Getting Your “Work Mojo” Back

(This is being reprinted from one of my October 2008 posts due to overwhelming and unexpected positive response!)

Productivity is totally dependent upon whether or not you actually want to be doing something. Psychologists and management scholars call this intrinsic motivation, but when it pertains to the workplace, I call it my “work mojo”. For the past couple months, I’ve been trying to figure out “how to get my work mojo back”. In the meantime, I haven’t actually stopped to think of what I mean by that.

Here’s what Merriam Webster has to say about “mojo”:

Main Entry:
Inflected Form(s):
plural mojoes or mojos
probably of African origin; akin to Fulani moco'o medicine man
: a magic spell, hex, or charm ; broadly : magical power <works his mojo on the tennis court>

What I WANT is to feel invigorated by what I’m doing, feel completely capable dealing with all of the stuff on my to do list, and to feel like it means something to others – that’s what I think would get my work mojo back. So the Merriam-Webster definition fits pretty well – How can I get my magical power back at work? Ron said he feels the same way about his productivity on personal projects, and would really like to get his “personal project mojo” back as well. We brainstormed about it over lunch and identified four elements for the Mojo Maintenance Toolkit which can shape your own personal quality system:

  1. boundaries (in both space and time)
  2. vacation (in both space and time)
  3. objective affirmation
  4. subjective affirmation

First, let’s talk about boundaries. It’s called a “day job” for a reason – if you are chipping away at your office to-do list during evenings, weekends, and when you wake up in the middle of the night, you are not setting good boundaries for yourself. If you’re multitasking when you’re on a family outing, or checking your email on your Blackberry while you’re stopped at a traffic light, you are not setting good boundaries. I’m particularly guilty on this count, and have taken some concrete steps to set better boundaries: a) my work email does not forward to my Blackberry, only my personal email (so if a few key people really need me, they can get to me) and b) I don’t do “work work” on my home computer any more. If I leave my work computer at work, that’s it – I can see it again the next day, and the work will have to wait. (There’s quite a bit of separation anxiety that comes when you try to do this. Don’t be too hard on yourself.)

Vacation is the second ingredient required to keep your mojo alive. To appreciate something, you need to be away from it. Totally, completely, mentally and physically away. I appreciate my job much more after I’ve been away from it for a while. I appreciate my coworkers much more when I haven’t seen them in a while. I appreciate the weekends the most after a long, productive week. I appreciate my kid more when I’ve picked him up after a long day at school (and I have the sense he appreciates me more as a result too). Reflection is a natural part of growth and learning, and you need to give yourself time to gain perspective – to let all of your thoughts and ideas percolate into well-rounded solutions.

Objective affirmation is the next ingredient. You need to measure your progress, and be able to reflect on it, to get a sense of accomplishment. There have been times when I’ve sat in my office, (figuratively) crying into my coffee, beating myself up because I feel like I didn’t get enough done. But when I take a look at the status reports from myself and my team over the past few weeks, or progress reports that cover a longer amount of time, it’s pretty clear that we get a lot of stuff done – it’s just not obvious unless we can see our world today is different than our world was a few weeks, months of years ago.

Subjective affirmation is the final (and most insidious) of the keys to cultivating your mojo. In addition to being able to see and feel that you’re moving forward and getting things done, if you don’t have the feeling that the people around you appreciate your contributions, your level of inspiration is bound to wane. (Occasionally, the rewards from doing the task itself might be enough to negate the need for subjective affirmation – but this is not commonplace.) Do people really care about what you’re doing? Do they value the contributions you make? Or do they think you’re an idiot who can’t get anything right? Do they just not like the job you were hired to do (ie. it makes their job harder)? A solid, healthy team will provide a lot of subjective affirmation; a fractious organization will not. Additionally, the subjective affirmation really has to come from people who have no vested interest in your success or failure. Subjective affirmation from my most trusted colleagues and my boss is nice, but I know they’re on my side (I’m lucky to have a fantastic boss). But what about everybody else?

The concept of subjective affirmation extends beyond the workplace as well, though. Ever feel like doing the laundry is a thankless job? It might be, because you get no subjective affirmation as a result of doing it. You can objectively measure your progress every time you put the folded shirts in the drawer, but if no one seems to care, it’s unlikely that the thrill of the job itself will continue to motivate you.

Morale is a consequence of all four of these “mojo factors” aligning among the individuals in a team or organization. To get your own morale up, see if you can find ways to achieve each of the four.


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