The sticky note pep talk–How a simple note can keep you going at work

Jun 22, 2016 |Posted by Jared Simmons | Coaching

We’ve all been there before. You’re working 12+ hour days. For every item you check off your to-do list, two more appear in its place. And here’s your manager with yet another “opportunity.”  You have no idea where you’ll find the energy to get it done. In short: your motivation tank is running on empty.

I faced this problem throughout my career–organizing events for a thousand volunteers, leading night shift manufacturing tests with a Polish-speaking crew, observing railroad maintenance with a 4am wake-up call, or moderating a full day of focus groups with moms on their thoughts about baby wipes (and unsolicited thoughts about their husbands).

In every instance there was near-term sacrifice–verbal communication, sleep, male pride. Each of these were steps in delivering a result that brought me great satisfaction in the end. The trick is tapping into that future satisfaction in the midst of the tough times.

My solution? A simple sticky note.

Here’s how to craft a short message that will work for you using four questions and a fill-in-the-blank exercise.

    1. What am I doing here? (EFFORT) This is the first question to answer. Just identify the task at hand in plain English.  Be literal and don’t over think this one–it’s the easy part.
    2. What am I trying to accomplish with this effort? (OUTCOME) If an activity takes more than an hour of my time, I do not begin it until I can clearly answer this question.  If your answer is some version of “Because someone told me to do it,” you’re probably not clear enough on your objective to make meaningful progress.  Keep questioning yourself with “Why?” until you’ve boiled it down to an answer that clearly states how your effort will move your project/career forward.  Combined with your answer to the first question, It could sound like this: “I am conducting these interviews to determine the best options to put into the next consumer test.” “I am going to coffee with this colleague to learn more about what it’s like to work in his department.” “I am running these experiments on night shift to ensure we learn quickly enough to plan the next test appropriately.”
    3. Who will ultimately benefit from this work? (CUSTOMER) Who must make the investment (money and/or time) to bring this to life? This is tricky because the natural tendency is to see the requestor or your direct manager as the “customer.”  For this exercise, you have to identify the person or group whose decisions drive actual revenue for your business.  If it’s a cost-saving project, your focus is on the supplier or internal department that takes the actual actions that reduce cost. If you’re improving or launching a product, it’s the consumer and, at times, retail partners. Nonprofit management requires a similar split focus on donors, volunteers, and end users. In your career, it’s the actual hiring manager for that new job or the boss who actually writes your review and sets your salary. Having a clear answer to this question is critical to answering the next question…
    4. What are the implications of this work? (IMPACT) Once you’re clear on why you’re doing something (Outcome), and who you’re doing it for (Customer), it’s time to fully understand the implications of success (Impact).  Take time to understand how your customer’s life will be different as a result of your actions.  Create a clear picture of how you’re making their experience better.  Visualize the consumer putting down their old version of your product and using the new one.  Imagine the reorganized internal team working together.  Envision the supplier making the necessary changes in their process.  Picture your new boss confidently passing on your new job activities that she no longer has to cover.  That’s the prize.  That’s the reason for this current effort and the sacrifice associated with it.
    5. Put it all together. Once you’ve successfully answered these questions, you can fill in the blanks:

I am undertaking (EFFORT) because I want (OUTCOME). This is a critical step to ensure that (CUSTOMER) will see (IMPACT). I think it’s worth it.

Stick this somewhere in plain view to get through that task. It got me through a cold, dark night shift in Warsaw.  I can’t promise you that it’ll make it pleasant, but it will help you push through to the ultimate payoff down the road.

How do you keep yourself going when motivation begins to fade?

Picture of Jared Simmons

Jared Simmons

Jared is the founder of Outlast Consulting LLC, a consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations with strategy, process improvement, and professional development. He is an engineer by training with experience in market research, product development, innovation, management consulting, and strategic planning at P&G, McKinsey, and Coca-Cola.


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