The Question You Should Ask Yourself When You’re Losing Motivation

March 13, 2016, 3:00 PM UTC
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The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you stay inspired to run a business?” is written by Mark Woodward, CEO of Invoca.

Maintaining inspiration during the ups and downs of running a business is about focus: narrowing in on a few things you’ve done extremely well.

But as with anything worthwhile, doing so is easier said than done.

Most leaders tend to be ambitious. After all, they’re charged with thinking big and growing the company. I’ve seen many companies fall into the trap of placing too many bets while trying to grow at all costs. They try to expand all at once—into multiple vertical markets, geographies, or products—and spread themselves too thin. They dilute their vision and end up feeling lost or burnt out.

The leaders who stay inspired to do the work, despite inevitable challenges and sleepless nights, are those who recognize when they shouldn’t do something. They know how to focus their energy and their team’s resources in the right direction.

When making a decision, I ask my team, “Is this critical to our success?” If the answer is no, we put it aside. If the answer is yes, that’s where we focus.

Create a vision
Focus is meaningless unless you’ve set your true north: the direction in which everyone will direct their efforts. “Vision” sometimes seems like a lofty term, but it’s really about deciding where you want to be in the mid-to-long term. If you’re struggling to articulate it, take a moment to imagine the company’s bio in three years. Read it aloud. Hang it up on your wall. Make it part of your routine.

Consider how you fit into the competitive landscape in order to analyze the growth opportunity in the coming years. What will your legacy be? Once you’ve planned this vision, you can better understand what success might look like.

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Plan how you’ll achieve your vision: What do you need to do in the next 12 months, six months, 30 days? What can you do immediately? What can you do every day to get closer to where you’d like to be in a year? Think about whether these goals are achievable, tangible, and specific. Set definitive timelines.

When you know how your daily work tangibly contributes to your vision, you can stay motivated despite the highs and lows.

Build a framework, starting with your vision
A framework, or structured management process, can help you understand components of the business ladder up into the overarching vision. Marc Benioff’s V2MOM framework, which includes “Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Measures,” is a good place to start.

Once you’ve worked together as an organization to set the company’s shared framework, empower each team and individual to come up with their own. When employees design their own vision, they have more skin in the game. They’re more likely to think critically about the impact they can make on the business, and are more likely to be motivated—which will also inspire you.


Commit to staying on track
Maintaining alignment is often the hardest part of running a business. After the big meeting and the high fives, it’s time to do the hard work. How do you stay inspired after the novelty fizzles?

You have to commit, which means dedicating yourself to ruthless prioritization every day. Everything you do should map back to your vision. If it’s superfluous, cut it. This doesn’t just benefit your performance—it also sets the tone for the rest of your organization. Set the example of doing meaningful work that energizes you and contributes to a larger goal.

When you feel overwhelmed, exhausted, or unmotivated, take a moment to breathe. Think about why you’re doing this: What’s your vision? Then prioritize the one thing you can do immediately that will have the largest impact. Ask yourself the crucial question of whether this particular initiative is critical for your success. If so, you’ve found your charge—and your inspiration.

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