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How to stay engaged with your work, even when you feel like checking out

Here’s how to fight the allure of sinking into the couch and staying in your pajamas all day.

How to stay engaged with your work, even when you feel like checking out
[Photos: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash; blende12/Pixabay; ThomasWolter/Pixabay]
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As the pandemic and a flurry of current events wears on, so does work. You’re stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed. You’re eager for this to be over. There are certainly days when you’d like to just lay on the couch, but still your company and team need you and you have to find a way to engage.

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While you may love showing up for work in your sweatpants, especially when remote work takes place in your home and on Zoom you’re also facing challenges like loneliness and distractions, and you’re struggling with remote collaboration and reliable Wi-Fi. Many people also report they’re having difficulty staying motivated.

So how can you get engaged and stay engaged when all you really want to do is stay in your PJ’s all day? Your best approach has to do with how you think, how you spend your time, and who you’re with.

How you think

To be and stay engaged during a global pandemic, you need resilience. Resilience is about three things: understanding reality, making sense of reality, and improvising your response. A key part of this capability is in how you think and frame your situation.

Empower yourself. Rather than blaming circumstances outside of your control, consider your responses to the situation and your capabilities. Resist the urge to make statements like “I’m just not feeling it because after all there’s a global pandemic” or “My job just isn’t all I want it to be right now.” Remind yourself about all your professional milestones, and take responsibility for your motivation.

Your reactions measure your character and maturity and you can express and develop both. Life is rarely made up of all peak, success-filled moments and while this period is legitimately extreme, you can respond in a positive, constructive way. Give yourself permission to wallow briefly—yes,of course, things are hard—but then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and know you can move forward.

Consider the big picture. All work is important, no matter what it is. Imagine coworkers who are waiting for your outputs and relying on your results. Think about the people downstream and the internal and external customers who benefit from your brilliance. Consider how you’re impacting the performance of others and take responsibility not just for your work, but for your shared success.

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How you spend your time

Your activities make a big difference in terms of your motivation and engagement. So curate your calendar and schedule time for things that will stimulate and sustain you.

Volunteer. Depression and disengagement are often characterized by a myopic view. Your perspective narrows and you focus significantly on yourself. Instead, focusing on others can be a great solution. Offer help to a colleague who is swamped, or raise your hand for a new project team. In your personal life, also find ways to reach out, offer help, or volunteer your time. In addition to being great for your community and your own engagement, donating your time or talents has been correlated with greater success in your career and a boost in your paycheck. Generosity has been shown to increase satisfaction in all areas of life creating a positive influence on your energy and determination.

Learn something new. Sometimes, a lack of motivation is the result of too little stimulation. If you’re not adequately challenged in your work, it can be tough to put in a lot of discretionary effort. Surprisingly though, when you add to your plate outside of work, it can give you a greater sense of satisfaction in your job. Take on a new hobby or immerse yourself in an all-consuming adventure like rock climbing or bungee-jumping. Stretching your skills tends to contribute to your self-esteem, confidence, and drive.

Embrace nature. Get outside as much as you can. The weather is getting colder in many places and while you won’t have the opportunity for a leisurely stroll on a warm afternoon, you can still give yourself as much time in nature as possible. One colleague has tweaked his schedule, so he starts earlier in the morning and can then end earlier in the afternoon. With this adjustment, he is able to take a daily walk while the daylight still shines. When you get outside, breathe the air and appreciate the beauty. Take in the varied textures and shifting light. In addition to the obvious physical benefits, all of these are good for you cognitively—providing stimulation for your brain—and emotionally, giving you a sense of greater perspective and something larger than yourself. 

Who you’re with

Chances are your circle of connections has gotten smaller. Ironically, now is the time to be choosy about who you spend your time with. Before the pandemic, when you could go out and socialize regularly, it was easy to spend time with plenty of people. But today, when your opportunities are limited, be selective about your choices.

We crave relationships, and whether you’re introverted or extroverted, you need your people. They have everything to do with your motivation because they can get you out of the house, support you through your challenges, and inspire you to keep at it. In short, the people with whom you surround yourself matter to your state of mind and your engagement.

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Seek out energizing people. You know the feeling. There are some people that you could talk to forever and never run out of things to say. When you’re with them, you feel great about yourself and your relationship. These are the people to seek out—at work and in your personal life—and with whom to spend the majority of your time.

Spend time with inspiring people. Sometimes you meet people who reinforce the best in you. They make you think, provide alternative points of view, and help you grow. When you’re with these colleagues and friends, you’re motivated about the future and all you can be. Hold these people close and nurture your relationships with them. Find ways to involve them in your projects, have a virtual gathering, or get together for a socially distanced coffee.

Find people with whom you can be yourself. Find friends with whom you can relax and let down your hair. These are “safe haven” friendships where you don’t have to worry about being your best. You can express your over-the-top sense of humor or cry on their shoulder and know you won’t be judged. These friends can support you and help you rejuvenate. And, in turn, help motivate you to take positive action, recommit, and reengage in your work and life.

Staying engaged when you’re overworked, under-stimulated, or feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic is no small challenge, but you can turn things around and have a positive influence on yourself and others. This is certainly a longer journey than any of us would have preferred, but we will get through it—and you can do it—with your sanity and your engagement intact.


Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations