I am a rule follower. To an annoying amount.
I took my daughter to a music festival recently. Using a ruler, I measured the one-pocket string bag I procured to make sure it did not exceed the size limits posted on the festival website. As I sat on the grass watching people smoke USB drives, I glared at the multi-pocket monstrosities adorning almost every other festival-goer’s back.
The point of this story, other than wondering how a tiny USB drive produces that much vapor, is that I score highly on the personality trait conscientiousness. Some other festival attendees, especially those with sunscreen bottles filled with vodka, may not.
The five-factor model of personality (a.k.a. Big Five) is a generally-accepted way of measuring human traits. The five factors are: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
Conscientiousness is where motivation lives. People high in conscientiousness are generally organized, dependable, and disciplined. They are also stubborn and rigid.
And they likely have less fun at music festivals.
In a recent conversation with one of my friends, Allyson, I sighed deeply before saying, “I should be doing more community service.” Last year, I intentionally rolled off a couple of non-profit boards to focus on a creative opportunity that had fallen into my path. You’ll hear more about that in a few months, by the way.
As I was telling Allyson about all the things I felt I ShouldBeDoin, she held up her hand in an unmistakable, albeit kind, gesture to shut my mouth.
Allyson is a community superhero. She is amazing. However, after she lowered her “stop talking” hand, she made it clear to me that you GottaWanna do these things. If you “should” yourself into serving, your efforts are often disingenuous and unproductive.
My excessive stubbornness and rigidity were driving me to feel that I ShouldBeDoin so much more than I am. Allyson reminded me that I GottaWanna do it, or I’m not going to do it well.
The relationship between motivation and performance is both common sense and supported by scholarly literature. The more motivated a worker is, the better they perform.
But what happens when you must Get’erDone and there is no GottaWanna in the picture at all?
Not surprisingly, I did not find a ton of reference articles on this topic. I suppose that Medium writer, Kyle Schutter is correct: people with low conscientiousness don’t publish very much.
However, here are some tips for how to handle situations where your GottaWanna has caught the midnight train to Georgia.
How to be productive in the absence of motivation
- Choose to fail miserably at something. Simply decide, as I did with my current community service endeavors, to be bad it. You cannot be good at everything. Direct what little motivation you have toward things that are mission-critical.
- Focus on small steps, small changes, and incremental progress. Break down big goals into bite-sized pieces. For example, I can provide napkins and plates for the teacher appreciation breakfast without being on the planning committee.
- Institute small routines to anchor your days. Do not commit to, for example, an hour-long morning ritual and a rigid daily schedule. Pick one to three things to anchor your day. As you become accustomed to those, add more.
- Find what motivates you and restructure your work to involve that. One client of mine was completely unmotivated in his isolated job. Why? He was motivated by other people, by being in a community. Are you a creative person in a job that is devoid of creativity? Edit your environment to include those things that motivate you.
- Delegate your conscientiousness to technology or to others. Use calendars and task lists with reminder functions. Hire a conscientious assistant. Engage accountability partners.
Not every aspect of your work or your life is going to inspire motivation and passion. And, even the people who are high on the conscientiousness scale will have down days (or weeks or more).
I’m a firm believer that personality determines preferences, but not capacity, for action.
We can all succeed.
You’re welcome, by the way, for the above link to Gladys Knight & the Pips. If nothing else, I gave you four minutes of amazing. IGotTaGo…IGotTaGo…IGotTaGo…
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Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.
Melissa, thanks for reading my post. Seems we have something very different about our personality types, but I agree with your strategy for getting things done. I call Small Routines “Habit Stacking”. Remembering to floss is easy because I do it right after brushing. etc.
On choose to fail miserably. To make good decisions you need experience. To get experience you need to make bad decisions. 😉
Take care. I enjoyed your post.
You and I are so much alike! I can totally relate to feeling resentful when others aren’t following the rules (even if what they’re doing has NO impact on me) andicethat I ShouldBeDoin some type of community service. Reading this has been very reassuring.
I have lately realized that I don’t do anything that I ShouldBeDoin, so I’m working hard on letting myself stop thinking that I should be. Because I’m never, ever going to do it. I’m not willing to fail; if I can’t do something at a level better than mediocre, I won’t even try (which strikes your first bullet off the list). But the rest? I’m working on it.
Also, I can’t tell you the number of stories where I did a slow burn about other people not following the rules, and the most family family story is of me not letting either of my friends get off the school bus on the first day of kindergarten because our parents told us we were not allowed to get off until the bus stopped in front of our houses (across the street from one another). Except, the busses didn’t stop where they picked us up, and there are was, my hands barring them from getting off AT ALL. Fun times.
Also, you’re a real pip, even if you’re not a Pip!