5 Ways to Align Your Work With What Motivates You – and Get Your Manager to Help

This article originally appeared on Microlearning, our bite-sized online solution for leaders and individual contributors.

You don’t need to find a perfect role to feel engaged at work. Instead, try these tactics to tweak how you think about, talk about, and execute your current tasks to better align them with what motivates you. You’ll boost your spirits – and possibly even your performance.

1. Determine what you want to be known for in your role.

Plenty of people get things done — going from task to task without thinking much about what their work means or the impact they want it to have. This approach will get you the paycheck, but not much in the way of fulfillment. Research suggests that proactively giving your role a purpose can help your work feel more meaningful to you.

To start, identify what motivates you about your work. Then think of how to incorporate one of your top motivators into a purpose statement for your role.

For example, let’s say you’re a warehouse logistics specialist. Here are some possible role statements if you’re motivated by:

  • Helping others. I want to be a supportive teammate and a partner who gets customers what they need on time.
  • Solving problems. I want to be the specialist who figured out how to cut back orders in half.
  • Being recognized for my skill or expertise. I want to be our most efficient specialist.

Once you have a statement, you are in a better position to determine how your day-to-day actions connect to what motivates you.

2. Notice and share what interests and excites you about your work.

In the rush of everyday tasks, it can be easy to lose sight of how what you’re doing relates to what motivates you.

Instead, take a few minutes at the end of each workday or on your commute home to:

  • Reflect on what you particularly enjoyed about the day. Maybe you value collaboration and helping people, and you had an energizing brainstorming session with teammates to solve a client problem. Whatever it is, celebrate the moment, and make a mental note to strive for more of those at work.
  • Connect a task to a big-picture goal. Let’s say you spent the day stressed out over a presentation you have to give to the department. Take a moment to think about the presentation as an opportunity to build your reputation as a leader and, ultimately, help fulfill your goal of getting promoted to manager. Or if your tasks were ho-hum (like updating client records), how do they connect to a team or company goal (like increasing customer satisfaction).

Then, look for opportunities during your day to share the good parts, so you’ll keep them in mind and also so others (including your manager) will know what lights your fire. You could share in the moment (e.g., tell your teammates after a brainstorm, “I really enjoyed thinking creatively with you all”) or in meetings with your manager (e.g., “I’m excited by project X because I’m learning so much”) or your team (e.g., if you love helping clients, share a positive client impact story in your weekly update).

3. Tell your manager (diplomatically) what you’d like to do more or less of.

You might think, Oh, my manager will never listen or They’ll think I’m just complaining. But it’s in your manager’s best interest to understand your level of engagement and how to improve it.

Sometimes, getting your manager’s attention comes down to how you package your message. As you think through how to share your views about your workload, keep these two questions in mind: How can I frame requests in terms of what’s important to my manager? How can I give my manager the important information they need to better manage me?

Possible opportunities to share about include:

  • Volunteering for new projects that interest you. When you see a new project on the horizon, telegraph your level of interest — and don’t forget that adding a task often means you’ll need to de-prioritize other work to fit it in (e.g., “Elyse, I’d love to take on the upcoming customer interview project. It would be a nice change of pace for me, and it would help me think of how we could deliver even more value to customers. Could we discuss your vision for it and how I might fit it into my schedule?”). You could also offer to take a task off your manager’s plate (e.g., “Elyse, it seems like you’re spending a lot of time on customer interviews. I’d be happy to pitch in on those if that would help free you up for other things”).
  • Asking for more autonomy in a task. Depending on your relationship with your manager and the situation, you could ask for more ownership directly (e.g., “Ron, I’m pretty comfortable with this. Could we switch our weekly project check-in to monthly — and I’ll let you know if I need your input in the meantime?”). Or you could approach the subject indirectly by taking more initiative and showing you’re ready for more responsibility (e.g., “Ron, I researched three ways I could do the data analysis. I recommend this first way because … ”).
  • Asking to stop doing a task you mastered long ago. Busy managers can lapse into a “set it and forget it” mentality when delegating tasks, leaving direct reports on a hamster wheel of repetition. Sometimes all it takes is reminding your manager that you’re still doing that task they’ve long forgotten about (e.g., “Roberto, I’ve been running the quality assurance report for three years now and, frankly, I need a new challenge”). Other times, you might present the mundane task as something you’re willing to let go of to take on something more interesting (e.g., “Roberto, I’d love to take on project X, and I think my work there could really help with our team goal of Y. Could we discuss who else could take over running the quality assurance report so I have room in my schedule?”).

4. Think of ways to make a task more interesting by adjusting factors like your level of collaboration, experimentation, or competition.

Doing work the same way day after day can lead you to become really good and efficient at it — but also fatigued or downright bored. While it may not be realistic to fundamentally change what work you do, you can at least explore tweaking how you do that work to make it feel more engaging.

Depending on the situation and level of autonomy you have, you could try these kinds of changes yourself or talk with your manager about them. Consider adjustments that:

  • Increase collaboration (or collaborate with different people). Maybe you ask a colleague to give you feedback on your work or over lunch compare notes about how you each do the same task. You may learn something new or your co-worker may learn about a tactic they didn’t know about — either way, your company comes out ahead, and your work is more social.
  • Try an experimental approach. If you’ve been doing the same thing the same way for years, chances are that you can tweak your process to be more effective. To explore options, start with a few what-if questions: What if you had two months instead of one for your project? What if you had to cut your process from six to four steps? What if clients suddenly said, “We need this to be more automated”? Then develop hypotheses you can try in some small way before making a wholesale shift.
  • Add an element of competition. Maybe you put a scoreboard on the wall by your desk to track your own progress, or you track your team’s progress versus another’s. Winning can be fun, but competition can also spur your creativity and innovation as you look for ways to edge up your score.

5. Propose an engaging side project to your manager.

Think win-win. Aim for a project that you’ll be motivated to take on that will also help your team or performance in some way.

To determine one to pitch to your manager, ask yourself questions like:

  • What problem or inefficiency really bugs me that I’d like to see solved?
  • What’s something I would like to do but never get the chance to?
  • What skill am I interested to practice and develop to help my (or my team’s) performance now? To get to the next level in my career?

And when talking with your manager about it, be sure to emphasize both your interest and the team benefit, so it doesn’t come across as a selfish ask. It’s a bonus if you can say that you’ll still be able to prioritize your regular work. Examples:

“Sasha, I know you’ve heard me complain about our inefficient data analysis process. I’d really like to spend a little time figuring out how to improve it. Not only would it help our team morale but it could really speed up development. And I think I could make progress if I spent two hours a week on it. Could we discuss some ideas for how I could fit this into my schedule?

“Sasha, we’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to think about my own development. I’d really like to learn more about predictive modeling, which could improve my current analysis. Could we discuss how I could do this to most benefit the team?