How to Stay Motivated

Science of Productivity Ep 010: How to Stay Motivated: Pleasure or Purpose

November 19, 2020

Research shows some unfortunate news for the millions of professionals who have found themselves working from home for the last few months – and their employers. People who work from home are, on average, 7 percentage points less motivated than their in-office peers.

How can you change this as an individual contributor or leader? You must start by understanding the answer to the age-old question regarding motivation: To boost motivation, should you pursue pleasurable or meaningful activities? Watch the video below or read the transcript to find out.

The Science of Productivity segment brings you scientific insights you can trust into how to accomplish your goals faster. It is part of the Anything But Idle productivity news podcast.

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Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

The science of productivity segment brings you scientific insights you can trust into how accomplish your goals faster. In this week’s segment, I want to quickly unpack some of the research on motivation.

While always relevant, I am focusing on the science of motivation this week because research conducted by technology and consulting firm, Vega Factor, showed that people who work from home are less motivated than people who work in the office by about 7 percentage points. Even more striking, when people have no choice of where they work, as many have experienced in recent months, they are even less motivated: People who work from home without a choice are less than half as motivated as those who can choose to work in the office.

It doesn’t have to be this way though. You can increase your motivation. When it comes to finding motivation, one of the central debates is whether you should pursue activities that are pleasurable or activities that are meaningful. A group of German and American scholars sought to answer this question by asking nearly 1,400 people questions about the primary goal for the work they did.

They found that enjoyment seekers had less passion for their work and changed jobs more frequently than meaning seekers. Finding meaning in your work is key to finding motivation. In his book, Smarter Faster Better, author and journalist Charles Duhigg tells the story of how marines make it through the rigorous training in bootcamp. They ask themselves “why” they are doing what they are doing repeatedly until they get to the root motivation. Reminding themselves of the core purpose of their work reignites motivation.

The researchers at Vega Factor confirm Duhigg’s anecdote. When employees were given the freedom to experiment and solve problems that really matter they had motivation levels 50 percentage points higher than those who weren’t given that freedom even when they had no choice about where they worked.

If you’re struggling to stay motivated while working from home, remind yourself of the purpose for your work: why you do what you do, and then find ways to work on solving problems that contribute to that purpose.


How to Keep Your Team Motivated, Remotely.” McGregor, Lindsay and Doshi, Neel. Harvard Business Review (Apr 2020).

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. Duhigg, Charles, 2016. Print.