Mastering Motivation in 2021: Three Hacks for Rekindling Your Fire After Burnout
Who isn’t burned out after all that 2020 had to offer? I don’t know a single person who hasn’t felt mentally, emotionally and physically drained, and perhaps team leaders especially, as they embarked on 2021. There are countless articles reminding us of how burned out we all are, and even more trying to help us get through it. Some have had it harder than others for sure, but no matter where you sit on the pandemic fatigue spectrum, you are probably just as tired as I am of half-baked self-help tips that don’t feel like tangible steps. In this post I’m going to share the few things I have personally found useful when trying to get through each workday.
1. HACK YOUR LISTS
“Always listen for what you can leave out.” – Miles Davis
Before the pandemic hit (like, literally the week before we closed our library) I was confidently presenting my overly-complicated digital to-do lists in Trello and KanbanFlow with my colleague and fellow working mama Geraldine Kalim. Fast forward to April 2020 and I had very quickly given up on tracking my work-from-home daily tasks in Trello and adopted a simpler bullet list of items and meetings in a shared Google Doc with my supervisor. For the majority of 2020 this method worked pretty well. I felt like the actual tracking of my work was costing less time, and using Google Doc headings to quickly make a table of contents I could easily jump backward and forward to a specific week or day if I needed to see what I had done or where I left something off. But by the time I hit Fall of 2020, even this process of bullet points in a plain document was feeling burdensome (I mean, really, who could have anticipated that doc would end up being 77 pages long?!). Work was coming in so fast, and deadlines came and went. Before I knew it, it was the first week of October and I was in a very dark place. I looked at the document and realized I was two weeks behind. 2020 called “check mate!” and I gave up. I took a single Friday off, and when I woke up for work the following Monday I felt frazzled, completely disorganized, and like I would never get caught up. I was exhausted. I abandoned the list making in that doc for the rest of 2020. The first day I physically returned to my office in 2021, I resolved to clean up my Trello board. I sorely needed many aspects of the structure this tool had provided me:
(a) the ability to make and complete a checklist,
(b) visual reminders of due dates, and
(c) dragging and dropping cards into order based on priority.
What I did NOT need was a card on my Trello board for every single task. So, I kept the few cards that doubled as documentation (some highly detailed repeating tasks), and the cards for very large projects I was still tracking (like the OER LibGuide example above), but I removed any and all small cards that remained. Instead of tons of tiny cards, I consolidated them into “daily” and “weekly” cards. Now my board is far less stress inducing when I look at it beginning and end of the work day, and maintaining it feels good again! Best of all, I have gotten back that sense of progress that I have always loved about tools like Trello. I can visualize at the end of the week how much I have done. This in and of itself serves as a small motivator for me. Maybe you are not like me at all, and you do not need to make lists of any kind to get things done or to feel accomplished each day or week. The point of I want to make is that whatever you do, if it isn’t working or it feels like it is working against you instead of for you, don’t be afraid to take it apart, try something different, and only keep the method that truly helps and feels rewarding.
2. GAMIFY YOUR FOCUS
“Every drop in the ocean counts.” – Yoko Ono
There is nothing I used to love more than fully focusing on a very large project, and methodically working my way through it start to finish. Even in the before times, this was no easy feat and most major projects stretched out over the course of a couple months at least. Still, I took comfort in this type of work so long as I could every so often find my groove and stick with it for certain periods of time. I used to use Pomodoro for this, and if you like physical objects and the idea of working full-focus for short-ish periods of time I highly recommend checking out the PEGA-SIS blog post on this topic. Well surprise, surprise – 25 to 30 minute increments late 2020 and even more so in 2021 are just not cutting it. The amount of time was simply not enough to make a dent in the projects I kept trying to pick back up. Part of this is purely pandemic related. Many of my tasks that kept piling up in 2020 were things I could only do in the building, and with access every other day at best in the Fall of 2020, there was no way I was ever going to catch up again. Then, like magic in 2020 a new colleague Savanna Nolan joined our law library. She shared with me an app I had not yet tried: Forest! At this point in the pandemic I was SO over apps, but trust me on this one, it actually motivated me by gamifying my full-focus parts of the day. You can read more about this app in our library’s short Libguide review, or a longer one at mashable. Long story short, you plant a tree (literally if you spend enough time using it) and eventually you grow an entire virtual forest. The app expands on the Pomodoro method, and motivates me beyond finding fulfillment in finishing a project (cause really, this just doesn’t feel like it used to) by rewarding me with a sims-style 3D-ish grid of trees. It also simultaneously keeps you off your device!! So distractions are less likely than with traditional tomato timers, browser-based extension timers, or the Pomodoro app. BONUS POINTS ALERT: You can use this to fully focus on real life, away from your screen or work – rather than only using it for being productive “in the office”, you can also turn on the app when you just want to be fully present with your family or friends. What happens if you try to give up? It does an excellent job of quietly shaming you by asking if you really want to kill a cute little tree.
3. RISK YOUR INSPIRATION
“All answers answer all questions.” – John Cage
By risk, I mean take a chance. Literally. Use a game or other method of chance to work your way through mental or creative road blocks. This has helped me tremendously throughout 2020 and it is still working for me in 2021. When I find myself faced with a decision, having to troubleshoot a problem be it communication-based or technology-based, or when I’m just lacking the will to do anything at all, I draw a card or roll the dice. This helps in a few different ways:
(a) it takes the weight of decision making off my shoulders and gives it over to chance,
(b) it usually offers me a totally different perspective that I couldn’t see on my own,
(c) it takes just enough time, like 5 minutes or less, to get me to step away from a screen which gives my eyes and brain enough of a jolt to refresh me no matter what the outcome.
If you are like me and you have trouble stepping away from any type of problem before it is solved, this tactic can help you get up, walk away, and come back with a clearer head. Each and every day I find it hard to decide what I should work on first, and second, and so on. Everything is a priority and should have been done last week, or last year. With competing priorities and an increasing sense of urgency, I find comfort some days in relieving myself of this decision by assigning a number to my top 3 or top 5 things I’d like to get done, and rolling the dice to arrange the order. Some days I’m lacking motivation on a larger scale. Like, really, how is it ONLY Tuesday…?! For days like that I turn to various cards. Sometimes they are oracle cards, other times I select tarot decks, and this week I’ve been spending time with the I Ching. A good friend recommended to me a practice that brought me comfort throughout the past year – to draw a card a day for setting the mood. In reading about the meaning of whatever card I’ve drawn, or in the case of the I Ching whatever hexagram I’ve thrown, has helped me a ton. I’ve been surprised by how one line or two from this morning reading has helped me randomly during a workday.
For times of very specific mental blocks or difficult problem solving, my favorite deck has been Oblique Strategies. Created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in the 70’s and inspired by John Cage, these cards are intended as a means for artists to work through creative blocks. I have used these cards to think more critically about the proper composition of emails going from one department or another, and even to troubleshoot workflow or web interface problems with our library catalog. There is an online version of the deck you can use to generate random strategies if you too find yourself in a fix.
Here is a list of some of my personal favorite decks. There are literally millions of styles and types available online, and the investment is typically less than $20, so roll the dice:
Affirmators!There are several variations to this deck of 50 cards, and even if the style and tone aren’t your cup of tea, I’ll bet you know someone who fits the bill. These make a great gift, and there are decks specifically designed for family, work, creativity, and more. Approx. $14. Examples include: (a) Action – I liberate myself from the endless treadmill of procrastination, (b) Enthusiasm – When I have to make a spreadsheet… I dig deep and find a way to be enthusiastic about it, (c) Power – I am strong, I am grounded, I am powerful… like a cross between a dinosaur and a tank! Preview as a GIF.
Wisdom of Nature This large set of 20 cards includes a lengthy, reflective and thought provoking essay on the reverse. Each illustration is an image from nature including landscapes, small plants, fruits and nuts, and of course creatures. Approx. $20. Examples include: (a) Bamboo Forest – a symbol of resilience, (b) Okapi / Zebra Giraffe – a symbol of modesty, (c) Granite Rocks – a symbol of perspective, and (d) Pineapple – a symbol of appreciation.
Literary WitchesThis 70 card oracle deck is structured similarly to the tarot, and comes with a booklet of summaries including facts about each of the 30 female authors that serve as the card’s “major” series. The rest of the deck’s “minor” cards are symbolic or spiritual guides. The card descriptions provide ageless wisdom from strong, creative women, and it has also turned me onto several authors that were previously unknown to me. Approx. $18. Examples include: (a) Octavia E. Butler – the future, (b) Emily Dickenson – the soul, (c) Audre Lorde – justice, (d) Anais Nin – the subconscious, and (e) Anna Akhamtova – endurance.