Clear, Organized and Motivated

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Have You Accidentally Sabotaged Your Motivation to Work?

Junk food can spoil our appetites for more wholesome foods. Can psychological junk food spoil our appetites for work? Read More

You're not a killjoy

You're not a killjoy. You've hit it out of the ballpark. A large part of western culture has found the hedonic treadmill (which is particularly fast and gratifying in the age of overly personalized everything)and doesn't want to get off ... and now anything outside of that is a potential chore. The workaround is gratitude ... if we like our hedonic treadmill, we'd best have a way to keep paying the proverbial electric bill and upkeep on it ...


Thank you for good words!

Gratitude is extremely important. And I agree with everything you say here.

I am a person in my early 60s

I am a person in my early 60s who's always worked very hard. I have several graduate degrees, was a university administrator at a very young age. My husband, who had been a RC priest when we met became an antitrust attorney in a major law firm We adopted children in our 40s, who are now 19 and 21. We lost all of our savings in the "economic downturn" ... house is about underwater and we are getting divorced. I shall be working until at least my mid 70s. Fortunately I have a small educational consultancy which I can grow. I am extremely good at what I do. But here is the problem, which I think you diagnosed accurately and which I am stunned about and not. I am a participant in my own demise.

About 25 years ago I became a recovering alcoholic... I still am one. Problem: I like junk food and do everything I can to avoid it because I'm vain and want to live well until at least age 85. But, I discovered Facebook at about the same time that it all hit the fan here.. and I am, no doubt, mesmerized. It is easy to meet people which in tandem with AA meetings seems to be all I'm doing to satisfy my need for community. I can debate in political groups, thus engaging my intellect. And autonomy galore.. .my kids are in college. I'm supposed to be cleaning the stuff out in this house to get it on the market. I've rationalized that I had so many issues with the girls that held me back, etc. My younger daughter has been away at college since September and save the vacations throughout the year, I have had freedom to do as I please. And what do I do? I'm on Facebook 7 hours a day, and spend another 7 doing errands, making sure bills are paid, cleaning the house, etc.. but slowly...very slowly and checking the computer ever 15 minutes.. This last makes it very difficult to do any sustained research, never mind any speech writing that I need to be doing.. contract review.. etc. So I am one of those who fits right into your theory...

Finally, you are correct and I know this from the 59 years I lived before I got caught in this addiction is all I can call it for myself.. The only way out is to stop or time myself. I think given my history.. cold turkey is the only way, at least for the work week... Of course it is all my choice but I don't think I want to be homeless..

Thanks.. it's a great article.

I sympathize with your

I sympathize with your plight. Social media can be extremely addicting.

I can't prioritize your activities for you. But it sounds to me like you're on the right track. I have had success in the past making sure I get work done for 3 hours in the morning before I even allow myself to look at email or social media.

So you can try that. But it looks looks like you'll want to cut back on the number of hours as well.

However, . . . if Facebook is your primary way of connecting with other human beings, then it's a bit much to expect you to pull back from it completely. You need social connection.

It's kind of like dieting. You can't go cold turkey on food. So we have to try to shape our consumption rather than eliminate it.

You Make a Good Point

I think this has some truth to it. My job is very boring, so much so that in order to make my life outside of it comparatively dull, I would have to just sit and stare at the wall.

Since I'm not willing to turn my entire existence into the most boring experience imaginable just so I don't hate my job quite so much, I guess I'm just going to have to settle for this as a valid explanation for why I struggle to stay motivated and engaged in my work day in and day out. However, I think there's a more salient piece to this puzzle...

I do play video games as my main hobby, and it's true that for me playing video games is way more entertaining than writing some code to produce a report or updating documentation. However, I think if I were forced to play video games 5 days a week for 8 hours a day, within a few weeks I would be sick of playing video games so much that I probably wouldn't mind writing and testing a program for a change.

And, if I were to play video games for 40 hours a week, 47 weeks a year, for over 12 years straight (which is how long I've been doing the same relative type of white collar job), I'm pretty sure I would be ready to quit playing video games and do something different for a while - a long while.

So, I think my general overall job dissatisfaction has more to do with how much time I'm required to put into it and how little time I'm allowed to be away from it, rather than how much less "fun" it is compared to my leisure activities.

It might be that you don't

It might be that you don't have enough autonomy at work to take things in directions that you will find more rewarding. It might also be that you don't see yourself climbing toward a higher goal in your career right now. And it might be that you're having trouble seeing how your own specific work contributes to your own vision of a better world.

And perhaps you've done well enough in your career by your own standards, and you don't care to push it any more. In that case enjoy the games.

Now, to make matters worse (when are matters ever made better?)...

...the other day my very arrogant, egotistical boss's boss informs me via a phone call that after I've been allowed to work remotely from home 3 days a week for the last 6 years, as of 9/15 I am allowed to work remotely from home 0 days a week.

I have received no performance review rating below "strong" in nearly 13 years.

Working remotely from home, and avoiding an hour round-trip daily commute along with the conveniences, time and cost savings inherent in not being required to leave the house and face the world every single weekday, was all I had left to motivate me in this toxic, unsupportive, high stress environment.

I had received ample warning a change of this nature was coming, and I was prepared to reluctantly compromise not 2 remote work days a week, but just 1 day. NOPE. ZERO.

I have been struggling as it is lately to remain close to my peak performance level. It's been an especially difficult on-going transition as we were bought out by another corporation a couple of years ago, and as the dust has settled from the massive collision of such polar opposite company cultures, it's become more and more apparent that by default our group shall be considered "the red-headed stepchildren" and treated as such under highly unsubstantiated reasoning I do not understand and have been losing the ability to tolerate.

The emotional control I maintained for the duration of that phone call was typical for me, yet still a bit surprising considering I went into the call prepared to challenge any further negative feedback of an unconstructive, condescending nature like I had received from this director in the past.

The familiar and discouraging "you aren't good enough" undertone was there, but not intensely enough to trigger a rebuttal from me, so I just absorbed what tiny fraction of feedback of a constructive nature I could from it while ambiguously agreeing with the rest of the nonsense. The uncompromising new "rule" was wisely communicated at the very end of the 30 min call when I was ready to willingly agree to anything just to end the conversation.

Besides, ultimately, what can I really do to prevent the final shred of flexibility, work/life balance and source of job satisfaction I have left from being taken from me if that is obstinately determined to be the best way to maximize my individual performance level within this role?

Since being part of this company feels more and more like being part of a cult with each passing day, and as I'm beginning to wonder when the employees, under the command of leadership, are going to start willfully lining up one day to drink the Kool-Aid, I guess it's just time to formulate a strategic, comprehensive escape plan and execute it before I end up killing myself.

Gamification resources

I own a couple of small companies and would love some suggested resources on how to create constructive "workplace gamification" for myself and our employees. I have experience with SCRUM, but have a hard time imagining it outside of the context of software development.


I am just starting to dig

I am just starting to dig into the gamification literature. I've seen a few lectures, and I'm starting to read (listen actually) to Penenberg's book on the topic. Though I'm just a chapter in right now, it seems to be the kind of book that could give you all kinds of ideas:

And I think from a bigger picture perspective Jesse Schell's book, The Art of Game Design, though specifically about video games, can be applied to the purpose of engineering almost any human experience.

I'm very interested in this topic and will be increasing my grasp of the specific techniques very rapidly now. I might write more on that specific topic at a later date.

Some form of modified SCRUM technique can be used in pretty much any project-based work. A big key is to find ways to modularize your work into 1-2 week chunks, each of which is an opportunity for feedback from your market or other stakeholders. This can take some creative re-factoring of your larger projects, but I've benefitted personally from this approach time and again. It keeps my head in the game.

It's not fun to be 3 months into a large project with three months go before it hits market, only to find yourself plagued with doubts about whether the project will succeed. SCRUM will eliminate that problem.

It's been a while since I've written it, but I did a series on "SCRUM for One" here:

Did Jim Stone really write this?

I don't believe the guy behind Fractal Planner actually wrote this. Although the final end point was right about stop engaging in excess pleasure activities, the article never flowed.

It seemed like the writer was unclear about what he was writing about in the first place.

It seemed stupid. If Jim Stone did write this, I'd say that Jim - you have done better.

Oh dear.

Oh dear. I've disappointed Harry.

I'm actually quite pleased with this current piece. I think it's an important idea. I spent time paying attention to flow. And I think the structure of the argument is pretty clear.

That's not to say I don't take your feedback seriously. If you have any specific suggestions, feel free to email me. As with anything like this I can revisit it in a month and see ways to smooth it out even more, but I guess I'm not seeing what you're seeing at this point in time.

For now I'll take it as a compliment that you like some of my other writings. And perhaps my next piece will be more to your liking.

gaming saved my kids attitude to life

Hi, I think your theory applies well to my personal situation: I keep myself busy with books, tv and sudoku so I don't feel the pain of failure to get a job where I can be autonomous, feel like the go-to-girl, feel like doing my part of a bigger thing.

But for my kids it's different. They spent their first 8 schoolyears not getting autonomy, not getting to do work they were interested in, and not fitting in with the other children. (They are gifted.) They were losing interest in performing, being part of society, they lost confidence in themselves. Then, finally they were old enough to start playing the big games. Suddenly there it was, the community they could connect to, the people that didn't turn away when they spoke fast and in depth about something, and most of all, they were learning about practice, motivation and perseverance.

The next school they went to was picked with care:
For at least 50% of the work they are expected to have ownership, work in projects and be part of a team. Needless to say they are thriving. But they would never have stepped uo to the plate if it wasn't for the skills and motivation that came (back) from playing online.

I think that's great.We all

I think that's great.

We all need to feel autonomy, competence and connection. If we aren't getting it at school or at work, then, of course, by all means, get it from a good leisure activity (like video games).

The primary point of the article is to say that, if you're interested in advancing your career, and you're finding your work dull, it might be worthwhile to consider whether you're spoiling your appetite for work by filling your life with more compelling activities.

And, in that case, if your career advancement is a priority, you might do well to cut back on the games.

Games are amazing human creations -- especially the cutting edge video games today. They can meet some of our deepest needs very, very well. And they definitely have their place.

I'm very glad they have helped your children to thrive.

Yes, you're a killjoy... But!

I happen to treasure long-lasting satisfaction over short-term joy. So if cutting back on short-term joy is what I need to do to get back my long-lasting satisfaction, then I'll be forever grateful to you for pointing this out :)

Thanks for this!

I have deleted my Facebook account because I was checking my phone every 15-20 minutes - at least. I wasn't even happy doing it, but I felt compelled and I was ignoring my family.

Csikszentmihalyi wrote about Flow and how we are deeply content when finding flow in our lives, however, it requires effort at first. I think it truly applies here.

It's generally good to reduce

It's generally good to reduce the amount of time spent on unhappy compulsions! Best wishes with your new plan.


What do you suggest I do if I have already put your suggestions in place for myself, but the supervisors are the "killjoy" in the situation? In my case, I do not perseverate on useless activities or leisure time, and know enough about my skills and abilities in the workplace and can find satisfaction in utilizing them; however, my job generally does not allow for teamwork or much autonomy. For example, one of my supervisors regularly micromanages, nitpicks, and hovers over me. For example, her decisions on matters she may or may not have background in often must take precedence over others, even when they are professionals in their fields or have a Masters degree and experience, such me. Recently, she left her desk and interrupted a meeting I was having with the other supervisor five times in a half-hour to interject her thoughts on how our project should be run. Funny, we had already thought of those things and had been discussing them prior to her constant entrance.

I suspect the other supervisor in the situation has his identity so strongly tied into his job that he has to feel like he is fully in charge, even if parts of the project are being handed off to others, such as me. Turns out, both of them held a "secret" meeting on this project with another involved party without telling me until a day later as the project was being executed. Based on the needs of the project, that meeting should have also involved me.

So maybe the answer to making work more compelling for a motivated individual in a workplace like this is to find another workplace that fosters at least some autonomy and a team approach?

There are many reasons

There are many reasons to lose motivation for work. Spoiling our appetites is just one of them.

It sounds like you've got maybe 3 good options: 1) learn how to stay motivated in spite of the situation, 2) figure out how to change the situation, perhaps by having a heart-to-heart talk about this with your supervisor, or 3) try to find a different work situation.

Each of those has pros and cons, and you'll have to weigh them carefully.

Suggestions for other areas of life?

This was a very interesting and entertaining read. I had a jaw-drop moment when I was reading about your disc-golfing and was thinking "okay, but in this case you are connecting with other human beings and being rewarded with their positive comments as you improve, but my go-to leisure is Skyrim so is something wrong with me or...." and then the f***ing next thing you write is about Skyrim?!?!?

However, the reason I read this is because I'm having serious trouble motivating myself to exercise regularly, which I NEED to do because without it I am developing serious physical and mental health issues. But the bed (and Skyrim) are so much more enticing!

Do you have any tips on this sort of motivation?


That's hilarious

Skyrim seems to be sapping motivation to work all over the world, lol. It was probably created by terrorists trying to take down the world-wide economy :)

As for exercise. I would try to develop a habit with a small bit of exercise first (perhaps a walk around the block or a few pushups each day, if you are able), and I would make a specific plan for exactly when and where you are going to do it.

Use an "if, then" plan and memorize it, linking it to something you do every day anyway. Example: "If I have just brushed my teeth, then I will do a set of pushups." Or "If I have just used the restroom in the morning, then I will put on my walking shoes."

Implementation intentions like these have a proven track record with many studies demonstrating their efficacy.

Once you get a simple exercise habit established, you can expand it some so you can get the amount and kind of exercise you think you need in the long run.

Kids and self

Great article. For myself, deleting my PVR recordings and only playing games that restrict the amount of time I have has helped. Quitting my soul-sucking job and starting out on my own has also been huge. Where I have questions though is when it comes to my kids. They, although lovely, are not gifted ;) I worry about too many amazing distractions (TONS of toys, video games, amazing cartoons, quads and dirt bikes, etc.) taking away from enjoyment of school. Any remarks, comments, tips? Leisure time is important but there is so little free unsupervised play time opportunities these days...thanks

You're on to something

I think you're onto something there. It wouldn't hurt to reduce the number of distractions your kids are facing.

When they get to be maybe 12 years old or so, you can start talking with them about their own goals for their lives, and what it will take to reach those goals. At that point they will start to become aware of their own need to reduce distraction and need to stay on track.

When they're younger you'll have to lay down rules and set schedules for them. In the long run, though, I think it's much better to teach them "how to fish" at some point.

Thanks. Yeah, I think getting

Thanks. Yeah, I think getting them to understand "why" will be the most beneficial. But for now, more rules!

You might stop shopping and

You might stop shopping and start selling and donating. Let them keep all the money to buy new whatevers. Except for the best items, keep those. That is what one famous TV Famiky does. Frequent tag sales or donations to their church.

Hi! You're not a killjoy!

You actually make a lot of sense! Last year, I've officially given up junk food and meat and tried to go vegan so I now shy away from overly flavor-enhanced food... and activities. I also deactivated my facebook account last year for five months and I have never been happier, in a more calm way. Now that I was back in facebook and now that I read about this, I should deactivate it again...

Thank you for this.

Thank You

I'm glad this essay has resonated with you!

Work as play

I LOVE this. Recently on LinkedIn I posted my experiences associated with meeting a celebrity or getting a note from one, particularly two who died recently: Joan Rivers and Robin Williams. WRITNG then publishing on LinkedIn the same day was a much more satisfying experience than I could have imagined and I have been published before...for money.

People responded. We all need community, as you point out so clearly!

We all need to be science researchers or humor writers or whatever can we can do and contribute.

To me, we spend so little time on necessities, that activities like shopping...and online shopping...become e too much like adventures.

As you know, the self-storage industry grows in all the developed countries, good news for those business owners. Stay away from QVC. You will notice that the conversations there create a community.

Many people love the order of the military. It is structured so people can keep learning.

You don't need as much entertainment as you think you do.

I read that 10 years ago and I have found it helpful.

Buy less, live more, don't make consuming an occupation.

Talk a walk.

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Jim Stone, Ph.D. is a philosopher, avid student of Motivational Psychology, and developer of personal productivity software and workshops.  


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