Psychology of motivation is important for the healthy functioning of your employees. Now we need to discuss how to drive motivation in ourselves, the leaders and entrepreneurs. Where does the motivation to lead come from? How do we avoid burnout and replenish our will to innovate? How do we manage the stress of difficult leadership situations and persevere at optimal productivity levels? The following are a few useful tips and tricks for leaders to motivate and reward themselves as they strive to move their companies onward and upward.

Recognize the Limits of Willpower
Everybody experiences burnout. If you work myopically on one project for long enough you are bound to see diminishing returns. This is a scientifically confirmed fact and is known as the Limited Willpower theory.

  • Willpower is a limited resource
  • Powering through an unpleasant task without taking breaks drains your ability to work consistently
  • Setting time limits for tasks, doing something else, and returning to the task later reduces the drain on your willpower

Leadership and Willpower
Nobody is more at risk for motivational burnout than the manager of a company. When things go wrong and clients are complaining, deadlines are drawing closer and budgets are drying up, there is nobody with more at stake than the leader. It is easy to get to a critical stress point and feel the need to withdraw entirely: the potential reward seems infinitely far away and the risk is huge. From a psychological perspective this is a major depressive factor. A sense of “doom and gloom” lurks behind every leadership challenge. Avoiding it and maintaining mental acuity requires good time management and an awareness of the level of will power you have.

I take an inventory of my stock of willpower regularly. Sometimes I wake up with a full tank and sometimes I find myself running on empty. On bad days I know to limit the amount and difficulty of the tasks I take on. On better days I allot myself a full complement of tasks. If you think of your willpower as a resource, you will learn to manage it effectively to get the most done possible on any given day.

Break Work into Manageable “Chunks”
Sometimes you won’t have the luxury of allotting yourself work based on your level of will power. In these cases, breaking up the seemingly unmanageable burden of a problem into discrete and manageable chunks is essential to dealing with the difficult situations you will inevitably face. When facing a “hell week,” I like to break up gnarly sets of tasks and responsibilities into one-hour sessions, focusing on one relatively simple task per session. Say I’ve got one week to accomplish the following: create a project proposal, email dissatisfied clients, review and edit a budget and revamp training procedures for HR employees.

To deal with this I first estimate the amount of time necessary for completing each task. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that each one takes five dedicated hours. Now, if I were to go about doing each task individually to completion, one by one, a number of psychological stresses would creep in to hinder my progress. For one thing, monotony and boredom would become problematic.

After a few hours typing away at a long project proposal I’d start to daydream, my attention drifting to other things. This would slow me down, measurably. In addition to that, the stress of knowing I had so many other tasks ahead of me that week would creep in, causing me to worry. This worry would further hinder me as I felt the need to take more breaks to deal with my stress. This essentially creates a vicious cycle, minimizing productivity and maximizing stress and worry. This is exactly what working in one-hour sessions addresses.

Optimize Time: Minimize Stress
If I schedule my day so that I work on each task for one hour at a time, strictly cycling through different tasks on a rolling basis throughout the day, not only do I allow myself enough variety to maintain my interest, but I minimize worry since I’m actively tackling each problem at the same time. The sense that a job is “burning away” at the end of a queue is minimized. I find myself needing fewer breaks, and am happier and more productive over all. If my estimates are more or less on point, I find myself completing my tasks well ahead of the deadline— in this case approximately 20 work hours— instead of worrying myself into a tizzy right up to the zero hour as I would have done otherwise. This allows me the freedom to use the rest of my time for reflection, learning and innovative thinking.

Depending on the amount and type of work you have to accomplish the time frame obviously can vary. The key is in giving yourself enough variety so your work feels less like a hopeless slog and more like the operation of a well-oiled machine.

“Gamify” Your Work
Everybody responds to rewards and incentives, not just employees. It can sometimes be hard to figure out good ways of rewarding yourself for your own accomplishments.

Gamification is a powerful psychological tool, currently being put to great use by marketers. Just think of how much time people spend on social games these days: Over 70% of Forbes Global 2000 companies are working on leveraging gamification for marketing and customer retention purposes. Just think of how obsessively some people play Facebook games like Farmville or MMOs like World of Warcraft. If customers are responding to gamification, there’s good reason to think that it will work for you, and your employees as well. There are some simple ways of doing this:

  • Structure rewards into your work schedule for a successful completion of projects. These can be anything from a favorite food to a trip or a ballgame
  • Rate your adherence to your schedule: think of 80% as Bronze and 100% as Gold
  • Recognize your own achievements. Take the time to take stock of your accomplishments every day. Then raise the bar for your next goal.

If this seems silly to you, consider carefully how you spend your leisure time. If you, like me, play Words with Friends as diligently as you pick up your check, this strategy will probably work for you.

Staying motivated can be a difficult challenge for a leader. It is important to recognize it as such, and make sure you don’t ignore the problem. Think of your motivation as its own business challenge, and treat its management with the care it deserves, and you can proceed with confidence knowing that you have the tools to overcome it. Not only while working in an organisation, but you need to stay motivated while prparing for competitive exams like GRE.