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If you’re struggling to find motivation at work, this may help

April 22, 2015, 4:30 PM UTC
Courtesy of Camille Preston

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you stay motivated at work? is written by Camille Preston, founder of AIM Leadership.

Staying motivated is hard–for everyone. Like you, my plate is overfull. Getting everything I want to do done isn’t easy. And like you, I wear many hats as a business owner, an executive coach, speaker, writer, runner, wife, mother, and I’m expecting my second child. When my days are driven by “to dos,” “shoulds,” and “have tos,” I find myself collapsing, exhausted by the end of the day and often discouraged that I didn’t get more done. But when my day is driven by my passions–when I feel a sense of purpose–I find myself energized and surprised by my focus, my drive, and the bounce in my step.

The difference? One small tweak: Know the why.

Know your ‘why’
The motivational advice I give my clients is the same “simple” advice I (try to) take myself: Know the why, and the how will become clear. I first took this idea from Austrian psychiatrist, neurologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl and his inspirational book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Simon Sinek expanded and further popularized this idea in his powerful TED talk and book of the same name, Start With Why. Sinek says that the why is the most powerful motivator there is. It’s what separates great leaders (and doers) from everyone else. Once you know your why, the motivation comes easily.

So how do we translate this into our daily lives? First, step back and create a list that captures all the ideas, projects, tasks, and to-dos floating through your mind. Next, get perspective by reflecting on the following questions:

1. Why is this task, project, or item important?

2. Whom does it impact?

3. How does it relate to my personal or professional life?

Emotions drive motion
The key is to determine the emotion around each task–the why–because once you have the emotion you will find the motion. Once you connect to the why you can shift your energy from “have to” to “want to.” If you can’t find the emotion or the why, then re-evaluate the item. Is it really important? Is it something that can be deleted or delegated? (Both of which are great outcomes of this process.)

Now, “should” is not a why. It is not an emotion, and should not be a motivator. Yet, for most of us, the “shoulds” overtake our lists and fill our days with stress. You know the “shoulds:”

· I should attend that networking event.

· I should become a mentor.

· I should learn PowerPoint.

Harness your spiritual intelligence
To get rid of the “shoulds,” you have to connect to your emotions. You have to think from the task at hand through to the why and to the emotion behind why you should act. At first, this takes discipline and focus to step back from the doing. The greater clarity you have about what matters to you, when you feel your best, and what brings you passion and purpose, the more motivated you will be. Keep your eyes on the prize—the why behind each and every thing you do.

Still not convinced? Research from consultants Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath has shown that employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations; they reported 1.7 times higher job satisfaction; and they were 1.4 times more engaged at work.

Knowing your why is the best way to stay motivated. To me, purpose and passion are the whys behind everything we do as leaders. The more we can harness our full capacity the greater our impact.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you stay motivated at work?

How to avoid burnout at work by Maren Kate Donovan, CEO of Zirtual.

How to step outside of your comfort zone at work by Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.

3 ways to recharge at work by Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint Water.

How to impress your boss at work (the right way) by Erica Galos Alioto, vice president of local sales at Yelp.

How this CEO finds motivation at work every day by Perry Yeatman, CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners.

The art of staying motivated at work by Beth Fisher-Yoshida, director of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program at Columbia University.

The best lesson I learned from joining a board by Juliet de Baubigny, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

5 secrets to stay motivated at work by Sarah Robb O’Hagan, president of Equinox.