How to stay motivated at work when lockdown is taking its toll – Evening StandardApril 10, 2021
It’s week seven of lockdown and we’ve hit a lull.
The novelty of working from home has started to wear off, the endless days of clear blue skies have gone as quickly as they appeared, and job uncertainty is at its peak – and that’s if you haven’t already been furloughed, as nine million Brits are expected to be during this time.
Motivation is dwindling, Zoom calls aren’t the same as seeing friends and colleagues in person and you feel like your ‘mojo’ is beginning to fade. But, you can get it back.
“It’s actually a psychological thing,” says Grace Paul, author of The Ultimate Guide to Working From Home (Little Brown, £8.99). “Sometimes you just don’t have the motivation and, coupled with that sense of restlessness that we are currently feeling, there are key things that psychologists have identified that have really worked for me.
“One of these is autonomy – instead of thinking that you have to do something, you should flip it and say, ‘I choose to do this’. You’re choosing to do it because it has a positive effect on your life, if you’re working from home, you know you’re doing it because it will support you financially, mentally and socially – so the why you’re doing it, I think that really helps.”
Entrepreneur, Shaa Wasmund says that the pressure to be productive has hindered our motivation, and working from home hasn’t been as breezy as we expected.
Wasmund continues: “There was this delusion that working from home was an endless supply of Nespresso coffees and chats with your friends, when the reality is that you have nowhere to escape to.
“From a practical perspective, I think it’s important, now more than ever to stick to a schedule. Time seems to have expanded but in reality it’s totally contracted as we have more things to occupy our time. If you don’t start the week with a really clear schedule, then it’s going to be hard to get it all done.”
Both Wasmund and Paul recommend writing down three things that you want to get done every day, and so at the end of the day, even if you’ve got just those three things done you’ll feel a sense of achievement.
“Most of us need to feel a sense of accomplishment right now, that we’ve achieved something,” Wasmund says.
“When I’m looking at the week ahead, I do the same thing. When I get to the end of the week I think, if I haven’t done anything else, then I’ve had a pretty productive week. Just try to keep things really simple, when we overcomplicate things, we overwhelm ourselves.”
Taking scheduled breaks can also help with motivation, yet working from home has seen many of us working longer hours, people have told Paul that they are receiving calls from their managers at 9pm or later in the evening. Seemingly, lockdown has made work-life balance harder to achieve than ever.
Paul advises: “You need to respond with: ‘no, just because I’m at home doesn’t mean I’m available to work all the time’. Setting very clear boundaries with people to let them know what your hours are. Take your breaks as well, it’s about being strict and at the end of the day telling your boss that you can pick up the rest of the stuff tomorrow.
“People have been coming to me saying they just don’t have a work-life balance and they find they’re working all the time now. It’s so hard to switch off sometimes, so regular breaks are key because when you move it increases the blood flow to the brain which you need to be productive. If you can go for that walk, go for it. Open the windows, get some fresh air in and stay connected. Be sure to mark the end of your day, a psychological step, whether it’s a coffee or a workout, just to tell your brain it’s the end of the day and you’ve achieved a great day’s work.”
Wasmund says many of us are finding it hard to switch off once we finish work for the day: “Whether it’s a real or perceived pressure from the uncertainty of jobs, I think people are feeling the need to constantly be ‘on’. You have to think to yourself ‘I’m doing my job and I’m doing it to the best of my ability and that’s all I can do’.
“We have to be proactive about our isolation. If you’ve got an hour a day to go out and do your exercise, actually go out and do it. If you don’t feel like going for a run, go for a walk. Schedule that into your day as well.”
Feeling low on motivation can also be linked to feeling as if you’re losing your mojo – your gumption and drive to put your best self into your work. Most of us are used to going into work and having it separate from our home lives, but lockdown has meant we’re juggling uncertain job security with household relationships and even homeschooling kids on top of our regular workload.
“Whether you want to get your mojo back, or whether you want to keep it, part of that is understanding what fuels your mojo, what is it that makes you feel energised and productive? Wasmund says. “I try to encourage people to be intentional. Intentional with how they are spending their day, how they are spending their time. You’ll create momentum, momentum is key to keeping your mojo, that feeling of moving forward.”
Motivation can also be affected by your workspace: are you working in the same room as your partner? Are your kids running around while you’re on deadline? While most of us aren’t lucky enough to have a home office, Paul says there are some things we can do to create a workspace that can pique motivation.
“The main thing is to make sure your workspace is ergonomic,” Paul advises. “That the chair you’re sitting in is really comfortable and you’re sitting up as straight as possible. Make sure that both feet are on the floor, even if you’re working from your bed, you could use an ironing board as your desk but make sure your feet are on the floor and you’re sat up straight.
“It’s better to work on a hard surface as it tells your brain that you’re in work mode. Lighting is also really important, make sure you’re not straining your eyes so choose low-level lighting where possible. The dream is to have a separate space and your own office but obviously that’s not feasible at the moment so even if it’s the kitchen table, or in your bedroom, having a hard surface is key.”
Motivation is a mindset, something that’s fed by knowing the value in what we’re doing and, psychologically, by being able to take breaks, breathe in the fresh air, and leave the house from time to time. It can ebb and flow, but the tools you need to find it again are already with you.