So many of us have big dreams and exciting goals, but don’t know how to get ourselves to work hard enough to achieve them. It’s all too easy to fall into patterns of laziness and once that happens it can be difficult to get out. But it’s definitely not impossible, and with a few pointers, you can start improving your work ethic right away.
Before you take any action, accept that it might not be a fun endeavour. It is work, after all. Recognizing this fact from the get-go will help you on the journey because you’ll approach it with a realistic mindset. Working hard is hard work, there’s no way around that. But it can also be rewarding and fulfilling, and will be worth it if it gets you closer to your goals. And the work itself probably won’t get easier as time progresses, but you will get into the habit of working hard and that will make it easier to carry on with it.
So much of developing a strong work ethic is about self-discipline and applying it to all areas of your life will help you to apply it at work. Starting your day by hitting the snooze button half a dozen times, dragging yourself through your morning routine, and being late for work is not going to cut it—disciplining yourself to start your day off strong is important and it will ripple through your day. When your alarm goes off, get up. No snooze button, no doddling. Get yourself out of bed and into an attitude of readiness for whatever the day has in store. When you can start your day on a strong note, you’re more likely to carry that all day long. Develop the self-discipline to get up and moving bright and early and you’re more likely to be able to discipline yourself to work hard through the day.
Use your goals to motivate you.
Procrastination will be one of your biggest obstacles. You’ll just have to learn to push through it. One thing that helps is identifying what motivates you and focusing on that when you start to lag on tasks you have to do. There’s probably a reason you want to improve your work ethic—what is it? Do you want to go to a certain school or have a dream-job in mind? Or maybe you want to buy a house or travel the world. Use that to help you keep working, day after day. Keep something related to your goal as a reminder, whether it be a brochure, a photograph, or a small object. Having it in your work area so you can see it can help you keep your goals in mind and motivate you to get to work when you’re tempted to put things off.
Reward yourself (but not too often).
Some people find it’s helpful to use rewards to get them started when procrastination has taken hold. This strategy is okay to use now and then, but don’t make it a habit as it can actually backfire. When you offer yourself a reward for completing tasks too often, it starts to give your brain the impression that the reward is good and the task is bad. If you come to see your work as a chore, it’s going to be harder to bring yourself to do it and to find any amount of enjoyment in it or satisfaction from it—you’ll come to find those things in the reward instead. It could also make it harder to feel motivated when there isn’t a reward involved for doing your work which might cause you to under-perform. In either case, it can ultimately hurt your work ethic which is the exact opposite of what you’re actually intending to do. Sometimes an end goal can be seen as a reward, but that’s okay because it’s something in the distance that you’re working toward and it’s a single reward rather than something that you offer yourself on a regular basis after completing an individual task. Rewards are fine to use so long as you use them sparingly.
Surround yourself with hard-working people.
The people around you can be a significant help or hindrance when trying to improve your work ethic. If you hang around with people who tend to do the bare minimum to get by, you might feel that it’s acceptable for you to do the same, and it can be hard to improve your work ethic when you’re surrounded by people who slack off. Associating with people who tend to work harder than you do can have just the opposite effect. If the people around you are high-performing, high-achieving individuals, you might feel inspired by them to work at a similar level. Or it might put a bit of encouraging pressure on you to keep moving forward and to do better quality work. As long as it’s not causing you excess stress, which can have a negative effect on your ability to work well, the push that being around hard-working people can offer you will help you develop a stronger work ethic.
Take breaks regularly.
This one might seem counter-intuitive, but it can make a difference: remember to take breaks. Yes, pushing yourself is important for forming habits that will result in a strong work ethic, but breaks can keep you in a good mental and physical state while you’re working away. A study from the University of Toronto found that working with lots of short breaks is more productive than working consistently for long hours and, similarly, research done by a social media company found that the most productive people were taking approximately 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes. These studies focus primarily on productivity, but make implications about work ethic too; if people who take breaks tend to be more productive than those who don’t, you might question why that is. The breaks offer you a chance to refresh yourself, both physically and mentally, which can create renewed enthusiasm for what you’re doing. You’re then not only more focused, which results in greater productivity, but you’re also likely to feel fresh determination which is huge for your work ethic. It’s also easier to work hard when you know you’ll get a chance to relax for a few minutes now and then, rather than feeling overwhelmed by what needs to be done and knowing a break is far off. Now, breaks as long as 17 minutes as often as every 52 minutes may not be the best idea for you, since for some the long breaks can create the temptation to extend them into a lazy day. But when you decide to take several shorter breaks throughout the day, it’s beneficial without becoming too disruptive.
Relax when the work day is done.
Similarly, taking time to relax after-hours is important. Some people feel like they have to work as many hours in a day as possible to be successful and don’t take enough time to let loose and have a little leisure time. When you push yourself through procrastination, it’s a good thing because it’s getting you started on something that needs to be done; when you push yourself to the point of being overworked, you’re eventually going to crash. The stress will add up and start to affect your mental and physical health. It could lead you to hate your work more and more as you force yourself to keep doing it without enough time to relax and your work ethic and wellbeing will suffer. Taking time for yourself after work important for the same reason breaks are important; it gives you a change to re-energize and get ready to work at full-strength again later.
Don’t wait to dive in.
Improving your work ethic is done while you work; it’s not a matter of improving how you feel mentally first and then applying it to your work once you feel like you’ve already changed. If you do this, it could be a long time before you get anything done. Only a small part of the process is done in the mind alone and most of it is a matter of taking actions that train the mind. It’s forming habits though practice. Sure, make the decision mentally to make improvements and think about what you want your plan of action to be, but don’t sit back and wait to start on the actual working part until you feel like your work ethic might be better. It won’t be better until you start participating in hard work and putting in the time.
As you start developing your work ethic, don’t get discouraged if you struggle at first. You’re unlikely to change your ways overnight. But that doesn’t mean you’ll never have a strong work ethic, it just means you don’t right now. It’s a skill, and like any other skill it requires persistence to become good at it. So just keep trying; keep motivating yourself, keep pushing through the temptation to procrastinate, and be sure to take time to relax and recharge. You’re in the midst of a process and success is on the horizon.