Maintaining motivation and dealing with feeling out of control

Being out of work wears you down. It is demoralising. If all you get is rejection (or no responses at all) for several weeks, it’s easy to lose motivation, and let your application rate drop off. After a while you can also begin to lose purpose and let days slip by without achieving much. But, it’s a hard fact that no applications = no job, so you need to steel your resolve and get re-motivated. Here are some thoughts.

Deciding what will motivate you

Motivation is all about what you control vs what controls you. Psychologists call this ‘intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation’. Your biggest decision is whether to let the prevailing conditions in the job market (extrinsic factor) control how you feel about yourself and your job search, or whether your wants and needs for yourself, including how you want to see yourself (your intrinsic motivation) is stronger.

Deciding to grab control of your life means choosing to dedicate all the intelligence energy you have every day to your job search – and that means consciously putting aside things that may have been distracting you from doing that.

Choosing not to be distracted from the task at hand

Here are some of the things our clients most often report as having taken over their daily routines:

  • Getting up later and later until your body clock is the wrong way round
  • Watching daytime telly or playing computer games (Warcraft being a current favourite)
  • Surfing the internet for excessive amounts of time – especially social messageboards, Facebook and Twitter – under the guise of job searching
  • Looking on this time off as a ‘holiday’ to be spent on the golf course or in the garden
  • Doing DIY or decorating
  • Eating, and drinking alcohol, at different times of day or in different amounts than was usual when you were working.

If any of this is familiar to you, you probably need to reorganise your daily routine, and reprioritise some things.

Take control of your day

Absolute top priority is to keep the work day the right way round. Set a target to be up by 8am at the latest each day, and ready to start work by 9am. Anything later is a lie-in. Go to bed no later than midnight or 1am so you’re fresh each morning.

Every day, job search comes first. Start each day by making a list of anything outstanding, and then make your calls (early morning calls make a good impression).

A good job search means tailoring your CV to each job, finding something fresh to say on each application form, and maintaining energy and focus in interviews. Maintaining focus at this level is tough, but it has to be done, so, mid-morning, say, 11am, find some way of rewarding yourself for sticking to it. Whatever your pleasure – read the newspaper, spend time on the internet, do some gaming, take a walk with the dog, but keep it to an hour maximum. Then stick with your job search again until at least 1pm. When formal job applications are done, focus on networking, career planning, researching or sending out speculative applications.

Keep a proper business calendar with appointments to manage down impulsive, time wasting activity. Schedule in regular events, like signing on, but also give ad hoc things (such as family time, home improvement time, or coffee or lunch with a friend) proper appointment times, so that you can see exactly where your time is going and keep control of it. If anything cuts into your job search, make sure to reschedule that job searching time.

Keeping yourself fit and sharp for work

Research shows a clear link between unemployment and a decline in physical and mental health, so make time for proper shopping, cooking and eating, and make exercise a regular feature if you can (running, gym classes, yoga, dog walking, golf etc).

Part of intrinsic motivation is to feed your mind and your self-esteem while you’re off. You can really change the picture and take back a lot of control by setting yourself challenging extra tasks and targets*. Activities that will shine on your CV and at interview include:

  • Taking on a period of unpaid work to increase your range of experience
  • Helping a small business get off the ground (for senior executives, mentoring a small business is an excellent way to open up a whole new network) – offer through BusinessLink or local council venture initiatives
  • Volunteering – just about every skill imaginable is needed, through well-organised organisations like Do-it and Volunteering England
  • Studying, either taking a course through the Open University, local college or other provider, or following a course of study you set yourself against a specific learning goal.

This is where it would be really easy to think: ‘why should I?’ but the relief of being able to say, ‘while I was off, I did THIS’ in interview, and be proud of it, is enormous. It will also help to fill any large gaps in your work record on your CV.

Feeling back in control

Once you can account for your time, know you are doing the best job search you can, and have taken on extra tasks that will keep your brain sharp and your confidence up, you can relax and breathe out.

Set yourself a programme of study, find free courses, ask for work experience to keep your skills sharp and up to date. Read a daily newspaper, do something to keep fit. Set up a daily routine. Don’t ‘lose’ yourself.

Not doing so can eventually lead to becoming isolated, turned inwards, and your self-worth may become increasingly fragile. Over time, you may also begin to feel increasingly tired, even though you’ve not done anything. It’s important to stave off these early signs of depression by giving your life some real meaning. Be able to say: ‘while I was out of work, I did THIS.

* The rules for Jobseeker’s Allowance mean you can volunteer for up to 16 hours a week without permission from the Job Centre. You can volunteer for more hours, and still claim, at the discretion of a Job Centre ‘decision maker’.