The Psychology of Productivity: Understanding Motivation and Goal Setting

By Toni Buffa | Published March 26, 2024


The correlation between motivation and productivity is one we are all aware of. But do you know the psychology behind productivity? Productivity, for the most part, isn't something we naturally feel every day. Productivity depends on internal and external motivation, as well as mental energy. If any of these declines, productivity will suffer. 

This article will discuss the psychology behind productivity and the correlation between this motivation and goal setting. We will also explore some specific psychological principles that can significantly enhance your ability to achieve your goals and accomplish more personally and professionally.

Motivation Theory

Oxford Languages defines motivation as "the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way" or "the general desire or willingness of someone to do something." Let's focus on the second definition for this specific section because the definition of Motivation Theory is the study of understanding what drives a person to work towards a particular goal or outcome.

Various theories fall under the umbrella of human motivation, each involving different forces that influence and steer our motivations. These forces can be biological, emotional, social, or personal. Two types of motivation that are worth exploring are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. 

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Understanding intrinsic and extrinsic motivation differences is crucial for creating a productive work environment. It also lays the groundwork for effective goal-setting techniques. The two can be defined as:

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation stems from personal satisfaction and genuine interest in tasks, forming the foundation of employee engagement and satisfaction. When you are intrinsically motivated, it's because you get personally satisfied with doing it.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is driven by external rewards or recognition. It can provide additional incentives but requires careful balancing to ensure it complements rather than overshadows intrinsic motivation.

Effective Goal-Setting Techniques

Building upon the foundation of intrinsic motivation, effective goal-setting techniques further empower individuals and teams to channel their efforts toward tangible outcomes. Individuals gain direction and focus by setting clear, actionable goals and aligning their actions with organizational objectives.

For example, SMART goals emphasize specificity, measurability, achievability, relevance, and time-bound nature, guiding individuals through goal formulation with precision and clarity.

By intertwining the principles of intrinsic motivation with structured goal-setting techniques, organizations can cultivate environments where productivity thrives, and individuals find purpose and fulfillment in their work.

Psychological Principles for Boosting Productivity

Some psychological principles and theories can help individuals stay on track with goals and remain productive. Two of those are:

Self-efficacy: Belief in one's ability to succeed.

This principle is based on someone's determination and perseverance to get work done. Psychologist Albert Bandura has defined self-efficacy as people's belief in their ability to control their functioning and events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy is a person's particular set of beliefs that determine how well one can execute a plan of action in prospective situations.

Self-determination theory: fostering autonomy, competence, and relatedness

According to the University of Rochester,  self-determination theory suggests that all humans have three basic psychological needs—autonomy, competence, and relatedness—underlie growth and development. When these needs are met, people are more autonomous and likely to do better for themselves.

Actionable Steps for Employees

To be the best version of yourself in the workplace and your personal life, knowing what motivates one person may not inspire you is essential. So, to be the best version of yourself, find actionable ways to increase your motivation. Some ways to do so are:

  • Identifying personal motivators and aligning tasks with intrinsic interests.
  • Setting SMART goals for personal and professional development.
  • Practicing mindfulness techniques to enhance focus and reduce distractions.
  • Seeking feedback and making adjustments to goals and strategies.

Actionable Steps for Managers

Each employee is different, so expecting one type of work environment to please everyone is far-fetched. Try multiple methods to create a space where everyone feels comfortable, motivated, and productive. Here are some examples:

  • Creating a supportive work environment that fosters autonomy and competence.
  • Providing clear expectations and resources for goal achievement.
  • Offering regular feedback and recognition for progress.
  • Encouraging collaboration and peer support among team members.


We covered a lot in this article. From motivation theory to goal setting, everything relies on one another. Finding the right balance between what motivates you intrinsically will drive your ability to accomplish your goals and be rewarded. No matter your role in an organization, there are various ways to motivate yourself to achieve more, which can significantly enhance your ability to accomplish your personal and professional goals.

Productivity Tips  

Toni Buffa

Toni is a member of the Integrify marketing team and writes for the Integrify blog. Toni lives in Colorado and loves animals of all stripes.