What motivates us?

You’d think it’d be money, but you’d only be half right. 

Money is the primary motivator only until your financial needs are met. After that, money stops motivating people to do much of anything, aside from being evil.

(This is sometimes called “The Cobra Effect” and it has no relation whatsoever to a certain weather dominated obsessed terrorist organization.)

Sadly, few of us today can say our financial needs are met. And thanks to advances in software, automation, and outsourcing, this is not likely to change soon.

That’s why I advocate for Universal Basic Income.

By taxing multimillion-dollar real estate deals, high frequency transactions on Wall Street, and other high-priced intangible goods that don’t add any real value to society, you would be able to provide every American over the age of eighteen with a check for $1,200 a month.

No strings attached. 

The idea being that a Universal Basic Income may not meet all your financial needs, but it gets you 50% of the way there. You wouldn’t need to work, although statistically, most people say they would after receiving a UBI. 

The UBI also forces employers to raise their wages, since people would now have flexibility in the job market thanks to their extra income.

We’ll talk more about UBI some other time. I just mention it here because we’re talking about money as a motivator, and I think Universal Basic Income is an eventuality.

That means money won’t be as important as we think in terms of motivating people within our lifetime. 

So, to figure out what else motivates people, you have to dig deeper. It’s not enough to ask someone why they want something. That’s a great start, but a lot of people don’t know why they want what they want in the first place.

See for yourself: List all the things you want, and then ask yourself why you want those things. You’ll find a bunch that made the list for no reason other than someone told you once that you should want it.

When it comes to motivating people to put in those three to four hours of “deep work” every day, knowing why they want what they want is pivotal. You can’t do any sort of quality work if you’re not motivated to do it in the first place. 

And what do we want? What motivates us besides money? Recognition.

If we’re not talking about money, one of the key drivers for what motivates us is to be recognized; particularly for doing something we like to do. Something that’s fun!

NOT something we have to do because that’s what we’ve been told to do, which I’d argue is the majority of us; Just going through the motions and not thinking critically about why.

What I’m saying, and so is your biology, is that if you want to make porn, make porn. If you want to be a professional wrestler, be a professional wrestler. Those are fun, ridiculous examples, but you get what I’m saying. Doing the thing you want to be recognized for doing is what motivates us to do our best possible work.

We need to encourage that. Not stomp on people for wanting to be different.

Work, for work’s sake, isn’t a thing humans are hardwired to do. That’s why so few of us are motivated to do a good job at work. We work to the level required to pay our bills, and nothing more.

Humans are hardwired to play, sleep, eat, and fuck. That’s it. Being recognized for doing something that makes you happy very much falls under the play category. (Although I guess porn would put you into two categories, and if your porn involves food, which I’m told some does, you’d have a hattrick.)

Before we moved to an agrarian society, one that required labor and private property, people did what they needed in terms of maintaining their life, getting food for the day, building shelter, but that was it.

Once those tasks were done, we didn’t do anything else that we’d qualify as work. We played. We danced. We raised each other’s kids. We had fun.

 So think carefully about why you are doing what you’re doing.

If you find you don’t like it, start making small, incremental changes to transition into doing the thing you want to do. (And for employers, find ways to support your employees with side hustles.)

It won’t happen right away, but you can steal time wherever you may find it. And eventually, you can get to where you want to be.

Why You Should Only Work 4 Hours a Day

When I read a book, I’ll read it three times.

First, to enjoy it. Second to take notes, and third— after a month off — one final time.

That third time may seem like overkill, but I found the time off helps me make connections I might have missed.

During that third reading I’ll also ask: What’s the takeaway? 

There were more than a few from “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.

This surprised me. “The War of Art” is one of those books that looks like it’ll be helpful, but then succeeds in not saying anything you don’t already know for 180 pages. “If you want to be great, you have to turn pro! Turning pro means putting in the work every day with no guarantee of success!” 

Well … Yeah. Between climate change, the Great Recession, and terrorism, living in the 21st Century has taught us all that there are no guarantees of anything, let alone success.

But. If you can get past the book’s superficial goofiness, there’s a lot to like.

Here’s one example:

“The War of Art” ties nicely with Cal Newport’s book, “Deep Work”, in terms of asking you to set a schedule for your work, weed out all distractions, and then doing that work until your concentration is spent. Usually within four hours.

Those four hours Newport discusses is the same four hours Pressfield recommends you schedule each day.

Why four? Four hours is the upper limit of what Newport and cognitive psychologists found people can do in terms of good, high-quality work each day.

And four hours is something you have to work towards building, not all of us have it from the start.

Any work you produce after those four hours will likely be sloppier, filled with mistakes, and less clear. So, I know this won’t always possible, but if you can: After those four hours are gone, stop working for the day.

Remember: A lot of people today are trapped at their desk for periods longer than four hours, because the boss thinks that’s how things should be, but your boss is wrong. 20th Century management philosophy has not caught up to 21st century psychology.

The nine-to-five workday is an artifact left over from when manual labor and factories defined what work should looks like. Thanks to software, robotics, and outsourcing, we need to revisit this and make some changes.

Pressfield states that it’s the quality, and not the quantity, of the work that’s produced in those four hours that matters most, and I agree. He doesn’t count how many pages he writes. All that matters is that he sat down and produced quality work during the time he scheduled for that work to be done in.

The length of time you spend at work doesn’t matter. Your time spent actually working does.

That’s the thing both Pressfield and Newport hit on, and I’m recommending you try if you can.

Set a schedule for your four hours, they don’t have to be four hours consecutively, but work those same four hours each day distraction free. (If you like, you can even break those four hours into eight, half-hour sections. That’s how my day works. Anything considered a distraction is done between those half-hour intervals.)

If you can, I hope you’ll give this a try. Four hours may not seem like a lot, but if they allow you to do better work than your peers, who do work a full nine-hours filled with distractions, than that should be proof enough that these authors are right, and four hours is all we need.