Viewing effort as a fulfilling process

Ambasa treasured her work as an NGO project manager. She started her career as a staff accountant in a construction company but often felt unfulfilled in her work. In as much Ambasa changed jobs and sectors to community development.

She worked for many years as a project officer before her managerial appointment. But simultaneously with the joys of fieldwork, in an NGO as a manager, it also came with the task of supporting proposal writing and planning for new funding.

Unfortunately, Ambasa saw proposal development as arduous, miserable, and fraught with opportunities for errors and being exposed for incorrect grammar or unimaginative ideas.

She viewed her negative feelings towards the task as a necessity in order to achieve future continuity of funding and therefore future job security.

This outlook on proposals caused Ambasa to delay finished write-ups and suffer through many unsustained self-pushes to force herself to be motivated to undertake the effort.

Continuing in a long-running theme in Business Talk of enhancing workplace motivation and eliminating procrastination, this week we look at the concept of effort and how to sustain it.

Growing up at home and in schools, many of us are taught that in order to succeed in life, we must work hard, work smart, and foster connections.

The downside is that most people view working hard as something negative one must do in order to achieve something positive, such as desired performance, in the future.

The concept of delayed gratification is ripe in classrooms, home dinner tables, and even workplace team meetings. As working adults, we then tend to view the amount of effort needed for jobs, tasks, assignments, and projects as something unenjoyable and as a necessity.

We then try to push ourselves and motivate ourselves to do something unexciting, boring, or too difficult. Our brain, which evolved over the millennia to focus on short-term survival goals rather than long-term existential or strategic tasks, then has difficulty in keeping up motivation on undesirable tasks over time.

That is why attending a motivational speech rarely results in actual long-term change in our lives due to waning effort levels.

Many experts advocate viewing our level of task effort as a way to receive a particular later reward. A short-term view of the standard concept includes effort now gives performance, or bonuses, or finishing work so as to allow for vacation or holiday time later, as an example.

But a long-term view could mean studying hard now in the hope for a good job far in the future.

Despite viewing the rewarding nature of effort, people still struggle with the motivation to stop chatting on Facebook, posting on Instagram, watching YouTube, or laughing at TikTok and actually put in the effort in the here and now to get work done. Short-term distractions give our brain more pleasure than task effort.

However, new research by Fabrice Cavarretta found a unique way of framing effort in our minds.

She advocates viewing effort as part of a feedback loop in our brains that can catapult us to regulate our effort levels better: effort followed by performance followed by pleasure followed by motivation then followed by effort again and the loop repeats.

We put in more successful and sustained efforts when we like our work, have more autonomy over our method and style of working, enjoy our colleagues, and are trusted by our bosses.

So, when these workplace realities are in place, then we tend to put in effort as a result of the foundation of our employment-work relationships and tend to enjoy putting in effort rather than the other viewpoint perspective of effort leading to a future reward.

Instead, the above loop creates a habit. Author Charles Duhigg popularised and enhanced the concept of a habit loop.

If we believe in our value on the team and in our abilities, we put in more confident effort. Our increased effort increases our performance levels as we dedicate more time and concentration to getting things done.

Our higher performance and accomplishment give us immediate pleasure with the sense of completion. Viewing tasks as pleasure creating in the present immediate time makes us more motivated. The higher motivation then enthralls us and propels us towards more effort.

We must not view effort as a one-time push just like we must not view it as something negative to do in order to get future non-immediate rewards.

Essentially, think of putting in effort as a regular way of life to feel better in the present rather than viewing work effort as a begrudgingly boring task-based rock to push uphill as a method to achieve required or desired performance.

Read next week’s Business Talk as we expound on how individuals can enjoy task effort more and what managers can do to foster task enjoyment on their teams.

Dr. Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.