17 motivation tips for changemakers wide17 motivation tips for changemakers tall

Does any of this sound familiar?

When working on a change initiative, there are times when:

  1. You’re too exhausted to get anything done.
  2. You’re so frustrated that you can’t focus, much less motivate yourself to work.
  3. You feel hopeless or sad about your ability to change a situation.
  4. You feel overwhelmed by everything there is to do.
  5. All of the above.


Does all of this make you rather crawl under your desk than write another email, attend a meeting, or create something?

Change initiatives are a marathon, not a sprint. There will be some days when you’re unstoppable and other days when you hit the wall and lose all motivation. Sometimes your motivation varies throughout the day.

Here are 17 motivation tips to help you get to the other side of the wall. They’re split up by actions you can take vs. mindset shifts. Some days just one will be effective and sometimes you might need a handful in order to push through.

You’ll also see recommendations for how each technique helps with four different feelings you could be having that would impact your motivation: fatigue, sadness/hopelessness, frustration, and overwhelm.


Actions to take

Put these on your calendar in advance or try them out when you feel your motivation dropping.


1. Go to a different location

Sometimes switching desks, moving into a conference room, or flying to a different country is what you need to spark motivation. The change can be energizing and a new environment can help you generate ideas.

Works for: fatigue


2. Adjust your BPM

When demotivation strikes, try listening to music but pay attention to the beats per minute (BPM). Listening to music with a higher BPM has been found to be effective when you need more energy while lower BPM can help you calm down if you are frustrated or overwhelmed. Try something in the range of 50-90 BPM.

Works for: fatigue, sadness, frustration, overwhelm


3. Talk to a friend

It’s completely normal to not always be motivated. You’re not weak, you’re human. If you’re struggling with something there are probably others who feel the same way. People don’t usually share their fears and doubts online or in the workplace so talk to friends or acquaintances with similar interests outside of work.

Works for: fatigue, sadness, overwhelm


4. Take a work break

Sometimes frustration takes over and there’s no way anything will get done without a break to reset. Trying to work in that state can cause a downward spiral of negative thoughts that is hard to get out of. Completely stop what you’re doing and re-visit it once you’ve calmed down.

Works for: frustration


5. Workout or go for a walk

Something about conquering a physical challenge makes mental and social challenges less intimidating. It can help you stay calmer during stressful situations and give you a boost of energy and endorphins. Even a less strenuous walk can help.

Works for: fatigue, frustration, sadness, overwhelm


6. Work on a different task or project

I use this technique often to move forward on projects regardless of my motivation level. It’s effective when you have some flexibility in your schedule and don’t have immediate deadlines. Take the list of items you need to complete and group them by the amount of motivation you need to complete the task well. Then work on the task that best fits your motivation level at the time.

For example, sometimes I’m in creator mode, which is the best time to work on activities like writing, design, or technical tasks. Other times I can’t motivate myself to do anything besides reading or watching videos and taking notes. If you balance it right then you can ride the creation wave until it crashes, then learn new skills and get a different perspective that will fuel the next creation wave.

Works for: fatigue


7. Switch formats

If you’ve been working on the computer for a while and can’t bring yourself to type another word, try paper. Sketch something out on a napkin or a whiteboard. Use sticky notes. Read an ebook instead of a physical book or vice versa. Make a spreadsheet. Or a presentation. Talk to someone or record yourself. A different tool or presentation format may help you view the content from a different angle and jumpstart your creativity and motivation.

Works for: fatigue, overwhelm


8. Break the work down

Sometimes you look up and realize how far away you are from the finish line and the distance is demotivating. So look at a smaller chunk of work. The more demotivated you are, the smaller the chunk needs to be. Overwhelmed by a big project? What do you need to do this week? What needs to happen today? What can you do in the next 5 minutes?

A technique runners use when they’re tired in the middle of a long run is to just run to the next telephone pole. Then run to the one after that. Sometimes completing a string of mini-goals is the best way to motivate yourself to finish.

Works for: fatigue, sadness, overwhelm


9. Celebrate more often

Throw a party, buy gifts, play happy music, use brightly colored markers to check off your to-do list, whatever it takes to pause and enjoy what you accomplished. Even if that accomplishment was writing a page or persuading one person. Celebrating the small milestones will help you to find joy in the process, which will make it easier to stay motivated in the present.

Works for: sadness, frustration


10. Review trends

Flipping a complex system can make you feel like you’re Sisyphus. If it was easy, everyone would do it. If you’re unmotivated because you’re not hitting the target you were hoping for, review trends over time. Have you gotten progressively closer? You might not have changed an entire enterprise culture yet, but have you gradually influenced more and more people over time? Were you tracking the right metric to fit your organization’s success criteria? Your personal success criteria?

Works for: sadness, frustration


11. Take advantage of (or make) productivity habit cues

For some reason, I associate drinking hot drinks with studying and working. Maybe because I started drinking coffee in college to stay awake in class. Whatever physical or mental cues help you to get into the zone, try using them when you feel your motivating slipping. Charles Duhigg talks about how to recognize cues and create new habits in his book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.”

Works for: fatigue, sadness, overwhelm


12. Take an internet break

The internet can be a great source of inspiration. But it can also be a demotivator. Whether you’re using it to procrastinate, you end up reading something frustrating, or falling into the comparison trap, it’s not a pretty spiral. Just turn it off and focus on your own life or something you can control. Your future self will thank you.

Works for: sadness, frustration, overwhelm


13. Watch a TV show to inspire you or put things into perspective

I have a handful of shows that I reserve for when I need motivation to work. They’re usually office comedies or other nerdy shows. Something about watching Leslie Knope’s energy in the face of bureaucracy makes me want to put together color-coded binders. Watching a show like Cosmos also helps for me. Reflecting on the evolution of the universe puts everything into perspective.

Works for: fatigue, sadness, frustration


Mindset Shifts

Try these mental exercises if you’re having trouble getting motivated.


14. Think about the game, not the drudgery

I love engineering because you get to build something and business because of the strategy. They’re the grown-up version of playing with legos and board games. Think about what you used to love doing as a kid and why. Then look at how it can be applied to your work. What are you making or exploring? What game is your team playing, how do you score and what are the rules?

Works for: fatigue, sadness, frustration

15. Check in with your purpose

Knowing your purpose can fuel you to keep pushing. But it can also cause you to lose motivation if you need to do something that goes against your purpose. In that case, either try reframing or changing the task, so it aligns with your purpose. Maybe it’s a stepping stone towards something bigger. There’s always work that needs to get done that we don’t want to do, but if you go through weeks without doing something that aligns with you purpose it may be a sign to move on.

Works for: sadness, frustration


16. Assign the task to a different “role” in your head

That might sound crazy but just hear me out. Regardless of your title or role in the org chart, you have a variety of perspectives just by being a person. If you feel no motivation completing a task, think about how you can shift your mindset. Maybe you’re trying to solve a problem and the designer side of you is overwhelmed. Then switch to a customer perspective. If the manager side of you is frustrated with the speed of progress, shift to a learner perspective and see if you can get anything positive out of the situation.

Works for: sadness, frustration, overwhelm


17. Think about who is or could be benefiting from your work

When internal motivation isn’t working, sometimes thinking about what would happen if you don’t act can help. Who needs your help? What would his or her life be like without your work? What alternatives do they have?

Works for: fatigue, sadness


Losing motivation is inevitable, but with a handful of strategies, it can be easier to work through it and come out the other side happier and more productive.

Do you have any favorite motivation tips to add?


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