I have no motivation to work. How can I change my attitude?

Eleanor Gordon-Smith
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Sputnik/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Sputnik/Alamy

I have always had a problem with work, I don’t have much internal motivation to do any and a lot of anxiety about it. Now I am supposed to be working from home I feel even more disengaged. I get up at 11am, then procrastinate around the internet for a few hours.

I do appreciate having a salary and it would logically make sense to try and keep my job. My colleagues are all running themselves ragged working and home schooling and all that stuff. I hate the idea of all that rushing about. How can I change my attitude, and persuade myself do a few hours work every day?

Eleanor says: The answer to how to change your attitude depends on why you want to. There are three scenarios that I can imagine.

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Scenario one: you are genuinely at risk of losing your job. The task then is to change your behaviour, not your attitude. Brute force it: install distraction-blocking software, put your phone in a box and tape the lid on, unplug the internet at the wall. Do the work first thing in the day, stop as soon as it’s done, and just aim for mediocrity – set a timer and see how quickly you can get it over with. If you’re really on the edge of losing money and you don’t find that motivating, consider talking to a professional – many mental health problems feel like laziness before you learn their real name.

Scenario two: you want this to change because other people have to do the work that you didn’t. I think you already know it isn’t fair to make your ragged colleagues lives’ worse so that your life can be easier – so try to keep that knowledge front of mind as you open another browser window. Change your password to the name of the exhausted mother on your team, stick a Post-it on your screen with a list of people who suffer if you choose not to work.

But the third scenario is I suspect the most common. In scenario three, the real world bears very few marks of your laziness. Your tasks eventually get done, nobody really knows what they were or when they were due, and the pay comes in.

Then listen: nothing needs to change. This is not bad. You do not need to do anything more at work than leave the to-do list clean for other people. If you can do that by clocking in at 1pm and out at 4pm, do. The world is full of what David Graeber called “bullshit jobs”; jobs where the only thing accomplished by going to work is that you are at work, filing reports and returning emails and scheduling meetings about the reports and the emails. That this is supposed to take 50 hours a week is an idea as senselessly dogmatic as the idea that work for work’s sake has moral virtue. You pay for both with your one non-replenishable resource: your time.

If you’re in this scenario the only thing that needs to change is your attitude towards your attitude. You don’t get joy from work – not many people do – but you won’t get more of it sitting at the computer promising yourself you’ll work soon. You just condemn yourself to a potentially infinite chain of minutes in which you never quite decide to not work, so you never quite get to live, either. Sixty individual minutes of slack-jawed screen-anaesthesia is a lot less fun than just deciding to take the hour off. So own it: decide not to work and fill your time in a deliberate way. If you’re going to hate your job you might as well love not doing it.