Career confidence #4 Discover your motivation

Do you know what motivates you to be productive? Does your interest in an activity rocket when it’s new then fall into a lull? Or do you only get motivated to act once a deadline approaches?

Some people have the self-discipline to plan, work in a focused way and get their work done way ahead of the deadline. I am not one of those people. I get going when I have to, when the pressure of a looming deadline kicks in.

For most of my school and work life I’ve felt like this was a failing on my part, that I was lacking the self-discipline and focus to get things done or that I was lazy. However, as my career history shows, I work hard and I don’t miss deadlines.

I might be up all night to get it done, but I do always get it done. And, more importantly, I’m prepared to get it done.

I don’t leave everything to the last minute and I’m not chaotic, although it may look like it to others. I plan (even over-plan), I think ahead (way ahead), I make lists (lots of lists) and I have structure. But, my mind flits about like a butterfly on speed and I admit I find it hard to focus.

So, how did I overcome that and discover how to get motivated?

I stopped fighting nature and comparing myself to other ‘normal’ people thinking they are good so I must be bad.

Look at what you do and how you do it. Ask someone else to help you if you’re not seeing it. Think about what works for YOU.

During my self-reflection I came to realise three important things:

  1. I need a commitment or deadline to get things done, an external force that creates adrenalin and/or obligation. I need that push to get my brain running and deliver, doing what I said I would do

  2. Although I rebel against structures placed on me, I like my own structures as they give me focus. They might be idiosyncratic, but they work for me

  3. I needed to identify my motivation, embrace my rhythm and accept how I work. I’m not lacking in discipline, I’m not lazy, I just work in a different way

How was all this useful navel-gazing?

Well, the first big win after I made these realisations was a feeling of power. Different wasn’t bad, different was just different. The second was that I suddenly had a lot more time as knowing I wasn’t going to do anything until I felt the pressure, freed me up. I stopped pretending. Stopped faffing about, looking like I was working – why spend all day in front of a screen when I write best after 4pm? 

I realised I’m motivated by external forces – a deadline, a promise, an obligation, an offer to help. So, I put them in place. Even if they are only a deadline to myself. 

I also make lists and cross things off those lists to show how I’ve made progress. I use a notepad and pen as opposed to anything digital. It’s SO simple but it works, for me. I crave a clear desk and an empty inbox and that sense of achievement when I make those happen motivates me to do more.

If you find it hard to make yourself accountable in this way then ask someone else to do it – tell them what you are going to do, by when and ask them to hold you to your commitment. 

Maybe a coach. They’re good at helping you recognise what works for you. I should know!

LinkedIn Louise Newton
Photo by Chase Clark on Unsplash

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