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How to stay motivated at work (when you work from home)

Last updated on
September 4, 2021

Working from home has plenty of perks – but just because you can skip the morning commute and work from your sofa, that doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games. Just as in-office workers can experience a sudden dip in motivation, so can remote workers. Nobody is immune from these fluctuations, and if you work from home they can actually be harder to shake off. Here are a few tips on how to stay motivated at work when you work from home – from what to watch out for and to how to kick yourself back into gear when you experience a dip.

Why we lose motivation working from home

Drops in energy or focus aren’t always clear cut. There are lots of general reasons why you might experience a sudden drop in motivation, but working from home carries its own specific set. To stay conscious about what might be affecting you, familiarize yourself with these common culprits:

Disconnection with colleagues
Relationships with coworkers are crucial to motivation, so it’s important to realize that remote workers develop much weaker relationships with colleagues than their office counterparts. When you lose connection with your team, you lose the power of peer motivation: the collective encouragement and excitement of shared success.
Working from home can be incredibly isolating. You don’t get to grab coffee with your co-workers, share lunch, or even just chat about an upcoming task. You don’t necessarily have access to the same support networks, and can quickly feel cut-off and lonely.
Lack of recognition
People who work from home are less visible than in-office workers – which is especially concerning when studies show that physical presence at work increases your likelihood of promotion, positive appraisals and raises. It’s important for us to feel valued and appreciated; it’s a fundamental component of intrinsic motivation. If we don’t feel like anyone cares about (or even notices) our efforts, we start questioning our worth.
Don’t see the value in your work
If we don’t get feedback about our work and don’t understand how it contributes to the bigger picture, we start to wonder why we’re doing it. Intrinsic motivation also stems from pride in your work, so if you can’t see you’re adding anything meaningful, it can all feel futile.
Absence of trust or control
No one likes feeling they’re being watched, and to be motivated at work we need to have autonomy and agency. If you sense your boss is micromanaging you or doesn’t believe you’re actually working when you work from home, it can quickly erode motivation.
Burnout and stress
Without physical separation between work and home, it can be easy to burn out. Maybe you’re taking on too much work but nobody’s noticed; maybe you’re skipping breaks; maybe you’re working late into the night and struggle to fully disconnect. Without being able to ever exit the office, it can be hard to leave ‘work-mode’ behind.
Lack of structure
Commutes, lunch breaks and office routines bring a certain structure to our day. In their absence, schedules can feel overwhelming and boundless. A lack of psychological barriers between work and downtime only aggravates this – is the living room a place to chill out or work? How do you keep the two separate? With no structure, your days can become murky and directionless.
New distractions and challenges
You might not have to deal with that loud person sitting opposite you anymore, but working from home brings plenty of new distractions. There can also be new challenges to navigate – like sharing your workspace with kids and other home workers.
Sudden self-responsibility
When you work at home, the onus is on you: to get up at the right time, to work for as long as you should, to take the right breaks. We’re suddenly faced with a huge, shapeless mass of time, and a day that stretches on til we decide it’s over. All this new responsibility can be overwhelming, and can make us want push back.
Personal stresses
Working in a time of unprecedented change can be extremely stressful. Whether you’re worried about financial instability, social isolation or health, now more than ever many of us are finding it hard to manage feelings of uncertainty. With other problems occupying our attention, work can take a back seat.

How to stay motivated working from home

So, we know working from home can be a minefield when it comes to motivation – but how can you impose some sort of control and manage it? Here are the best ways you can address many of the issues above:

1. Stick to your old work routine

Sticking to your old work routine as much as possible can have a powerful effect on motivation. Try to get up at the same time as you did when commuting, and shower and dress as though you’re going to the office – this helps you get into work mode. If you usually took an hour for lunch between 1-2, keep doing that; if you had a coffee break at 4 with colleagues, find virtual ways to continue doing so.

It’s a good idea to use the time when you would be commuting to read a book, or do something that advances your personal development – like listen to a podcast, catch up on industry news or watch a TED talk. That way you’re getting something extra out of your day without losing any time. Having this extra dose of “me-time” can have an extremely positive effect on both mood and motivation.

2. Change up your location and go outside

Sitting at the same desk, inside the same walls, all day long is an easy way to feel stifled – which is definitely not helpful for sustaining motivation and creative energy. Changing your location throughout the day is  a good way to refocus.  There are a ton of places to work remotely outside of your home office – from bookshops and galleries to co-working spaces. If you’re restricted to your home, you can do this by relocating to a different part of it – whether moving to a different room to start a particularly complex task, or just changing where you’re positioned from the same room.

Don’t underestimate the power of simply quitting your scene and taking an active break too. Getting outside and going for a short walk around the block gives your brain time to refresh and escape. You’ll likely want to thread short productive breaks throughout your day to sustain your focus – to actually give your brain time to reset, make sure these involve stepping away from your work, physically and mentally.

3. Embrace the opportunity of self-management

At home you don’t have managers or bosses shaping and structuring your time – but this actully poses a huge plus for motivation! Try to see working from home as a chance to strengthen your own autonomy and self-direction. You can work the way you want to, control your environment and arrange your schedule to play to your individual productive patterns.

Working from home also offers unparalleled opportunity to do more uninterrupted “deep work” – the kind that gives us the greatest sense of achivement and cognitive reward. Take time to find your flow and figure out how you work best, and plan deep work into your week. You’ll probably find you finish your work sooner and have more leisure time at your disposal. Win-win.

4. Have a cut-off time

When you haven’t quite finished a job, or have tasks piling up, it can be easy to work late. But few things destroy motivation like burnout. Set a work cut-off time when you’re done for the day, and always finish then – no matter how tempting it is just do “just another 30 minutes”.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is super important when you work from home. To help you mentally shut the door on work even when you can’t physically do so, finish off by writing out a to-do list for the following day. This encourages your brain to accept work is over, and makes it easy to jump back in the next morning, too.

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