of the job? If you find a smile spread across your face when you get to check in with your clients and connect with people, make space in your day to do that. If you enjoy the process of brainstorming new content for your social media pages, give yourself time to create content.
Even better, use those tasks as a reward. “First I’ll put in an hour working on the budget for the new project launch, then I’ll take a break to reach out to my top three clients for a check-in.”
It’s actually easy to focus on small stuff that doesn’t matter a whole lot. In fact, it’s easy to fixate on small things that don’t matter a whole lot and to get ourselves tangled up and frozen as we fret over stuff we don’t need to be fretting over.
If you’re striving for perfection, stop. Good enough is good enough. Period. There’s no caveat there. Perfection is not obtainable and trying to get there can paralyze progress. Identify the things that actually matter and focus on doing the best you can on those things.
Get a Mentor
Find someone you can trust to give you constructive, useful feedback. Find someone that’s walked a similar path before that can offer support. Having another person to help you navigate your uncharted waters is invaluable. Their experience-backed feedback can illuminate a clearer picture of your current reality. Having someone that’s walked this path before can help lend you a dose of confidence and clarity.
Work When You Work Best
Are you a morning person? Do you seem to come more alive in the late afternoon? Is your best work done just after you return from lunch? Understand the natural ebb and flow of your energy and creativity. Tackle projects that are more challenging or require more motivation during your peak performance times. That easy stuff you could do with your eyes closed or that you’d pay someone to let you do for them? Do that stuff when your natural energy and motivation is lower.