About three years into an enjoyable job, Eva started noticing a growing sense of disengagement tugging at her.
“I’m slipping into a pattern of going through the motions at work. I like my job overall, but nothing is pushing me to grow, and I’m not putting the creative energy into it that I used to. I don’t know if anyone else is noticing, but regardless, I wish I felt more energized by the work, like when I started out.”
To help Eva figure out how she had gotten to this place and what she could do to feel motivated again, we asked her a series of self-reflection questions.
Coaching Exercises and Insights
I asked Eva to do three short reflective activities to help her identify specific changes, externally and internally, that she felt had contributed to this change in motivation.
1.) How have things changed at work, not just in the job itself, but in how you relate to it? What was the job was like when you felt motivated versus now?
Eva shared, “Earlier this year, the structure of my workday changed due to evolving business needs. I went from having direct engagement with clients 2-4 hours a day to having only short bursts with them 2-3 times per week. The remaining time now goes to logistical support. Because my schedule is now choppy, dominated by logistics and increasingly unpredictable, I don’t bother planning activities with my clients anymore. I used to feel energized by working interactively with them, and now I’m running from one task to the next and killing time in between since I feel powerless to create a better schedule.”
This exercise was revealing. Eva had a lot of reasons to feel dissatisfied because elements of her workday that used to contribute to her happiness had shifted significantly. Since she expressed still liking her position overall – yet was grappling with changing priorities in the business – we needed to have her consider what activities she would ideally like versus those she would prefer to avoid.
2.) Compare what tasks energize and what ones drains you, and why each is so. Start by identifying activities that take your energy without return in your current situation. Then find examples of when work energizes you. Eve shares the following examples below.
- Working in short bursts drains me because this doesn’t allow time to sink my teeth into something meaningful. Nor does it allow me to mentally transition between tasks, so I don’t enjoy running from one thing to the next.
- Shuttling clients to events that I’m not a part of drains me since city driving is stressful and there’s no real positive return for me at the end of it.
- Being a “warm body” feels lousy because I have a strong work ethic and I feel like I’m not earning my keep if I’m not actively doing something that provides a positive impact. It’s now often my job to be available for clients only if something comes up, but where I don’t have set tasks at those times. Because of this ‘on call’ status, I make some projects up to feel less bored. Or I work on personal projects but then feel guilty for using work time to plan my next vacation.
- Hands-on projects are the best because they allow me to use a creative process. (It takes time to get set up and transition into the right mindset for these projects, so I prefer having at least an hour for this kind of work.)
- Teaching and mentoring is rewarding because I am helping other people grow and learn.
- Hosting or attending events allows me to enjoy social time and get out of the everyday routine.
- Spending time outside in a natural space seems to revive my energy as well as my clients’.
From this exercise, it became clear that Eva had certain needs that she was expecting the job to satisfy, simply because it had in the past. Top needs for Eva were space for creativity and time outdoors. She was frustrated because she had given her power away for getting her needs met and the job wasn’t living up to her expectations anymore.
Now that work was different from how it was previously, Eva needed to take responsibility for getting her needs met, either at work or through other means.
Through reflecting on the first two exercises, I asked Eva to extract the key elements of her day that would help her feel invigorated again.
3.) Write the top 2-4 things you need to feel engaged and motivated at work.
“I’m only really satisfied when I’m feeling busy and productive, with some time actively engaging with clients in meaningful ways. I’m most happy when we do regular creative projects and social activities that break up our routine, with some of my day spent in outdoor spaces.”
What Eva Did
Eva identified a few steps she could take in her current job since she hoped to remain in it for a few more years. Yet wisely, she also realized that some of her needs would likely need to be met outside of work due to the changing nature of the work:
- “I can research activities to do with clients that take less time, so that we can harness the 20-30 minute periods we have together. It may not be quite as fun as longer activities, but it’s better than disengaging.
- I’ll put a list of these client activities on my phone so that I can access it when some free time crops – up since it’s hard to plan ahead.
- I can walk to lunches and events to reduce time in the car and increase time outside.
- I could provide a list of activities to my manager that I can do during times when clients truly don’t need my assistance, but I have to be on call for them.
Likely, I’ll have to rely on my own personal time to fill my need for more in-depth creative projects. I’ve been really wanting to get better at cooking and gardening, so maybe I can do those hobbies at home.
Since Eva felt most distressed by all the driving and insufficient time outside, she tackled that first. She started to walk to lunch, and has reported that even the 30 minutes of fresh air with colleagues and clients energize and relax her each day.
At home, she has moved some of her jogs from the treadmill to the park, and has also begun working in her garden on Saturdays. The fresh air clears her head, and the drives she still does are feeling more manageable after being active outside. She has also started listening to the news while driving to stay mentally engaged while clients chat in the back.
Eva has also started cooking more at home to fulfill her creative need. And she picked up a few novels and magazine subscriptions, to help shake her out of her rut. The energy and ideas she is getting from being more engaged overall are trickling into work in unexpected ways. It’s easier to have interesting conversations with clients and jump into brief creative projects since she isn’t caught in a cycle of inertia.
During some down time at work, Eva made a list of projects she could work on during the times when she started to feel like a “warm body” in the room, as well as some lists of engaging activities that could be done in 20-30 minutes or in stages. These take a bit more effort, but she is finding it easier to engage the more she gets into the habit of doing them.
A lot of times, lack of motivation comes from a lack of empowerment – giving your power away – making something else (in this case Eva’s job) responsible for your happiness instead of relying on yourself. Through these exercises, Eva learned the key things that engage her most, and that she could actually do something to create these, even in her current circumstance.
If you’ve ever experienced boredom at work – or felt yourself slipping into apathy and disengagement – this approach may work for you. While it’s natural to feel normal ebbs and flows in your energy, it’s occasionally a good idea to go through a few exercises like Eva did, to help you think about your role and whether it’s changed. If it has taken a downturn you hadn’t expected, like Eva you’ll be able to identify the patterns that now drain you – and more easily create a plan to help re-energize your role!