Motivation at Work

Seeking optimum performance

Motivation at Work

Seeking optimum performance

How do you go about improving motivation at work? 

Managing is essentially a balancing act. The manager’s role requires constant adjustment of resources, priorities and focus, and that’s without that other great balancing act – work and life! It’s small wonder so many managers feel stressed.

If you feel work is causing you too much stress, or that you’re not working at your optimum, here’s a simple analytical tool to help. All you need to do is think about how you’re coping with these six common management problem areas:

  1. Ease of work
  2. View of workload
  3. Amount of discretionary time
  4. Energy to tackle work
  5. Ability to be creative
  6. Getting the right things done

Have a look at our Optimum Performance Graph below. Do you recognise any of the feelings listed in the left-hand column? Would you rather feel more like the other end of the scale, in the right hand column? In this article we’ll explain what each category means, and offer some insights into how you can work at your optimum.


Motivation at work: the optimum performance graph

The Optimum Performance Graph


Motivation in the Workplace: the Optimum Performance series

This article introduces our series on optimum performance, which expands on each of our six management problems – problems which can affect all of us, and can negatively affect motivation at work.In this first article, we’ll outline each of the areas, and encourage you to do your own self-assessment. In subsequent articles we’ll look at each of the problems in more detail. For each we’ll ask what can be done to help you achieve balance, optimum performance and improved motivation at work.

Start by taking a few minutes to think about the optimum performance graph. Where do you feel you sit on the 7-point scale, for each of the problem areas. Then read our discussion on how to optimise your work in any of the six areas.

1: Ease of Work – In the Zone or Stretched/Bored?

This optimum performance graph is designed to help you examine how challenging you find your work. Would you say your work is interesting or do you get bored? Does it test you or are you stressed because you feel over-stretched? Perhaps from deficits in skills, experience, or knowledge?

A crucial contributor to optimal performance is whether or not we find our work absorbing. This theory is explained in: Finding Flow, by Claremont Graduate School professor, Mihalyi Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced: Chick-sent-me-high-ee). He states that we’re happiest when absorbed in activities that balance challenging tasks with appropriate skill levels. Ask yourself:

  • Would you say your work puts you “in the zone”?
  • Is there insufficient challenge in your work?
  • Are you over-stretched; is your work too challenging for your skills, knowledge and experience?
  • How often do you feel you are working “in the zone”?
2: View of Work – Buoyed Up or Weighed Down?

The graph points towards your view of your workload. Is it weighing you down? Is this feeling caused by the volume of work you have to do, or is it due to the type of work you’re being asked to do? We’re far less likely to feel overworked if we’re doing work we enjoy or which we’re good at.

If it’s the volume, look for ways to deal with this. If you control your own workload, make sure you haven’t substituted activity for productivity. If you’re happy that the work you’re doing is essential, make sure you’re doing it as efficiently as possible by using productivity techniques such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

If you think it might be the type of work you’re doing that’s affecting you, perhaps you’re not doing enough work that builds on your strengths. Think about how you might be able to focus more on the things you’re good at. Thing about your strengths. How can you delegate or even dismiss work which you find difficult? Can you re-negotiate your workload or work-focus with your manager? Is staff development required, to improve any deficiencies in skills or knowledge that are stopping you from making the most of your strengths?

3: Amount of Discretionary Time – Freed-up or Trapped?

The section is about the amount of discretionary time you have. Imposed demands on our time tend to make us feel trapped. How can you manage to create more discretionary time in what you do, and less time imposed by others? Building more choice into how we spend our time, and how we perform our work, can reduce stress and make work more fulfilling.

All jobs have demands and constraints but how can you minimise these and maximise your choices in how you do your job? Your motivation at work will be significantly improved if you feel you are more in control, both of what you do, and of how you do it. In addition, freeing up your time to focus on strength-based activities will also deliver results for your employer.

4: Energy to Tackle Work – Re-energised or Burned Out?

This graph indicates how much energy you have to tackle work. Without energy or passion, it’s difficult to sustain any worthwhile activity, and very difficult to be motivated at work. If you feel you’re more towards the burned out end of this scale then now is the time to think through this aspect of your work. In “Overcoming Job Burnout: How to Renew Enthusiasm for Work“, Dr. Beverly Potter defines burn-out as “a kind of job depression caused by feelings of powerlessness, the loss of control over one’s work. The effect can be devastating.”

To re-energise you’ll probably need to do two things. Firstly, try to reduce or remove the things that are draining your energy. Secondly, pro-actively choose to do other things that renew your strength and endurance.

5: Ability to be Creative – Fresh or Stale?

It’s very difficult to be creative when you feel stale. Creativity often requires space and time. The factors we’ve already introduced can often impact on your ability to be creative. For example feeling you are overloaded and stretched in what you do will impact on your creativity. So better management of these areas will help.

Then think about ways you can re-kindle your creativity. For example, it’s useful to periodically stand back from your work routine and ask yourself some questions. What exactly are you doing? How are you doing it? Why? What things can you do to improve your creativity?

6: Getting the Right Things Done – Sharp or Blunt?

This scale provides an indication of performance – how good you think you are at getting the right things done. When this balance isn’t right it’s difficult to achieve meaningful results. Effective motivation at work is not just about improving what and how we do things. It’s also about improving the things we choose to do. When we’re clear about the activities that really contribute to the organisation’s performance, then effective motivation at work really does help us deliver optimum performance.

To Improve Your Motivation at Work – Plan to Get the Balance Right

A mixture of practical process steps and changes in attitude can help improve your motivation at work. In this series of articles we hope to provide plenty of ideas for you to think through and apply.

Getting your balance right at work is the key to motivation in the workplace. Freeing up time to re-energise and re-focus is the key to maintaining this balance. If you are unsure about whether you’re doing the right things in your job, or even if you’re in the right job, then hopefully this series will help.

Now you’re read through an introduction to each category, why not look again at the Optimum Performance Graph.

  • Where would you position yourself?
  • Are any of the areas particular priorities for you?
  • What do you need to do to address any issues you’ve identified?


For more on the Optimum Performance Series, just follow these links:

  1. Ease of work
  2. View of workload
  3. Amount of discretionary time
  4. Energy to tackle work
  5. Ability to be creative
  6. Getting the right things done
More resources to help your work motivation

If you’re looking for more resources on motivation at work, we’ve bundled together these six PDF e-guides to help you put motivation at the heart of performance. At half the normal price! Read the guides in this order and use the tools in each. These guides are great value, packed with practical advice, tips and tools on how to motivate yourself (and others) to perform. (6 pdf guides, 176 pages, 26 tools, 15 tips and 22 insights for half price!)

Motivating Performance
Manage Your Own Performance
15 Performance Management Tips
SMART Goals, SHARP Goals
Workstyle, Lifestyle
Leading Insights

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