It’s a beautiful day outside. The sun is shining, the birds are singing… Naturally, you’d much rather switch off your computer and go for a nice walk. But you can’t. Your to-do list is right there staring at you. Whether the sun’s out, your bed is beckoning, or you’re just not feeling it today, having no motivation to work can be a real issue, especially when deadlines are looming or you’re already exhausted.
Unfortunately, the longer it goes on, the worse it gets. Pressures mount, stress levels rise, and your ability to focus and get things done dwindles; it’s a vicious cycle. Having no motivation to work is manageable when it’s a one-off, but what if it keeps happening?
Breathe. There are things you can do to try and break the cycle. And your first step is to figure out the root cause of the problem.
No motivation to work: 23 common causes
Knowing what you’re up against is the first step to overcoming low motivation. Here are some common problems we all struggle with from time to time.
1. You’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to start
Feeling like a deer in headlights, frozen to the spot in panic? This can be a real problem when you have too much on your plate. The solution is two-fold: first, try and get some perspective by making a list of everything you need to do, and then prioritize it. Secondly, start with the easiest task first. This will help you avoid getting bogged down and will give you a much-needed sense of accomplishment.
Top tip: project milestones are your secret weapon here. Use project management software to break the task up into bite-size pieces and, all of a sudden, that beast of a project doesn’t seem so scary.
2. You’re a perfectionist
This one is tricky because, on one hand, being a perfectionist can be a good thing. It means you care about your work and want to do a good job. On the other hand, it can also lead to procrastination because you’re afraid of not doing something perfectly. The key is to find a balance: aim for excellence, but don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, as the saying goes.
3. You aren’t being challenged
If you aren’t being challenged at work, it’s easy to become disengaged and lose motivation. If you find yourself feeling bored often, it’s important to try and find ways to make your work more interesting. This could involve speaking to your boss about taking on new responsibilities or finding ways to be more creative in your current role.
Alternatively, look for ways to challenge yourself. Set yourself goals and targets to hit, and find ways to make your work more interesting. And if that fails, it might be time to try something new.
4. You aren’t engaged with your work
Who can blame you for having no motivation to work when you aren’t interested in what you’re doing? Stagnation and indifference aren’t exactly a recipe for success.
Try and work out why your work isn’t engaging. Perhaps, you’re no longer growing in your role or your priorities or outlook have evolved. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself in this situation, it might be time to consider a change. This could involve looking for a new job, starting your own business, or changing your role within your current company.
5. You don’t feel valued
We all need to feel appreciated, at least a little. If this isn’t happening, speak to your boss about how you’re feeling, and see if there’s anything that can be done to make you feel more valued in your role. This might include more regular feedback, a chat about how you can grow and develop your skills, additional training, or more one-on-ones. Talk about your options, and see what consensus you reach. And if they’re not empathetic or receptive, then it could be a sign you need to look for a new job.
6. You aren’t being paid enough
Money isn’t everything, but it’s often a factor when you have no motivation to work. If you feel you aren’t being paid enough, it’s important to have a discussion with your boss about this. If a pay raise isn’t possible, ask about any financial incentive programs your company has. Some businesses offer support or bonuses for things like tuition, referrals, retention, or health and wellness.
And if your boss does promise a pay raise (congratulations!), make sure you get this in writing. You don’t want to be strung along indefinitely while bills mount. Stress is a surefire way to destroy your motivation.
7. You don’t believe in what you’re doing
It’s hard to be motivated if you don’t believe in what you’re doing. Do you disagree with the company’s values? Does the work environment pose too many obstacles to succeeding or feeling motivated? Are you passionate about the work you’re doing, or did you just fall into it by circumstance? If any of these issues are the case, it might be time to consider a change.
Alternatively, try and find ways to make your work more meaningful. For example, is there a way you can make a difference on a more impactful level? See if there’s anything you can do to align your work with your personal values.
8. You aren’t doing what you’re good at
Staying engaged with your work is hard when you aren’t using your strengths and abilities to their fullest potential. It’s even harder when you’re primarily using skills, resources, or technologies that go against your strengths.
Consider how you can use your strengths more in your current role. Speak to your boss about how you can contribute more or in a different manner, and look for opportunities to showcase your skills.
If you aren’t entirely sure what your skills are, then it’s absolutely worth spending a bit of time thinking about what they might be. You may discover that what you’ve been doing for years isn’t actually what you are good at or enjoy. In this case, a career change might be just what you need.
9. You don’t have a clear goal
Imagine being told to run without knowing how far or for how long. Why even bother? If you aren’t sure where you’re going or why, it’s time to sit down and identify exactly what you want to achieve. Once you have a goal in mind, look for ways to break it down into smaller, more manageable steps. Then, start working towards your goal one step at a time. Your workday shouldn’t feel like you’re on a hamster wheel.
10. You aren’t seeing the results you want
Having expectations that never materialize is a tricky situation. It’s important to step back and reassess your goals. Make sure you’re being realistic about what you can achieve in terms of skills and resources, and look for ways to measure your progress along the way. This will help you stay motivated, even when things get tough. And remember, patience is essential. Results rarely happen immediately, so try not to feel demotivated if things don’t work out the first time.
11. You don’t feel supported
Knowing your friends, family, and colleagues have your back does wonders for motivation. And it’s hard to find that spark if you don’t feel supported by those around you.
Speak with someone you trust about how you’re feeling. See if there’s anything that can be done to make you feel more supported in your role, and look for ways to build a support network of your own.
If you’re a remote worker who feels isolated, schedule a one-on-one with your boss, and drop a colleague a DM via your chat app to foster that connection. If you’re in the office, consider organizing coffee and an informal chat with a colleague. And if you’re a manager, try some team-building games to build rapport and strengthen the team.
12. Your self-confidence has taken a hit
Feeling like imposter syndrome has taken over? Or, perhaps, you’re struggling to keep pace? It’s time to work on rebuilding your self-confidence.
Boosting your confidence could involve seeking feedback from others, taking on new challenges, and/or practicing self-compassion. It’s also worthwhile to speak with someone — possibly a therapist — about why your confidence has plummeted and what you can do about it.
Recovery is possible; it’ll just take a little time. And remember to celebrate small wins while you do this. It’ll boost your mood and gradually rebuild your confidence.
13. You’re feeling burnt out
Burnout is one of the most common reasons for having no motivation to work. The combination of mental, physical, and emotional stress can create a sense of persistent exhaustion and detachment. And overcoming burnout can be difficult without making a considerable change to your lifestyle, habits, workload, or environment.
Not only that: working through it can make you seriously sick. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself both physically and emotionally, and look for ways to reduce stress in your life. This will help you regain your motivation, and allow you to approach your work with fresh energy.
- Read our guide to avoiding burnout for actionable tips
14. Stress and anxiety are taking over
Stress makes it very difficult to focus, so it’s no surprise if you have no motivation to work or finish what you start.
Your first step is to work out what’s making you stressed. Is your workload piling up, and you can’t seem to make a dent in your to-do list? If so, talk to your manager about delegating work. If personal stress is taking its toll, consider taking time off, or reach out to your support network for help.
You may also want to seek the help of a professional. Chronic anxiety and stress could be the result of trauma or other mental health issues. The more help and support you can get, the faster you’ll be able to regain control and find your motivation again.
15. You can’t seem to focus on anything
We’re all guilty of checking social media or staring into space. But when you’re doing more of that than actual work, it’s disruptive. Again, think about the root cause. Certain disorders and mental health conditions contribute to an inability to focus, including anxiety, depression, and ADHD. If these could be the root cause, go easy on yourself, and consult a medical professional about your options.
If none of these is likely to be the reason, think about the job at hand. Why don’t you want to do it? Are you bored? Is it too overwhelming or beyond your skill set? Do you have a mental block? You might want to reach out to your manager for support if any of these could be the issue.
There are also tricks for finding focus when your mind’s being unruly. Setting regular breaks, implementing a distraction-free environment, and practicing meditation or mindfulness are all helpful concentration tools.
- Read our guide to finding your focus for more in-depth tips
16. You compare yourself to others
Comparison is the thief of joy — or so the saying goes. And this includes the joy you would otherwise find in doing a job well done.
Whether you’re being pitted against a colleague or you keep measuring your successes against other people’s social media personas, it’s hard to find your motivation mojo if you think you just don’t measure up.
Rather than looking to others, try switching those voices off. Literally, delete your Twitter and Instagram apps, focus on your own journey, and celebrate your own successes. They may be small (in your eyes), but big journeys are made up of small steps. And if you don’t let yourself celebrate these small wins, you won’t find the motivation to continue. It’s as simple as that.
17. There’s too much change happening around you
Change is stressful and disruptive. If you’re struggling to work in all the chaos, it’s really no surprise. Try to find ways to feel more stable and secure. This could involve staying in touch with your values, setting boundaries, and creating routines to add a little order to your life. Also, remember to be kind to yourself. Change is emotional and tiring, and not being able to work to full capacity during it is very normal.
18. You aren’t getting enough sleep
Sickness, cognitive disruption, irritability — a lack of sleep really plays havoc on your focus (just ask any new parent if you don’t believe us). If you’re struggling to get some shut-eye, it’s time to put some thought into your bedtime routine.
Try setting a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine in the evening, and creating a relaxing after-dinner routine. The American Sleep Association also recommends avoiding screens in the hours leading up to bedtime.
19. You aren’t eating healthy
We all know too much sugar leads to an energy crash, and a huge lunch makes us sleepy in the afternoon. But when you’re tired and hungry, heeding healthy eating advice becomes more of a challenge. While these issues are easy to overlook, daily bloat and sluggishness from a poor diet can cause you to have no motivation to work.
If you struggle with this, try keeping healthy snacks nearby to nibble on throughout the day. A packet of unsalted nuts, fruit, or hummus and veggies are all good options to beat those cravings before they beat you.
You could also try planning meals ahead of time, cooking at home when possible, or bringing a nice homemade lunch to work. That way, you won’t be tempted by takeout. If unhealthy eating is a chronic issue for you, then consider consulting a professional about nurturing healthier habits in times of stress, anxiety, or boredom.
20. You aren’t exercising
It sounds counterproductive, but exercise gives you energy. A workout gets your heart pumping oxygen around your body and endorphins (happy hormones) flowing. It also makes us more creative. So, if you’re feeling uninspired, perhaps you just need to get moving.
Finding ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. It could involve going for a walk or run every day, signing up for a gym membership, or taking up a new sport.
If you’re unsure about how or where to start, try reaching out to a friend, asking the HR department about initiatives and gym discounts offered by your workplace, or even watching workout videos on YouTube. They’re free and low-pressure, and you can find an array of instructional workouts for differently abled bodies.
21. You’re being micromanaged
Having someone watching your every move is never fun. It feels like you aren’t trusted in your role and have no room to breathe and grow. If this sounds all too familiar, it’s important to have a conversation with your boss or supervisor. You may need to set boundaries, reassure them you’re capable of overseeing the task at hand, and agree on a plan that involves fewer check-ins.
Project management software could be a good option here, as it means your boss can track progress without hassling you. They get the information they need, and you have the space to get on with the job free from endless questions. Win-win!
22. No job security
A sense of powerlessness kills motivation. To move past this hurdle, take matters into your own hands, and regain control. If you feel insecure in your role, speak with your manager about your concerns. They’ll hopefully be able to reassure you. And if not, focus on building your skills and networks. This could involve taking classes, attending networking events, and staying up-to-date on industry news. That way, if the worst does happen and you lose your job, you have a support network and more options open to you.
23. Your workplace is toxic
Team culture plays a huge part in our sense of well-being at work. And it’s hard to be motivated if you’re in a toxic workplace. Poor organization, office cliques, and a lack of opportunities can really sap your will to focus.
You have a few options here. First, try consulting with your manager, HR, or a colleague. Chances are, you aren’t the only one who feels this way. And even if you are, it deserves to be addressed. If the situation looks like it won’t change anytime soon, then your best bet is to find a new job. In the meantime, make sure you spend plenty of time outside of work with friends and family to keep your mood up.
Motivation cheat sheet: 10 quick tips on how to kick-start your motivation when you’re just not feeling it
- Break things down into small, manageable steps.
- Set yourself daily or weekly goals that are challenging but realistically achievable.
- Find a way to make your work more enjoyable (or seek new challenges).
- Take care of yourself both physically and emotionally.
- Find a support network of friends, family, or colleagues.
- Seek professional help if you’re struggling to cope with a tough situation.
- Reward yourself for your achievements, no matter how small.
- Stay positive and focus on your goals.
- Have some healthy coping mechanisms you can use when feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Exercise, journaling, meditation, unwinding with a movie, and chatting to a friend are all good options.
- Find your ‘why’ — your passion, the thing that drives you.
10 questions to help you understand why you have no motivation to work
If you’re struggling with self-motivation, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my goals? When we know what we’re working towards, it’s easier to find the motivation to keep going. Try using project management tools to break down big tasks, create workflows, and track milestones.
- What are my obstacles? By understanding what’s preventing you from achieving your goals, you can find a way to overcome them.
- What are the consequences of not meeting my goals? Focusing on the negative consequences of not achieving our goals can be a powerful motivator.
- What are my rewards for meeting my goals? You might have no motivation to work because you don’t think you’re making progress toward anything that matters. You can change this by rewarding yourself. Rewards can be as simple as treating yourself to a new book, taking a day off from work, or going on a trip. Make sure it’s something you enjoy!
- How can I make my work more enjoyable? Try to pinpoint what you don’t like and which aspects naturally complement your strengths.
- Who can I rely on for support? A supportive network of friends, family, or colleagues can help you stay motivated when things get tough. Reach out to colleagues via email, video, and chat apps like Typetalk, or schedule a coffee meeting.
- What is my ‘why?’ Defining your purpose makes it easier to stay motivated. Why do you want to achieve these goals, and what difference will they make in your life?
- What can I delegate or eliminate from my to-do list? Too many obligations? Tame an intimidating to-do list by focusing on the easy wins and delegating when you can.
- How can I take care of myself physically and emotionally? This could involve exercise, eating healthier, getting enough sleep, journaling, talking to a therapist, spending time with friends and family, or participating in healthy activities you enjoy.
- How will I know when I’ve achieved my goals? Creating a metric for success is a great motivator. Setting a deadline, tracking your progress, or having an accountability buddy are good ways to measure how far you’ve come.
When you have no motivation to work, there’s no single solution that will work for everyone. But by understanding the root causes of your problems, you can find ways to get yourself back on track. Whether it’s focusing on your “why”, setting realistic goals, staying in touch with colleagues, or taking care of yourself physically and emotionally, there are many things you can do to regain your motivation. Just remember to be patient with yourself, and keep moving forward. You’ve got this!