How to Lead When You Don’t Feel Motivated
Sometimes I wake up, and I don’t want to do anything. The day’s goals seem daunting, but I understand I must soldier on.
The demands of leadership are like carrying an anvil. For much of my career, I’ve been the “throat to choke” on the frontline of production mishaps, over-promises, and angry customers.
To be the one with a target on your forehead makes you assume the fetal position and weep. The grind of the technology business exhausting. Deadlines, sprint-points, and deliverables are all euphemisms for stress.
Companies are no different. How do I get up and sell, but all I want to do is write code? When will the company scale, and does it always have to be me?
My passion is building technology, and always will be. Through it all, I’ve learned to follow a system — to put one foot in front of another and just keep going.
In the spirit of “keep it moving,” here’s what I’ve learned.
A failure to plan is a plan to fail.
I plan with a vision in mind. I know the company’s vision is greater than me — and greater than the sum of the parts. So, I figured out a way to push through the tough days.
I gamify my day, which allows me to work hard but also take breaks. I follow the rule of threes. I pick three goals each day and focus only on those things. Each goal is placed on a calendar and given a specific amount of time.
I try to maximize how much I can get done before my iPhone timer expires for each goal.
It’s silly, but I’ve imagined a coding Olympics before. Whatever works.
I have a timer ticking away while writing this article. How many words will I type tonight?
Planned Fun — The Reward System
I play a game of blitz chess between each goal. I walk the dogs or run. I polished my floors before I started this section of this article. The timer went off, so it was time to do something else.
Progress motivates, but rewards are the cherry on top. Small wins help a lot. So, I focus on small tasks and reward myself.
This morning I set a timer while I spent 30 minutes sifting through email. Then I make coffee(the reward).
I go through LinkedIn(10 minutes or so) while sipping coffee. Now that email and LinkedIn are done, I watch a chess video(another reward). I am a geek, so sometimes I update my coding environment or experiment.
Small wins make you happy, and the sense of completion starts to build momentum. Getting one thing done begets another, and so on.
The point is getting things done improves your mood. Productivity is a function of positivity and optimism. The more productive you are — no matter how small — the better your state of mind.
It’s the same reason your mother started cleaning when stressed about bills. Cleaning is a defined, measurable goal, and life is better once done.
The Buddy System
Accountability is everything.
A good friend is an amazing motivator. If your inner circle is productive, you are likely to follow the same patterns.
My grandma used to say, “if you are walking down the street and say to yourself, why am I around all these ducks? You’re a duck!” That day, I stopped hanging around losers.
The company you keep is important, especially busy, successful people. Successful people are masters of their time. By osmosis, you will do what they do. As the adage goes, “if you want something done, give it to a busy person.”
A few months ago, I needed a new business plan. A friend of mine needed to do the same. We buddied up. We picked a time in the future, set up a meeting date, and got to work.
I tried to write the same plan for about 6-weeks prior — and nada. A five-minute conversation with a friend resulted in a business plan in one week.
He held me accountable.
Resist Procrastination — The mood killer
Procrastination is a self-delusion that your future self will be better at something you can do now. Both procrastination and motivation are emotional states. If this is true, eliminating the negative emotion will make you more productive — and happier.
If you are happier, motivation follows.
Tim Pychyl’s work is impressive. He connects conquering procrastination to well-being. It turns out my grandma was right.
She used to say, “the work ain’t gone do itself. If you can’t figure out what to do, pick something small to make yourself happy.”
She should’ve written a book.
I make my goals and tasks smaller when procrastination strikes. If it’s still there, I make it smaller again.
I recognize when I am putting off something which makes my existence worse. Because I don’t want to be in a negative state of mind, I kick the can down the street. While the can is inflight, I feel worse, and my motivation suffers.
A trick I use is to combine the buddy system with small tasks. A few days ago, I needed to finish a data warehouse design. I could not bring myself to take what I drew off the whiteboard and put it on paper.
I commissioned a colleague to screen-share with me. He wasn’t involved in the project, but he helped anyway. I set a timer. They watched; I completed my project, and I was happy.
Switch Your Environment
I’ve moved my home office around five times this year.
Each time, a new idea fell out of the ether, or I solved a challenging problem. I have different backgrounds based on what I am doing.
If I am coding, the colors are dark, offset by my lava lamp. If writing a proposal, I have lots of natural light and a bright background.
Simple things set your mood. Hoards of people(pre-pandemic) flood into Starbucks to get work done. Starbucks figured out the equation down to colors and mood music.
You have to set up a winning environment. I wear a button-up shirt, even on weekends. The way I dress reminds me to be precise, focused, and professional.
Extreme Focus and Execution
Tony Robbins says, “execution trumps knowledge.”
Once I pick my three things, and I have a plan I believe in, I focus. Do one thing at a time. My mother has always told me I couldn’t do more than one thing, anyway.
Execution is a state of mind. I prepare and chart my day. An athlete who practices shots knows that she will be a better shooter over time — she will reach her goal.
For example, I need to make thirty calls a day to hit our sales goal. I need to write two-thousand words a day so the world hears the message of engineers’ taking their industry back.
Like an athlete, I create lead metrics and follow them to the letter. Half the battle in execution is getting started. If I set up metrics in everything, and the goals are small, I procrastinate less. The negative emotion is gone; therefore, I am more productive.
Then motivation follows.
Here are a few metrics I created for this coming week:
- Read 75 pages of a book a day
- Read 5 business articles a day
- Call 50 people per week
- Read 5 white papers per week
- At least 5 one-one conversations with team per week
Focus on why.
My biggest driver is, I want to inspire change. I want to create a company that rewards people. In this case, the engineer deserves the harvest.
To build a company and culture is an uphill climb, often on slippery slopes.
Many that I admire set impossible goals. Dr. King wanted racial equality. His vision drove him as well as a nation.
Whenever I get tired, and the goal isn’t complete, I re-orient the plan, the mission, and respect the process. I strive for my lead metrics, one task at a time.
The key is to stay out of the space between intention and action. This is where lost productivity lives and bad moods thrive. Your motivation dies with inaction.
As a kid, I was awkward. My aunts made fun of me. I’d fall and knock things over. I was the butt of many jokes. One time my aunt — as a joke — gave everyone else a glass, and I got a plastic cup. I challenged myself.
I didn’t know the terminology back then, but I created a lead metric. I decided to learn to juggle. I read that jugglers have excellent hand-eye coordination. So, I learned to juggle off a wall. I decided to make 200 attempts a day. I would follow up with dribbling a basketball around the corner for two-hours every day. One day, I stopped knocking things over.
I cleaned awkward’s clock.