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Stages of Motivation Across a Project or Activity


Explanations > Motivation > Stages of Motivation Across a Project or Activity

At the start | In the middle | At the end | So what?


Whatever we do, we need to be motivated, though motivation varies depending on the stage of activity and what we are doing. In particular, when we are working on a project that has a start, middle and end, our motivations change. Understanding these can help managers (and others) ensure that motivations they use can be designed to suit the work stage.

At the start

A big problem in starting something can be procrastination. When we need to do something but do not really want to do it, we find excuses to put it off. No time at the moment. Other things more important. Not ready. And so on.

An opposite problem is lack of planning. We jump into a project assuming enthusiasm is all we need, only to find things are more complex than we thought. Surprisingly often, we start without even knowing what we are really trying to achieve.

To start well, first know your purpose, what 'success' looks like. Plan the first stage at least in detail and future stages at least in outline. Ensure you have the resources and support you need. Let people know your are starting so you can't back out.

Then take the first step. Then the next. And so on. Enjoy the novelty of the new. Be enthusiastic, so others are likewise enthused and set up a spiral of positive energy.

Early in project work, teams may struggle to work effectively with one another (as per Form, Storm, Norm, Perform) and deliberate team-building work can help to bind the team together.

An important activity in getting going is in creating momentum. This can be helped by developing habits that make less exciting work more automatic.

In the middle

The start of a new project can be exciting but, as the days go by, novelty wanes and boredom can easily appear.

It is also easy to get mired in complexity as unexpected things crop up, there are additional demands on your time and other people are not as cooperative as they might once have been.

The result can be a sagging of motivation to the point where you (and others) are seriously considering giving up, cancelling the project and going somewhere you might be able to get something done.

Mid-job motivation often needs drawing on deep, inner reserves. When you once bounced out of bed, now you must drag yourself to work.

Sometimes a break can help, as can deliberate reinvigoration exercises. When life becomes difficult or a drudge, you need seriously to consider your mental health. Tiredness and stress can seriously impact both cognitive performance and motivation.

At the end

When the end is in sight, motivation can receive a boost as you dash for the line. There can also be issues in the final mile.

A problem with a final dash is that outstanding problems may be ignored or covered up. This is especially true when you are racing to meet a deadline and the penalties for not meeting this are greater than for poor quality.

Another problem can happen when you are having a good time and you don't want the work to end (Robert Louis Stephenson reportedly said that it is 'Better to travel hopefully than to arrive'). Likewise when there is nothing to do after completion (or at least nothing as nice), then there is motivation to delay, to slow down and sustain the happier times for as long as possible.;

In a similar way to starting, making clear commitments helps, including specific description of what 'finished' means. In projects, 'finished' meet mean work handed over to other people with demonstrable proof that all promises have been fulfilled.

A helpful motivation at the end is to have some kind of celebration or ceremony, even if it is quite informal, to ritualize completion and emotional closure, helping people let go and move on.

So what?

Design motivations for yourself and others based on the stage of the project. Review the notes above, consider your situation and think about what will work for you in your particular circumstance. Then try the motivation. If it doesn't work, either improve what you are doing or try something else.

See also

Groups, Habit, Form, Storm, Norm, Perform


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