How to keep motivated during busy times
Do you feel that you want to get your work done, but wonder whether your efforts will produce the results you want?
It is common to have these questions when having several tasks to complete, particularly when deadlines are tight.
Take a moment to consider why you do what you do, – get up early to go to work, do the shopping, watch a TV programme, or read an article online. You probably will notice that you have a variety of reasons underlying your decision to engage with any activity.
So, how do we decide what to do with our time, where we put our attention and spend our energy?
What is motivation?
“Human beings have an active will toward health, an impulse toward growth – the actualisation of human potentials.” (A. H. Maslow)
Maslow (1971) believed in people’s fundamental drive to want to learn and develop their abilities. He called it the drive towards self-actualisation. He was concerned that people might not make efforts to develop their potential and therefore leave their abilities unused. He thought it was a missed opportunity and that it could lead to feeling unhappy, so he focused on encouraging people to engage with activities to develop their potential.
“To be motivated is to be moved to do something.” (Ryan & Deci).
Our motivation can be influenced by what we focus on, where we put our attention. When we are motivated we are more likely to sustain our efforts because we are interested in the subject, and we can see that we are making progress and as a result we can derive a sense of achievement (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
When we are interested in something that is important to us, we are acting because of what is called intrinsic motivation. We can develop it by focusing our efforts on making progress, and this promotes the desire to continue persevering as we want to complete the task and derive a sense of achievement. Whereas, when we are motivated by external factors we are moved by extrinsic motivation. For example, if we want to meet others’ expectations, or for a specific reward, or we are thinking about specific grades and their implications for the future. We can produce behaviour change in the short-term provided we are interested in the reward. However, it may lead to loss of motivation once the reward no longer is of interest. It can also lead to surface learning, and it can reduce taking risks particularly in situations of uncertainty. This is likely to be due to wanting to avoid making mistakes, or avoid having a sense of failure (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
We all use these two types of motivation at different times, when we do things because they are important to us like visiting our relatives and maintaining friendships (intrinsic motivation), or getting up early to go to work (external motivation). Therefore, one way of increasing motivation is to focus on what is meaningful to us and keep this in mind.
How motivated we feel is influenced by our mindset. This refers to our mental attitude, how we think about our abilities and about the work we have to do. If we think our intelligence is fixed, that is, when we have a rigid view of our ability – either we can or we cannot do something well. When having a fixed mindset we are more likely to not persevere with efforts when facing difficulties as we tend to assume we are not capable. and we are more likely to feel stressed by the task. Therefore, if the result is not what we were hoping for we are likely to feel disappointed and concerned about our ability to manage difficult tasks, and potentially experiencing stress symptoms.
Research shows that our brain is plastic, therefore we are capable of learning new things at any age, that we are capable of developing our abilities by making dedicated efforts. This is called the growth mindset (Dweck, 2017). To continue to nurture our interest in developing our knowledge and experiences we requires a flexible attitude and being willing to put the effort into learning new things. If we maintain a flexible attitude and an open mind when facing difficult tasks, and practice reflecting on what is of value to us, we can maintain our motivation.
We need to maintain our energy level to sustain our efforts and to tolerate the frustration or disappointment when we don’t meet our expectations. The key is to continue to make consistent efforts so that we can make progress, and monitor that the tasks we do lead to achieving our goals.
Another dimension that can influence our level of motivation is our perception of control: whether we can decide how to manage the task, and whether we have the resources to do it. If we notice that our efforts are producing the results we expect, and we notice progress, our motivation will increase. If the task is of value to us, and we can see that our efforts are making a difference, we are more likely to persevere until we complete the task. By doing deliberate practice,where we persevere with our efforts, practise each step to learn to develop our skills and in time learn to master a skill (Ericsson & Pool, 2016).
So what can we do to increase motivation?
To increase your motivation and confidence focus on building your sense of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997). Think about what you want to achieve. What does doing well look like? How will you monitor your progress? Consider what you can do to improve your skills, what resources will you need, what experiences can help you to develop your strengths?
Keeping these questions in mind can enable us to shape our future. By reflecting and developing our self-awareness we will be more in tune with what our interests. By choosing the tasks to focus on and planning the steps we can take will enable us to get started, notice progress, which in turn will sustain our motivation to persevere until we complete the task. We are also motivated by the thought of having completed a task.
It is also important to consider the context in which we plan to work. Identify your preferences and look for an environment that is free of distractions and supports your concentration. Planning a work routine that includes short work sessions (about 25 minutes and then 5 min break). The routine will allow you to develop the habit of working at regular intervals, reducing the need to make decisions every time that require effort.
By repeating your routine it will allow you to increase the opportunities to work on your tasks, and as you notice progress it will increase your motivation to continue until the task is finished. In order to maintain our efforts it is also important to monitor our energy level as this is essential fuel to maintain our concentration.