One Monday morning recently, I woke up with an extreme lack of motivation. I didn’t want to go to work.
It’s a feeling that everyone has from time to time, but it’s a bit different when you’re the boss, and it’s your business. It’s not a common problem for me — I only feel this way once every three or four months — but it’s significant enough that I’ve developed a system of coping mechanisms to deal with this situation.
It didn’t help matters that I’d had an absolutely sensational weekend, in the sun, at the beach. It’s an easy choice in comparison, where you think to yourself: jeez, that life’s good. The weather’s still good today. Why would I want to go to work?
Digging a little deeper, though — beyond memories of sunshine, surf, and time spent with those closest to me — I realised that I felt overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of tasks before me. I’d be putting this moment off for several weeks, but it was time to work with pen and paper to design a plan of attack.
First, a necessity: a change of scenery. Usually I’d go for a run at this point, to get the blood flowing and my mind churning, but since I was still on crutches at this point, exercise was off the cards. So I ventured to a coffee shop and started writing out a list of what was bothering me. The result was fourteen complex tasks on the page, each relating to various business decisions and strategic concerns.
I’m generally a very driven person, so my next step was to acknowledge the problem — my lack of motivation — and reconnect to that internal drive. That for me is largely about continually asking yourself the why — and getting to the deeper emotional spine of what’s behind your drive — and lets be honest; it’s really easy to lose that in the ‘busyness’ of life.
After that came the decision to regain control of my physical environment: tidying and reordering my home. The theory behind that was to start with small wins. I had to ground myself in a simple task so that I could feel a sense of achievement, and carry that into my workday.
The next necessity was to share my frustration with a couple of people close to me, in order to defuse the emotion that I’m the only person with problems, I’m never going to get out of it, and at its worst point, a lack of motivation feels suffocating. Yet the reality is that every single one of us has a suffocating moment every now and then.
By sharing it around with a couple of key people, I started to reconnect with the rest of the world, and stopped feeling as though it’s all about me. These conversations gave me context: rather than wallowing in self-pity and a deflated sense of self-worth, I started to think to myself: I’ll still be around tomorrow. I’ll get through it. I always have. There’s a past, and there’s a future. I regained perspective on my situation.
From there, I picked the easiest of the fourteen complex problems, and started thinking about the necessary steps to follow that through to completion. By mid-afternoon I’d delegated three more tasks to others. I’d gone from fourteen tasks to ten; roughly a quarter of my workload was in progress. I’d overcome the inertia and replaced it with momentum, my normal state.
At the start of that morning, my psychology was negative. I was overwhelmed; it was all too much, too hard. It would have been very easy for me to stay in that switched-off state — as being the boss you don’t as easily have people to hold you to account.
By the end of the workday, though, my psychology had flipped completely. I’d reordered my physical space. I’d had some wins. I’d talked to some of my favourite people, and I’d set a workflow in motion.
In a matter of hours, my motivation had returned. I was back to being a good leader — a role which includes delegating tasks, and managing other people to get the job done. Weird as it might sound, I was then happy that I had these problems, rather than down and desolate like I was earlier.
Like I wrote earlier, I only feel this way a handful of times per year. It’s not a common problem, but it’s an ongoing self-management exercise. As I see it, the right way to approach my feelings that morning is to shift my perspective, and put into action a system that supports my success. In reality it’s no harder than suffering and accepting your situation and complaing about it — it’s all a matter of perspective and choice.