How not to get STUCK in the middle & lose momentum

While executing large projects, how do we ensure that the enthusiasm stays on? How can we help people stay motivated till the end? [ Day 17 of “One Day, One Blog”]

I set myself the challenge of writing one blog every day for the month of May 2017. And I have successfully crossed the half-way mark.

I am at the middle and incredibly unmotivated about carrying forward. In the last two days, if it weren’t for the very public announcement I made, I think I would have happily quit.

When I started off, there were a few days when I fell ill. Another day when I had to be involved with some office related stuff which kept me out late. But on all those days the enthusiasm carried me forward.

Now I am in the middle. And stuck here. The enthusiasm and novelty has worn off. The end is still far away.

This is not a unique problem that I face. Most of us have faced this problem while executing a project which takes a long time to complete.

This has a lot of implication on employee motivation and productivity.

In competitive sports, this kind of losing momentum will kill your career. In daily life, you will be forever condemned to the purgatory of mediocrity.

Why does this happen at all?

When we kick-start a project, there is usually a lot positive energy.

It is a little similar to what happens in your brain when you get a new gift. The reward center of your brain is lit up releasing the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. As with a child who is fully engrossed with the new toy, you are fully engaged to understand and learn. The project has your full attention due to the novelty involved.

But akin to the child’s interest in the new toy wearing off, so does the interest and energy levels as we approach the middle segments of a rather large project.

  • It could be because you are bored
  • It could be due to the fact that you are frustrated as the end goal is a long way off
  • It could be that you are finding it very difficult to self-motivate yourself.
  • It could also be due to the fact that having acclimatized yourself with the “know-how” of the project, your brain has now switched onto the auto-pilot mode.

How do we tackle this?

This is not a problem that needs to be addressed by the individual alone. This affects the organization. The employee and her manager should both work on this particular challenge.

Unfortunately, most companies have not even started recognizing this a problem, yet. When such issues happen, they tend to blame the employee for slacking off. This ends up being viewed as a weakness in character leading to a downward spiral for the employee.

My suggestions to the employee for countering the issue.

  • Keep the end goal in mind — Why did you get excited when you started off on this project? What was the pay-off for succeeding? Keep that vision in mind. If possible, visually represent that goal by means of a poster and place it where you can see it everyday.
  • Quick wins — The mind is naive at times. You can trick it to keep the enthusiasm level up. Instead of one big victory, break up the project into small segments with deliverables for each stage. Celebrate each win. The mind which now believes that you are rocking will propel you over the slump
  • Be prepared — I know two people ( My fellow co-founder Jikku and my sister-in-law Lakshmi) who have never experienced this “project-midlife-crisis”. From start to end, they just dig in their heels and keep going. Unless you are like them, you know that you are going to face this slow patch. Be prepared with solutions to help you cross over. In my case, I start another project ( a new hobby, a game of sudoku or even start reading a good thriller) which helps me rejuvenate.
  • Get help — You have a manager for a reason. His job is not only to evaluate your performance or critique your work. Asking for help, having an open discussion will not decrease your value with the manager. In fact, he or she may appreciate the fact that you are taking initiative to recognize and correct a problem.

My suggestions to the manager for countering the issue.

  • Feedback mechanism — Ensure that your review process is in place even before the downward slide starts. You will be surprised at how many managers resort to reviews as only a means to criticize when things start going south. This will definitely not get you great results.
  • Progress principle — In an HBR article, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer claims that the biggest motivation for people is not money, fear or promises of other rewards. It is the knowledge that they are making positive progress that motivates them. A meaningful exchange with the manager or a direct help received — all goes towards increasing the levels of motivation
  • Quick wins — as important as it is for the employee to celebrate quick wins, as manager it is even more critical that you recognize and acknowledge these quick wins.
  • Avoid burnout — Unfortunately most of the managers encourage their team members to push themselves to the point of burn-out. What is the point of clocking in more hours when you are not going to get a creative or innovative solution from your team. Encourage them to plan and lead a more healthier lifestyle. It works out well for everyone in the long term.

I would love to hear from you on what tricks you have up your sleeve to ensure that you don’t lose momentum half way through a project.

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Friends, this is the Day 17 of my odyssey to write one blog EVERY DAY for the month of May 2017. “One Day, One Blog

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