Why autonomy is important for work

Book Journey

Table of contents

Hey friends,

So far on the book journey, I’ve found two things harder than expected. The first is figuring out what I want to say. The second is figuring out how to say it. I think I’ve finally cracked the first problem and I plan to share some lessons on that in future emails. These past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time figuring how to say what I want to say.

When I think about non-fiction books that have changed my life, their core messages are always presented in a way that makes the message stick with you. For example, in James Clear’s Atomic Habits, the core message of “small changes can lead to big differences” is framed in terms of compound interest. Similar to how money multiplies through compound interest, James tells us that habits multiply to create big effects if you repeat them. As someone who thinks about money a fair bit and who struggles to stick to my gymshark athlete plan, having someone point out the similarities between growing money and growing habits just really clicked with me.

Being stuck on how to say something is strange… The best way I can describe it is that it’s sort of like knowing what presents you want to give someone but not knowing how to wrap up that present so that it’s a nice surprise. Should I put it in a bigger box so they don’t guess what the present is from its shape? What color wrapping paper should I use? Should the paper be patterned or not? Should I tie a ribbon around the present?

✍️ What we worked on this week

This week, we’ve been thinking a lot about freedom and autonomy in work. Something stood out in the responses to our last survey about energizers and drainers (more on this below). A lot of you said that you feel drained and bored when you don’t have control over the thing you’re doing. This got us thinking. Why is feeling a sense of control and autonomy important to enjoy what you do?

🧠 The most interesting thing we learned

It turns out that a lot of you who responded to the survey were spot on about autonomy being an “energizer” and the lack of it being a “drainer”. In the late 1980s, two psychologists from the University of Rochester developed a theory about what we need to feel motivated to do something. They called this “Self Determination Theory” (SDT).

SDT says that to feel motivated, we need to fulfil three basic psychological needs. The first is autonomy - the feeling that you have control over your goals, your day, and whether what you do is important. The other two factors are competence (the feeling that you are good at what you do) and relatedness (the feeling of being connected to other people).

(By the way, you might be wondering what motivation has to do with being energized or drained. The answer is that usually when you’re drained by a task you probably can’t be motivated to do that task. If you’re energized by it, then you’re more motivated to do it).

❓Question of the week

It seems like your personal stories and psychological research both show that autonomy is super important when it comes to doing things that energize and motivate us. This leads to the question of the week:

💬 When you feel stuck, drained, or unmotivated because you have to do something that you feel like you have no control over (e.g. your boss asks for a report by Friday), do you have any tips or techniques to help yourself feel like you have more control over what you have to do?

We’re particularly interested in hearing about the following
- Changing WHAT you do to gain more control (e.g. asking your boss if you can do a powerpoint rather than report)
- Changing HOW you do it (e.g. asking to work from home)
- Changing your MINDSET about what and how you do things (e.g. reminding yourself about things you like about your work)

I’d love to hear from you about this. If you’re up for sharing a story that might feature in the book, please reply here.

As usual, the form will ask you for your name and email (optional) so that we can give you credit for the story, or potentially reach out to you to ask for more details 🙂

📢 Answers from last week’s questions

Thanks to all of you who took part in our survey last week where we asked you about what tasks energize and drain you.

We loved your responses! Shoutout to Anna, Lina, and Sam who shared these insights.

Thanks to Anna for sharing how the key to feeling energized is finding CONNECTION. As someone who also loves to teach, this really resonated with me. Also, it’s pretty cool how “connectedness” is basically the “relatedness” part of the self-determination.

I guess I could summarise my experience with one word: connection. I'm a teacher, and one of the things that energises me the most is teaching a class. Yet, I don't leave the classroom feeling energised every day. When I feel the best is when there's been a positive exchange; sometimes it has to do with learning, sometimes just with sharing.

Thanks also to Lina who showed the importance of knowing yourself and balancing the things that drain and energize you.

I think these are all very personal, so it really depends on what kind of person you are. I am an introvert but I still enjoy hanging out with friends... So for me, spending enough time by myself is so crucial to get prepared for social events. When the amount of social time exceeded how much I originally planned for, any kinds of interactions drain me.... So I think finding balance is critical for activities that drain/energize you.

And finally, thanks to Sam who said that deciding whether to respond to our survey was draining lol. We actually really appreciate this feedback and if you have any ideas on how to make these surveys less draining, please let us know here!

Contemplating whether or not to complete this survey was draining. The reward was not clear, as I didn't know how my answer would be processed or if it would have value. I also had little positive, notable experiences completing surveys like this in the past. I was only motivated to do it after thinking of this answer and perceiving it as mildly interesting.

We’re looking forward to featuring a few more or your responses next week!

That’s it from me for now. Have a great week!

Ali xx


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