It turns out that the number one motivator of knowledge workers is not at all what their bosses think it is. In a multi-year study, completed by Teresa M. Amabile, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, managers put recognition at the top of the list of motivators. Whereas, in fact, the top motivator consistently with knowledge workers was progress (which managers ranked dead last).

By studying over 12,000 daily diary entries from hundreds of workers, Amabile was able to accurately aggregate the emotional states of workers on both their good days, and bad days. There were five factors that ranked the highest as having value: progress, instrumental support (help to get the job done), interpersonal support (coaching, feedback, etc.), collaboration and doing important work. On 76% of their good days diarists mentioned progress, making it the most frequently reported type of event on those days.

And it makes sense. I often get a collective groan when I ask a class if they have ever finished a day at work and said to themselves "The day is over and I have no idea where the time went". Nobody wants to feel like they are spinning their wheels and not seeing progress. And I think the risk of this happening is greater than ever.

Jumping from email to open Word doc, to spread sheet, to answering a phone call, then responding to the person that just walked into your office, back over to the email you left open, plus three more that just came in can leave you feeling like a victim of others' goals and a hamster on a wheel going nowhere. Here are some quick suggestions for how to make progress and feel like you are making progress:

SINGLE-TASK -- instead of trying to be clever by having all the software on your computer open and constantly flipping from task to task, focus in on one task at a time. Avoid the temptation to leap away ("Don't look into the light!" was Larry's advice in A Bug's Life) after yet another bright, shiny object.

GO CLUTTER FREE -- I rant about this a lot lately, but it's worth repeating: if you can see unfinished work, you will think about it. Having a clutter-free workspace is not just a 'nice to do' objective it is critical for effective brain function (of course, so is broccoli, but it won't get the work done).

COMPLETE -- when you create your day plan (you did it the night before, right?) break tasks down into small bits that can be crossed off. Avoid like the plague optional ideas on what you might do, vagueness, recording huge projects, or any other unclear direction. Take the extra minute and ask yourself: "What could I actually complete in the time I have and cross off my list?"

RESIST DISTRACTIONS -- create blocks of time on your calendar that are for completion. Treat these like meetings (go to the bathroom, get a glass of water, clear the desk, and get to work), don't answer the phone, turn Outlook off, put a sign on the door (or on your cubicle) and get ready to complete. This is a discipline that necessitates concentration and intention. Do this and watch the items fly off your list.

SAY 'NO' -- let others know that you are focusing on completion or going into a meeting (with yourself, see above), or could meet with them later in the day. Your objective should be to get your list moving forward, and not to make their goals your priority. Of course, you will help them, and, on your schedule. And if you are the boss, Amabile recommends you proactively create "...both the perception and the reality of progress". She suggests that you don't change the goals autocratically, be indecisive, or hold up resources needed to get the job done. Also refrain from exerting time pressures so intense "...that minor glitches are perceived as crises rather than learning opportunities."

And she agrees that while everybody loves recognition for a job well done, it's impractical for recognition to happen everyday, whereas you can influence progress happening everyday. The temptation to flit from task to task and welcome every interruption in the spirit of collaboration is not only inefficient, it turns out that it leads to bad days. If you want to have good days the discipline has to be completion.

Now get ready to book yourself into a meeting of one and cross tasks off your list.


Copyright (c) 2010 Marathon Communications Inc All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Highly sought after keynote speaker and corporate trainer, Hugh D. Culver's powerful keynote presentations and training programs are thoroughly researched, content-rich and delivered with a passion for creating lasting change in people's lives.
Hugh's humor and insights entertains and educates audiences to the powerful choices that are always available in their work and lives. His programs focus on Leadership, Motivation and Inspiration, Conflict Management, Time Management, and Personal Leadership in the workplace.

Hugh is a passionate advocate of the enduring power of vision, personal choice and constant improvement. He has worked with over 450 organizations to inspire change, growth and success in the workplace. Learn more about Hugh's keynote presentations, workshops and resources at or by calling 1.800.313.0799.