If you’re a man and you are currently in the work force, the best way to get motivated to continue your work is to set yourself a goal, according to a new study by the University of Leicester.

The research examined the effect of goals set in the workplace. These goals were non-binding, which means they have no reward or punishment for success or failure. Using a timed addition task, 109 participants summed up sets of five two-digit, randomly drawn numbers over five minutes in one of three groups:

  • Control - no goal was given
  • Low goal - to achieve 10 correct answers
  • High goal - to achieve 15 correct answers

After completing the experiment, researchers determined that:

  • Men are more motivated by achieving goals than women
  • Goal-setting can generate the same effects on success as monetary incentives
  • Having a goal leads to better focus and increased speed to complete a task

Participants in the low goal and high goal groups attempted more questions, got more right, and answered with greater accuracy than the group where no goal was given. An interesting tidbit arose, however, when researchers compared the two goal groups. They found that neither group distanced itself significantly from the other, which led them to decide that it was important to have a goal, but not as important to set a specific value to that goal.

"The focus of this research was to determine how to motivate people,” said lead researcher Samuel Smithers, PhD student from the University of Leicester's Department of Economics. "The focus of this research was to determine how to motivate people. When we are given a goal, we feel a sense of purpose to achieve it; it naturally helps to focus us. The findings demonstrate that setting a goal induces higher effort.”

Women performed better than men in the no goal group, Smithers said, but men excelled in the goal-related categories. He also noted that he saw a 20 to 35 percent increase in the number of correct additions in the low and high goal groups over the control group.

"This is an incredible increase in output without the need for extra monetary incentives," Smithers said. "The increase was due to an increase in both the speed and accuracy of the participants in the goal groups."

The monetary gain was there for participants, but instead of giving them a bonus for achieving their target goals, they were compensated for each correct question.

Source: Smithers et al. Economics Letters. 2015.