8 Ways To Stay Motivated At Work: Software Engineers

Stay Motivated at work

Knowing how to stay motivated at work is key to achieving your goals. So many of us are excited and motivated when we first get a job, but then lose that motivation and then never get it back. We then get stuck at the same job doing the same thing over and over again. Not progressing and not improving.

What is Motivation

Motivation is the desire or willingness of someone to do something. The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. Motivation is something that comes and goes. Both positive and negative stimuli can be motivating factors. A desire or an aversion to doing something or having something done. Positive can be getting excited about something fun or interesting. Negative can be keeping yourself from getting fired or in trouble. Knowing that it is something that will come and go will help you to know if you are not currently motivated, you can get it back.

How to Stay Motivated

The goal of this post is to help you get back periods of motivation and stay motivated for as long as possible. This will allow you to progress, move forward, and not get stuck in the same place. Also, see my other post on Motivation for tips on how to get motivated to start and complete individual projects and achieve your goals.

Homer Unmotivated

It’s important to note that after some time we tend to fall back on negative or aversion motivation factors. These are things like doing the minimum amount of work to not get fired or showing up to work the minimum number of days to not get in trouble with your boss. What I really want to talk about are positive or desire motivating factors. These are things that drive us to progress and excel. Below I discuss some ways to get back your positive motivation to go above the bare minimum.

Here are 8 way you can regain or stay motivated at work

  • Find out how your work really makes a difference and why it matters
  • Experiment and learn something new
  • Find out what you need to do or learn to get a promotion
  • Volunteer for interesting projects
  • Challenge yourself
  • Find ways to connect with coworkers
  • Attend interesting conferences
  • Take Mental Breaks to help Stay Motivated

Your Work Makes a Difference

After working on a team or in a certain position for a while, we start to lose sight of the bigger picture. We start asking ourselves, what is it that we are actually doing here? What difference does my work make?

Sometimes for me, I start questioning why I’m writing so many unit tests or why I’m putting in extra hours to get a project into production by a certain deadline. Why does it matter other than to make the company more money and to stress me out more?

This is when it is really helpful to have discussions, either one on one with your boss or to suggest having team/department meetings to go over big picture updates to show the reason for our work. When you can see the real impact your work has, you have a better chance to stay motivated.

I used to work for a medical device company working on their data analytics and reporting software. We were constantly adding to Key Performance Indicators to the reports and busting our butts to get things done by deadlines. We even worked over a few holidays to get some of the features and reports out. After a while, it felt like nobody cared about these reports and we were doing this for nothing, other than for the company to use as an up-sell to make more money.

After a few very tough deadlines, my boss could tell morale was a bit low so he set up a walkthrough for us at one of the local hospitals that used our devices. We shadowed a couple of the nurses as they made rounds and showed us how they were using the devices on the floor. What really struck us was how they actually did use the data coming out of our reports to tune the devices and to update some of their practices. They showed us right there on the hospital floor how this information we were provided them has actually saved lives. That was very powerful to see and hear in person. Needless to say, I didn’t take my job for granted after that.

You may not have that profound of a realization about the impact of your work. You may also not be saving lives directly. But your work does impact people’s lives. Even if it is coworkers in other departments that rely on your application to do their work. When your application works well, it makes their lives easier. Getting a look at or a reminder of the impact that your work has on others can be a great motivator to do better and improve yourself and your work.

Time For Experimentation

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.

Peter F. Drucker

When something is new and exciting, you tend to find more motivation to work on it. When we start a new job and start working on a new project or working with a new technology it gives us that excitement we need to push forward and learn. After a while, the excitement wears off and it becomes the norm.

When this happens I highly recommend carving out time (perhaps 20% time) to learn and experiment with something new. A new project, a new language, a new technology, etc. This can bring back a bit of that excitement.

Bart Shock Experiment

Being given time to experiment with different languages and technologies, it can lead to innovations. Recently, my product manager and I decided to experiment using Confluence for our team. I built a cluster in our data center and got everything installed and set up. As people from other teams found out about it, they wanted to start using it as well. It was eventually adopted by the entire company and the primary source of documentation.  

I also recently rebuilt one of our Java/Spring Boot microservices using Kotlin. This was just for me to experiment with and learn Kotlin. I doubt it will go any farther than my local machine since nobody else on my team knows Kotlin, but it was a fun experiment. Who knows, maybe in the future we will decide to start writing more services in Kotlin instead of Java.

What Do You Need For a Promotion?

The possibility of receiving a promotion is always a good motivator. The problem is many times we either just wait around and hope we will get promoted or we don’t know what we need to do to get a promotion.

Set up a periodic one on one meeting with your boss. Use these meetings to get feedback from them on how they think you are doing right now and what you can improve on. Also, let me know, and keep letting them know you are very interested in moving up to a new position. Ask them what you can improve upon and what more you would need to do to be eligible for the next level in their opinion.

Most managers will love that you are asking these questions and showing that you want to improve and grow. They don’t want their team members to just to the bare minimum and not improve. Most are very happy to help you determine what needs to be done to move up. This will also keep you in the front of their minds when they need to decide who can and who can’t be promoted based on budget. Meeting with them to get their input, doing what they say you need to do, and keeping them updated with help to move you to the front of the line.

Volunteer for interesting projects

A lot of times at work we just take the projects that are handed to us or take the ones we think will be easiest. I don’t have to tell you, this can get pretty boring after a while. Instead, try volunteering for more interesting projects. Maybe something you haven’t worked on before or haven’t worked on in a while.

Look ahead in your team’s backlog and start picking things out that will be a little more fun for you to work on. When it comes time to pick up tasks or for your boss to give you a new task, volunteer for one that you thought would be a bit more exciting (or less boring). Be proactive about knowing what is coming up and talking to your boss about your interests (I know, talking to your boss is a common theme so far).

Challenge yourself to be motivated

You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.

Albert Einstein

This one relates to the two above a bit but I wanted to add a little more around challenges. Make sure you are challenging yourself to do better and grow. Whether this is for a promotion at your current company or it is to make yourself more marketable to other companies. Challenging yourself will force you out of your comfort zone and cause change. This can be scary sometimes but it is well worth it.

When you face a challenge and you succeed, you come away with more confidence. Having more confidence and more knowledge will open even more doors for you to grow.  

Find ways to connect with coworkers

Connecting with your coworkers and forming relationships with them can help make your work life more tolerable and even fun sometimes. Forming these relationships makes it easier to relate to and work with your coworkers. As your relationships grow you may even have things you look forward to.

Some examples of this could be taking group walks with your team or forming a running group outside of work. One thing a couple of my coworkers and I have done is brew craft coffee together in the morning. We each have a french press or pour over set we use and we each bring different types of coffee that we can share and try. This gives us something to do while we chat, something to connect over, and something to look forward to each day.

Attend interesting conferences

I always find myself excited to try out new language features or technologies that I just heard about or learned about at a conference. Seeing presentations on the latest and greatest stuff that we are interested in really kicks the motivation into gear.

Along with the presentations at the conferences, there are also a lot of like-minded people there to talk to and form friendships or professional relationships with.

Take Mental Breaks to help Stay Motivated

We should all have some kind of reminder to take breaks. If you have vacation days saved, use them. Burnout is real and can really kill motivation. Taking a vacation, staycation, or just a single day off to rest and recover can go a long way to regaining your motivation.

You can also take shorter breaks throughout the day. Get up from your desk and go for a walk. Take a little time during the day to go to the gym or out for a run. Whatever gets you away from your desk and the grind for a little bit to recover during the day.

It doesn’t have to be exercises based (although exercise is good). You can read, take a nap, listen to audiobooks or podcasts, etc. All of these things will help you mentally rest and recover from the work you do most of the day. 

Conclusion

Reading through all of these tips is helpful but the best thing you can do is to take action. Knowledge without action doesn’t mean very much. What you do with the knowledge is what really matters.

Motivation will come and go no matter what you do. Learn to recognize the times you have little to no motivation to do what you know you need to. When you recognize this is happening, you can take action. You can review this list and pick out the things you think will have the most impact right now. Good luck and stay motivated my friends. 

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