Writing for Harvard Business Review, Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, presents three common reasons you may struggle to get motivated after a vacation—and how to overcome them.
According to Markman, a post-vacation lack of motivation can be driven by several different factors—and it is important to understand why you are struggling before you take steps to energize yourself.
1. Difficult tasks seem insurmountable
Physical and mental distance from the office can highlight challenges and cause you to see your work in a more abstract way—making it difficult to see how you can accomplish your goals, Markman writes. And according to Markman, the feeling that a goal can't be reached or project can't be completed can sometimes stifle motivation, in part because—as research demonstrates—"your motivation to complete [a task] is increased by both the importance of the work you're doing and the likelihood that you'll actually be able to complete it." As a result, he writes, "if you don't think you can get a particular task done, you're unlikely to muster the energy to work on it."
When a task feels impossible, Markman suggests turning "the abstract task into specific steps you can complete. Go back to your to-do list and dedicate specific times to addressing particular components of the bigger project."
2. You struggle to find value in your work
Vacations can often make you reevaluate priorities and change your perspective, Markman writes. Instead of following the day-to-day routine you follow during a typical work week, you can spend more time pursuing hobbies, connecting with people, or just relaxing. As a result, once you return to the workplace, Markman writes, "you may need to convince yourself that the collection of tasks you're doing is worth the effort."
If you lack motivation because you're struggling to see the importance in your work, Markman suggests taking note of the things your work has accomplished in previous months. He also recommends asking two important questions: "What are the big-picture things you've accomplished?" and "In what ways have you affected the lives of other people?" When people see that their work serves a bigger purpose and connects them to others, they feel more fulfillment and satisfaction, writes Markman.
3. You're bored with the same tired tasks
According to Markman, sometimes a lack of motivation can stem from boredom with the tasks specific to your role rather than a lack of mission or purpose in your work. Markman writes that "people are most engaged with their work when they're working right at the limit of what they're capable of doing (that space between a task being too easy and a task being too hard), and where each action succeeds and naturally leads to the next."
When your role is not challenging or engaging enough, Markman suggests taking two key steps to move forward in your career with renewed motivation. First, try to find a role that sounds both challenging and appealing. Second, figure out what skills you need to have for that role—then go out and get them. Taking these steps addresses both the short-term and long-term issues suppressing your motivation, Markman writes. He adds, "By thinking about the next generation of skills you need to acquire, you also help yourself maintain that motivation over the long term." (Markman, Harvard Business Review, 9/3)