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How to Stay Motivated During a Pandemic

It's hard to keep working when you can't.

If you feel exceptionally unmotivated these days, you have every reason to blame the pandemic.

Three key areas lend directly to building motivation: autonomy, competence and relationships. They have been effectively eliminated by social distancing measures and the need to work or study from home. The result is that many of are separated from our normal routine, our peers, and the measures we typically use to track our success.

So how can you get your motivation mojo back? Try these steps.

1. Turn a ritual into a routine.

Going to work, school, sports practice, book club, or yoga class all provide a reassuring routine that creates structure and purpose in our lives. Without them, we can feel unmoored and directionless.

Create rituals at home that, over time, become automatic behaviours that provide a similar sense of structure and purpose. Even small, simple rituals are effective. It could be preparing your workspace the night before or waking up and having breakfast at the same time. Research shows that rituals – a predefined sequence of actions characterized by rigidity and repetition — increase people’s self-control and feelings of self-discipline.

2. Create cues

Humans automatically look for cues and patterns, creating associations between their environment and behaviour. When you put on your work clothes, fill up your travel mug with coffee, or punch the security code to your office door, your brain is busily taking note that it should switch into work mode.

Without these work cues – as well as an abundance of rest cues (your bed, the couch) – it can be hard to switch over. Create your own cues at home to help yourself get into work mode. Designate an area specifically for work. Use a cup to drink coffee or tea only during work hours. Wear clothes that would be presentable at a casual day in the office.

3. Use the power of lists

With routines and cues less available, getting organised is more important than ever to stay motivated. To stay productive and on track, creating lists can be particularly helpful.

Capture every task you need to do, big and small, and put them on a list. For larger tasks, break them down into smaller steps that you can work through as well. With each task you complete, cross it off the list. This will give you a sense of achievement, and will create momentum in your work. Be sure to roll your list over daily, keeping the uncompleted tasks and adding new ones. Look back occasionally at all your past lists, taking satisfaction from everything you have achieved.

4. Reward yourself

Even during “normal” times, we use rewards to keep ourselves productive. It can be a piece of chocolate with our afternoon tea, or perhaps a special purchase after finishing a big project.

During the pandemic, use rewards intentionally to move yourself along. But remember that timing matters. You must pair the reward closely with the activity in time to have the greatest effect. Try incorporating rewards that address some of the difficulties brought on by the pandemic, such as planning an outing with a friend.

5. Internal and external drivers

Part of the problem with staying motivated while working from home is that you must rely on yourself to keep going. Even during normal times, we sometimes need extrinsic motivators to help us along – external rewards or punishments that keep us on task. Missing a deadline and meeting with our colleagues’ displeasure is an example of an extrinsic punishment. An extrinsic reward is the kudos we receive on a job well done.

If you work with a team, be certain to meet with them regularly online. Identify action plans – essentially, lists – to help keep people on task and moving forward. Take the opportunity to recognise good work by team members. Avoid punishments – but if they are necessary, mete them out privately.

6. Stay positive

Experiencing positive emotions can improve your performance at work and keep you motivated. Create positivity by sharing a funny meme or texting a friend. A team chat is a great place to provide encouragement to each other. Team building activities, such as the recent MindHK 50 km challenge, likewise generate positive feelings about work. Sharing photos and experiences from those activities are a great way to spread positivity.

If you are feeling unmotivated, you are not alone. But there are steps you can take to get back on track. Need help getting out of the doldrums? Contact the BFDC. We can help.