I need challenge and pressure to stay motivated... how do I stay motivated during times when those things aren't present?
May 27, 2009 8:49 AM   Subscribe

I have a very hard time keeping motivated and being productive when work is slow. If I am not either feeling pressure or being challenged, I get sloppy and underperform. Is this normal? What can I do to fix it?

My current job at a very, very small company has been a bit slow due to the economy causing us to restructure a bit (layoffs, job role shifts, etc). I like this job and I love the people I work with, but I have noticed (as i've seen in past jobs) that when things are slow, or I am not being challenged, I tend to lose focus and underperform.

Generally, I'm a pretty intelligent guy, and more than willing to put in long hours and hard work when the job calls for it... I've been here 'til 3am and not complained about it...

I've had focus issues for a long time - leading me to audiobooks because when I read a regular book I'll often "wake up" and realize I haven't really taken in the last page or two, etc... However, back in college (10 years ago now?) I did seek help to see if maybe I had "Adult ADD" and the screener said I did not. Maybe a second opinion is in order, but that just seems like an easy "scapegoat," really.

Am I a rarity, or is this pretty normal? What can I do, besides giving myself pep talks or whatever, to make sure I stay motivated and on top of things?
posted by twiggy to Work & Money (9 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Pour yourself into a hobby or outside work, and if your pay structure allows it, spend fewer (but more productive) hours at your job.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:09 AM on May 27, 2009

I have a friend who is a fireman at an airport. Of course for the vast majority of time he is not putting out fires - just being ready to do so immediately; there are numerous drills and exercises but they cannot fill the whole day. He explained that the ability to hide oneself out of sight and read/chat/doze are all considered pretty important - sometimes literally in a hammock strung under a table.

When things are slow at work I try to look at things in the same light: do all the stuff you have to do straight away, schedule some "exercises" to fill up a bit more time and then hide away (or, since you are not a fireman, go home early).
posted by rongorongo at 9:24 AM on May 27, 2009

Something I have started doing is listening. It helps a lot. Because when I listen I realize I can help. When I know I can help I do better.
posted by parmanparman at 9:35 AM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oops on first write (this is why it's important for me to read my post before I publish it)

Something I have started doing is listening. It helps a lot. Because when I listen I realize I can help and I can choose whether it is an assignment, a need, or a want and I can choose in the latter two categories whether I want to help or not. When I know I can help I do better. But listening gives me the choice. I am the driver.
posted by parmanparman at 9:37 AM on May 27, 2009

when things turn around you need to be in the strongest position possible. What I am doing during this slow period is all the things that I never had time to do during the boom times. Think of yourself as a farmer in winter. Even though nothing grows in the winter there are hundreds of things that need being done around the farm so that once the spring comes the farmer can dedicate all of his time to creating a bountiful harvest. Sharpen your tools, repair and upgrade machinery, organize and reorganize your systems, educate yourself on the best practices in your market, all with a focus on building market share once things recover.
posted by any major dude at 9:39 AM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think everyone--including me--confronts this to a certain degree. One thing that helps me when time is plenty and tasks are few is putting time limits on what tasks you have. There are a couple good tools to help you with this.

On the surface, you might think that quickly completing what little work you have will contribute to the problem. But I find that knocking out tasks on a schedule adds discipline to my day and helps me find other work that could be done.
posted by tenaciousd at 10:06 AM on May 27, 2009

I totally sympathize with your situation. At my job, a garage, if the cars aren't coming in, I lose momentum. I can only clean my toolbox or mop my bay so many times before I go into a coma. The worst part is when a car comes in, late in a day that had previously been slow, I think "what the hell is this thing?" Then, I'll have to summon up the energy and focus to do something that's normally routine. I'm more tired at the end of a slow day than I would be if I had worked my fingers to the bone.

Things that keep me motivated, sharp, and interested are as follows:

1. Brush up on industry literature and training materials. Also, get involved in a forum that relates to your feild. It'll keep you thinking about your work and you might get some fresh ideas.

2. Get involved in projects that use your work related skills. My coworkers and I have been refurbishing our small-engine lawn and garden equipment in our down-time, for example.

3. I remind myself that there's absolutely no excuse for slacking off and undercutting a job just because my slow environment is making my feel lazy. I'll have a coffee or a Red Bull and animal my way through whatever lack of motivation I'm feeling when I finally have some work to do at 3:30PM (prime napping time).

4. Nag your boss. Remind them that they made the right choice by keeping you on board every time you go to their office and ask for a task or some extra work. Update them on the progress you've made with whatever tasks you've already been assigned and ask them if there's anything else they need done. They can usually come up with something for you to do.
posted by Jon-o at 11:13 AM on May 27, 2009

I am right there with you. If I know another project is coming up, I have no problem enjoying my downtime - reading MeFi, whatever - but when the down time drags on and on I completely lose momentum and interest. When I feel like this, even if I have things to do I just can't bring myself to do them until the very last minute.

Sharpening your tools, so to speak, and asking your boss for more work are excellent ideas and should be the first steps.

After these avenues are exhausted, another thing I do is shorten my hours so I feel more pressure to be productive while I'm here. I come in at 830 instead of 8, leave at 445-5 instead of 530, take longer lunches and take an afternoon break. I have a self-directed, non-hourly job, so I can do this to a certain degree. Like I said, this makes me more productive, not less, since I'm increasing the 'pressure' to get things done in a shorter time period, and it keeps me interested and motivated.

Along the same line, I think taking vacation time - a day or two - during super-slow times is a great idea. Your work doesn't suffer and you feel more motivated to get your job done because a) you haven't been bored stiff for the last 2 days, and b) you have recharged your batteries.

So, in summary - in addition to finding worthwhile and interesting things to do during the downtime, take measures to decrease the amount of downtime you have.
posted by widdershins at 11:16 AM on May 27, 2009

I'm exactly like you. One of my work experience mentors actually told me that she observed I worked best with "meaty" projects - give me something challenging and I'm all over it, but give me something menial and half the time I'm distracted by the computer.

Often when it gets to that stage I ask around for tasks that I can do. Sometimes it takes being somewhere else - sorting out materials in another room, for example, or picking up printing. It's still relatively menial, but the change of scenery helps get me unstuck. If there's not that much to do still, I take a short walk, or just move elsewhere for a little time.

Sometimes I'll ask, and there's genuinely nothing to do. I then do work in bursts - bit of work, bit of something else, bit of work, bit of something else. I find that I'm tons more productive that way then when I'm forced to focus 100% on a menial job. Unfortunately one place I worked at thought this was somehow bad and fired me (!!) despite having produced quality work within the timeframe and going out of my way to find work to do. Some other places don't worry about it too much - it's not so much how your work processes are that matters, just that you do the job well.

I also tested for adult ADD (I was suspected of it by another doctor) and while I do have some symptoms, there was nothing terribly conclusive. However, it does help to find out coping strategies - they can still work even if you're not officially diagnosed.
posted by divabat at 2:35 AM on May 28, 2009

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