Finding motivation

Due to the COVID-2019 situation in Singapore, my company recently advised that all of us work from home instead of travelling to the office every day. While this sounded amazing at first, I quickly realised that the experience of working from home is not as glamorous as it seemed at first. My motivation to get any work done faded dramatically over the first week, and my productivity has also slumped as a result. Now three weeks in, although it has recovered somewhat, it still worries me as I need to find my motivation and get back on track soon.

To me, motivation and productivity are intrinsically linked in a cycle. Being motivated makes me enjoy my work more, which leads to a boost in productivity. When I find myself moving faster, I get even more motivated with what I'm doing and I end up getting even more done. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. When I fail to get much done in the day, I lose motivation to continue with what I'm working on. I start to enjoy it less, which results in me moving even more slowly. This ends up in a vicious cycle where I feel unmotivated and unproductive throughout the day.

In his podcast episode on The Knowledge Project, Jim Collins discussed this effect, which he calls it the flywheel. Although it is usually used in companies, the same mental model can be applied to our own lives. When we perform well at work, we find the motivation to do well at home as well, which then leads to more fulfilment and an even better performance the next day. Little by little, we build up momentum on the flywheel which soon becomes an unstoppable force, perpetually spinning.

What does this have to do with working from home? Well, consider the opposite of the flywheel — the doom loop. When we're in the doom loop, we fail to build any sustained momentum and launch into the vicious cycle I wrote about earlier. Working from home naturally blurs the lines between work and after-work. When I have an unproductive day doing work, it gets carried over much more easily to my time after work. The same goes for carrying any baggage from after-work back to work in the morning. We slip into the doom loop much more easily when we work from home.

How then am I going to combat this? I did some digging around and came up with some strategies, which I will try to employ over the next few weeks (perhaps an update post?).

Firstly, I need to design what Cal Newport calls a Work Shutdown Ritual for myself. This will help me to conclude my day of work and help to eliminate any unimportant thoughts about work during my time after work. In the past, this ritual would be the long, bumpy commute home, which switches my mind back to an after-work context. Since that isn't the case anymore, I need to figure out something else that can help me make that context switch.

Secondly, in order to combat the vicious cycle, I need to be more productive at work right from the start. The strategy here would be to start with the easiest tasks first. Clearing these tasks will help me feel more motivated to move on to the more difficult ones. If I manage to tackle those, even better. Employing this strategy can help me to "ramp up" every morning, instead of diving headfirst into difficult work after waking up.

Finally, I can take a page out of GTD and plan ahead with my work more. By planning and breaking down my work into smaller and more actionable tasks, I can complete more tasks over the course of the day, which will be a big boost to my motivation.

I hope that I can get my flywheel spinning soon, as I really do appreciate the opportunity to work from hone and thus have more flexibility with my time.