How To Stay Motivated At Your Day Job While Building Your Side Hustle

How To Stay Motivated At Your Day Job

You may be reading this article hoping for some quick tips on how to increase your motivation at work. There are likely quick ways to do that, but I firmly believe that the “quick wins” and the “hacks” aren’t sustainable unless you have a firm foundation in place.

The truest source of motivation comes from within. When we’re interested in something, or when we’ve completely bought into something, working on it doesn’t feel like work.

How can we harness some of that “internal motivation” when it comes to our day jobs? Especially when we may not be passionate about what we’re doing at our 9-5? Is it even possible?

To understand motivation, you need to be familiar with the difference between external and intrinsic (internal) motivation.

A good definition of intrinsic motivation is “an energizing of behavior that comes from within an individual, out of will and interest for the activity at hand.  No external rewards are required to incite the intrinsically motivated person into action.  The reward is the behavior itself.” (1)

Said another way, intrinsic motivation is something that comes from inside a person.  

On the other hand, Business Dictionary defines extrinsic motivation as, “drive to action that springs from outside influences instead of from one's own feelings.” (2)

If someone is extrinsically motivated, their willingness to put forth effort into an activity is guided by something outside of the person, for example, a monetary reward or gift.  This is the opposite of intrinsic motivation, where the reward is in the enjoyment of the process or behavior.  

Side Note: You may be reading this because you’re keeping your day job while you build your side biz. But if you need a jumpstart on ideas for your side biz, sign up to get the Guide to 50 Side Hustle Ideas for Working Moms.

How Extrinsic Rewards Affect Our Drive to Perform

I read Daniel Pink’s book called “Drive”.  It’s a fascinating read that’s contrary to what most of us believe to be true with regard to using rewards to incentivize behavior.  At work, we think bigger sales commissions are motivating.  At home, we think incentivizing our kids with virtual bucks for their favorite video game makes sense.

One of the foremost researchers in the area of motivation, Dr. Edward Deci, found that “reward effects reported in 128 experiments lead to the conclusion that tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation.” (3) . In other words Dr. Deci found that external rewards actually had a negative effect on our motivation.

The rewards system we’re familiar with today were developed back when the work we did was concrete and followed a specific and strict set of rules.  There wasn’t room for any creativity, and the tasks were usually boring and uninteresting.  (Think factory line workers e.g. “Laverne and Shirley”).

To incentivize workers to maximize production of these routine and boring tasks, companies began rewarding employees for their production.   For these types of tasks, monetary (or extrinsic) rewards work well.  Daniel Pink says, “For routine tasks, which aren’t very interesting and don’t demand much creative thinking, rewards can provide a small motivational booster shot without the harmful side effects.” (4). 

The research seems to confirm this conclusion.  Psychologist Dan Ariely conducted a study of motivation in India.  Participants were offered three levels of rewards in exchange for completing tasks at varying levels.  These tasks weren’t routine; they involved higher order thinking and creativity.  The incentives ranged from one day’s pay, two weeks pay, and five months pay.  Guess what they found?  The group offered the largest reward did worse in 8 of the 9 tasks the researchers measured.  Their conclusion:  higher incentives led to worse performance for non-routine problems requiring creative solutions.

In his book “Payoff”, Ariely outlines a study he did regarding the effectiveness of large bonuses.  He said, “One of our main findings was that when the bonus size became very large, performance decreased dramatically.” (5). He went on to say, “adding money to the equation can backfire and make people less driven.” (6) 

Main Idea: It’s not all about money, money, money. We are driven by more than monetary compensation for the work we do.

How Extrinsic Rewards Affect Creativity and Altruism

In his book “Drive”, Daniel Pink outlines a study where participants were tasked with solving a problem where they needed to find a way to affix a candle to the wall.  They were given a candle, tray, a book of matches, and tacks, and were timed to see how long it took them.  The researchers split the groups into two; one group that wasn’t incentivized, and the other incentivized based on how fast they could solve the problem.  They found that offering the external reward hampered creativity because “rewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus” and causes us to see only what’s in front of us rather than what’s off in the distance. (7)

In yet another experiment, researchers studied female blood donors in Sweden.  They divided women who were interested in giving blood into three groups; in the first group the donation was voluntary, the second group would receive about $7 in compensation for their donation, and the third group would receive about $5 with an option to donate it to a children’s cancer center.  The researchers found that paying people decreased the number of potential donors who decided to give blood, and surmised that “it tainted an altruistic act and “crowded out” the intrinsic desire to do something good.” (8) 

In addition, Pink states that giving external rewards is addictive and creates a precedent.  First, attaching a reward to a task automatically casts it as undesirable.  If you offer too small of a reward, people won’t do it, and if you offer something that entices them to actually do the task, you’ll have to offer the reward over and over again.

Stated another way:  “A contingent reward makes an agent expect it whenever a similar task is faced, which in turn compel the principal to use rewards over and over again.  And before long, the existing reward may no longer suffice.  It will quickly feel less like a bonus and more like the status quo—which then forces the principal to offer larger rewards to achieve the same effect.” (9) 

To summarize, external rewards can hamper performance and the drive to achieve better results, dull creativity, curb our intrinsic desire to “do good”, narrow our horizons from broad thinking to just what’s in front of us, and can be addictive.

Main Idea:  Although it seems counterintuitive, extrinsic rewards can have the opposite of it’s intended effect.  It can actually hamper our performance and results.


The Three Components of Intrinsic Motivation


There are three factors required for intrinsic motivation.  The most critical component of intrinsic motivation is autonomy.  (15)  According to motivation researchers Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, “Autonomous motivation involves behaving with a full sense of volition and choice, whereas controlled motivation involves behaving with the experience of pressure and demand toward specific outcomes that comes from forces perceived to be external to the self.” (16)  

Practically speaking, what does autonomy mean?  It means you are acting with choice.  To help, use the test of the 3 T’s:  Task, Time, and Technique. (17)  We can ask ourselves whether or not we have choices over what type of tasks to do, when to do it, and how to do it.  

The reason autonomy is so important to motivation is that whereas “control leads to compliance, autonomy leads to engagement.” (18) 

How much autonomy do you have in your work? If the level of autonomy you have is very limited, can you think of a way to increase autonomy on the job?


The second element of intrinsic motivation is mastery.  Mastery is defined (per as “comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment.” In the book “Drive”, mastery is also defined as “the desire to get better at something that matters”. (19)

Mastery involves persevering through setbacks and failures to achieve long term goals.  Malcolm Gladwell’s research says it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.  Psychologist Anders Ericcson studied expert performance and established the “deliberate practice” rule; that one must intensely practice over a long period of time to become a master.  “Mastery—of sports, music, business—requires effort (difficult, painful, excruciating, all-consuming effort) over a long time (not a week or a month, but a decade)”.  (20) Moreover, “A key tenet of deliberate practice is that it's generally not enjoyable.” (21)  

So, in order to truly master something, you must press on and do the hard stuff; the stuff no one else wants to do when you don’t feel like doing it.  Mastery is a test of true tenacity—it doesn’t happen overnight.  


Finally, the last element of intrinsic motivation is purpose.  It’s the “why” behind the actions.  Does what you do have deep meaning and significance?  Does it contribute to a greater good?  Do you understand why you’re being asked to do something? 

When people don’t know why they’re being asked to do something, or if they don’t understand how they fit into the big picture, motivation declines.

Can you identify how you contribute to the big picture with your company?

Main Idea:  the three components of intrinsic motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

How to stay motivated at Your Day Job while building your side hustle

I get it that some of you don’t have much autonomy in the job you do. If this is you, is there a way to get creative? If you answer calls all day, can you think of a unique way to brand yourself by the way you greet people? Instead of griping about how things at work are disorganized and inefficient, can you come up with a creative solution and approach your Manager about implementing it?

For those of you who manage others, can you think of ways to give your employees some degree of autonomy in what they do? Even if your employees are given a script to use when speaking with customers, can you encourage them to infuse it with their own personality? Can you give them some latitude in solving customer issues? Remember that autonomy is the most important of the three components, so if you can create some autonomy at your job, this will go a long way in terms of your motivation (and your employee’s).

Second, feeling like we’ve mastered something helps to keep us motivated. Ever start a new job? You feel totally lost. It’s not a good feeling because we want to feel accomplished at our jobs. So keep working on developing your job skills—become the resource for your particular job. Learn how to write and structure those weekly reports so that you’re often asked for help by others. Offer to pick a topic and train your peers at your department or unit meeting.

(Side Note: nothing is more motivating than doing your own thing. If starting your own side hustle business is intriguing to you, get in motion by brainstorming ideas. Get our Guide to 50 Side Hustle Ideas for Working Moms by signing up below!)


Finally, you’ll be more motivated at work if you can find a higher meaning or purpose in the work you do. If you’re a nurse, teacher, or a social worker, this is easy. But for some of us, identifying a higher purpose can seem like a bit of a stretch.

In his book “Drive”, Dan Pink gives an example of a hospital janitor who does world class work every single day. He finds purpose in helping the hospital clean, which in turn, helps to keep patients and staff healthy.

If you’re the Assistant Manager at a bank, what larger purpose do you see yourself as a part of? Do you help people buy their first homes, offer loans to help people to afford college for their children, and play an integral role in keeping people’s money safe for the future?

If you’re the Lead Salesperson at a clothing boutique, do you help people feel good about themselves and put a smile on their face when they leave with a killer outfit? Think about how your superb customer service affects their happiness. It could cause a domino effect—you help them, they leave in a better mood, and then they’re nicer to their families and people they interact with. And so on.

Think about how you’re contributing to a higher purpose with the work that you do. Connect to this “why” when you’re feeling demotivated. When you have a strong “why”, it’ll help you with the other components of intrinsic motivation—you’ll be motivated to become a master at what you do, and you’ll be willing to approach your job creatively to find some additional autonomy.

To sum up, use what science says can help to develop intrinsic (or internal) motivation! I sincerely hope you found some interesting tidbits of info that’ll be helpful and actionable for you. If you found some value in this article, please share it with a friend or colleague, or on your social media accounts!



(1) Michigan State University;


(3) Pink, Daniel H. "Drive The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Books. 2009. p. 37. Also: (4) 60, (7) 42, 55, (8) 47, (9) 53, (11) 29, (12) 27, (15) 88, (16) 88, (17) 92, (18) 108, (19) 109, (20) 122

(5) Ariely, Dan. “Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations”. Simon & Schuster, 2016. p. 58. Also: (6) 67

(10). Hanbury, Mary. “Costco’s mesmerizing, pizza-making robot is an ominous sign for American retail jobs”. Business Insider. Accessed 30 April 2018.

(21). Lebowitz, Shana. “A top psychologist says there's only one way to become the best in your field — but not everyone agrees”. Business Insider. Accessed 30 April 2018.

Jennifer Wilson