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Motivation: Getting There

10-08-13 Marshall Norman

There’s a reason behind all things that we humans do. So why is it so hard sometimes to do the things we need to do? Marshall shares how he gets motivated.

Why am I doing this?

There’s a reason behind all things that we humans do. Right? So why then is it so hard sometimes to do the things we need to do?

There are plenty of “how-to-stay-motivated” books and articles around. This is not that. This is simply the reflections of one working stiff trying to figure out what I can do to help myself.

To me, motivation is something that has always been an issue. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I let things get to me. This allows all the facets of my life to bleed into each other, which I believe is a good thing. It allows me to draw on experiences outside of what I’m currently doing to figure out new ways of thinking. Unfortunately, this also allows me to be distracted from what I need to be doing.

“Why am I doing this?” can be a very dangerous question. It usually only comes up when motivation is taking a dive into the deep, stinky pit of apathy and exhaustion. There’s no avoiding those days—weeks—that “work” really is just a place I go for a third of my day before I go home.

“Why am I doing this?” can also be a very powerful question if you frame it correctly. I think the more important question is...

What kills motivation?

Personally, I have a few motivation killers that always seem to be lurking around the corner.


When I get bored, I get lazy and motivation seems to drift further and further away. I get bored when I don’t feel challenged or when there’s simply a lack of things to do. It makes me want to leave and go do something else, real quick.

Lack of support.

I spent the better part of my career as a web designer working as the sole member of the “web department” in a very traditional, old-school marketing environment. While this allowed me a lot of freedom, it also put me on an island. What this meant for me was that any feedback I managed to squeeze from people came from someone who really didn’t care what I was doing or how I was doing it. This is a fast track to What’s-the-Point Land.

Lack of feedback.

Getting poor feedback like, “It just falls flat,” or “Let’s just blow out this design,” says nothing to a creative person. Thoughtless feedback also makes you feel like what you’re doing does not matter. Everyone wants his or her work to matter.


On top of things that happen at work, add distractions that come along with just being a person—family issues, health, bills, sick dog, relationship problems—and sometimes the will to grind away at a mundane problem at work seems to slip further and further from reach.

My Motivating Answers

Things are sounding pretty bleak. How do I change that? There are the obvious motivators: paycheck, comfort, health insurance, vacation time. But those are too easy.

When I start to feel like I don’t want to do it anymore, these are some things that help to pull me from the rut:


Having people around who carry the same interests is huge. To be able to ask a buddy what he or she is working on, or what he or she thinks of what you’re doing, is usually a great little boost. It lets you know that you’re not hefting the weight of your job alone.


Defined goals on a project help immensely. Goals allow an end in sight. If you know where you’re going, it’s easier to plan how you’re going to get there.

Self improvement.

This is an easy one to keep in mind when you’re working on something tough. Bending your mind around and figuring out new solutions to problems will always make you better at what you’re doing. Hands down.


Step back from the lines of code you’ve been refactoring, tweaking, screaming at, and think about the bigger picture. The project you’re working on is likely intended to improve someone’s quality of life in some way. Also, you’re building the web—one of the greatest tools people in the modern world have right now. Every problem you’re solving may help someone in your shoes later, especially if you share what you’re working on and how you’re doing it.


There isn’t much worse of a feeling than when you think you’re busting your hump for no good reason. Find out what you’re working for and find reasons to believe in it. If you can’t find anything like that, maybe you’re doing the wrong thing.


You know that feeling. You’ve been faced with a big ole challenge. You and a buddy hack away at it for a while, fail a few times, and then BAM. You did it. High five. Awesome.

The Zone.

Working toward that flow. Create a list of tasks. Personally, I like to start with the smaller things to get them out of the way and get my brain moving. Crank up the jams and start knocking out the issues you’ve listed for yourself. Make sure you check them off. You see the progress and you start to hunger for more issues to smash because you’re killing it. Knowing that this feeling is possible is great motivation.

Help Someone Today

I hope this helps. Do yourself and your friends/coworkers/peers a favor—if you see someone struggling, take a few minutes to help him or her out. It may be just what the person needed to get back in the saddle.

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