Ever wonder how to be productive when you don’t feel motivated at all? After going through a couple of these phases myself, I’ve compiled the methods I’ve found most helpful for getting out of a productivity slump and getting things done!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
It happens to all of us. We have a to-do list that’s a mile long, but really all we feel like doing is binge watching Netflix or going to sleep. And while I do feel like an occasional Netflix binge is good for the soul, there is still a lot of “adulting” that needs to happen, even in those times we aren’t feeling particularly driven. But how do you be productive when you’re not feeling motivated?
I originally wrote this post a few years ago after just bouncing back from a stretch when I had been feeling completely unmotivated. While I would like to say that pinpointing the sources of my lethargy and ways that helped me regain my motivation prevented me from ever feeling unmotivated again, life just doesn’t work that way! There are just some days (or sometimes weeks or even longer) where we just don’t feel like we have “it.”
After a few more stints where I was lacking of motivation over the past few years and consequently pulling myself back to being a productive member of society 😉 , I wanted to come in and update this post with some additional thoughts and ideas for working through those times when we’re feeling unmotivated.
Why don’t I feel motivated at all?!
I started out by asking myself why couldn’t I get motivated. Why was I struggling to complete these seemingly simple tasks that remained on my to do list day after day? I came up with two main reasons for my lack of motivation:
Problem #1: I was burnt out.
Sometimes all of the different areas of our lives seem to become busy all at the same time and life begins to feel chaotic. We don’t want to let anyone down, so we keep pushing through in order to fulfill our obligations, but in the meantime, our own energy dwindles and our motivation begins to suffer.
Whenever I realize that this is happening in my life, I begin to try to make a few changes to get myself out of burn out mode and back to a healthier (and more motivated) place.
First, I begin to declutter my time.
I talk a lot about decluttering my “stuff,” but I am learning more and more that I need to declutter my time as well. I am a people pleaser. I hate to tell anybody “no,” which of course means that I typically end up with too many things on my plate. Often these are good things in and of themselves, but coupled with everything else I say “yes” to, they end up as just extra tasks that keep me overly busy and contribute to my burn out.
So as much as it pains me, I sometimes have to choose to step back from a few things and say “no” to a few others when I am asked. It hurts. There have even been times where I’ve had to have a text message therapy session with my mom after I had said “no” to something because I was feeling horrible and like I was letting people down. But you know what?
It was the right choice.
Because when I say “yes” to something, it automatically means that I’m saying “no” to something else, and to keep my priorities in check (and maintain my sanity!) I just cannot say “yes” to everything. I can’t.
I allow myself to have some down time, guilt free.
I have kind of an intense personality, to the point where if I’m not doing something to be productive or get ahead, I begin to feel guilty about it, especially when my to-do list is feeling kind of daunting. The reality is, though, when I really take a good hard look at my to-do list, very few of the items are actually urgent. Most are self-imposed deadlines that, if I were to push them back for a day or two, would not be the end of the world at all.
Since, when I’m in burn out mode, I am typically distracted, exhausted, and not getting much done during my “work” time anyway, I have learned to stop trying to force it. I will sit on the couch and watch one of my favorite movies and let my brain just decompress. And it is lovely. 🙂 Sometimes we just need to let go of the to-do list and give ourselves a break, and we need to be okay with that.
I commit to getting enough sleep.
During these periods of being crazy busy, sleep is often one of the first things to go. I’m always tempted to stay up super late to be able to check off more items from my to do list, but I find that when I don’t get enough sleep, I have trouble focusing the next day anyway, so my plan backfires. Instead of attempting to “burn the midnight oil,” I recommit to getting at least 7 hours of sleep, and during my work time the next day I am able to be much more focused and productive.
I get moving.
Sometimes just breaking up the monotony of my daily routine by getting outside and going for a walk is enough to give my brain a little refresh and bring back my motivation. If it’s cold or rainy, a quick indoor workout will work too, but I’ve found that even for me– who is about as far from a “nature girl” as you can get– I feel a more refreshed and gain more clarity when I’m getting fresh air and exercising outside.
I have to confess that when I’m feeling unmotivated, getting moving and exercising is often the very last thing I feel like doing. But if I can just convince myself to get started (or have someone else hold me accountable), I am always glad that I did it, and I’m often re-energized to complete the other tasks on my to-do list as well.
Problem #2: I was dreading the task.
The second reason I often have trouble becoming motivated is that I’m not looking forward to many of the items on my to do list. I always tend to leave the not-fun items for last, and they end up getting pushed further and further into the future, giving me more time to dread doing them! Eek! When I see this happening again and again, I do a few simple things to try to stop it:
I tackle the most dreaded item on my to do list first.
This is often referred to “eating that frog,” after this book by Brian Tracy. If I can start right in on my hardest task, I will have gotten it out of the way and won’t spend my entire day (or week) dreading it. I find that completing that tougher item helps me feel a sense of accomplishment and gives me momentum to complete the rest of the things on my to do list that day.
I set a timer.
Yep, just like when I was a little kid, somehow the magic timer helps me to get things done more efficiently. With this method (sometimes called the Pomodoro technique), I set a timer– usually for around 30 minutes– and commit to focusing only on the task at hand for that amount of time; no checking social media or email, no getting distracted by other things. When the timer goes off, I take a 5 minute break, and then head back for another focused chunk of time.
When it comes to tasks I’m dreading, this is especially helpful because I know if I can just stick to it for 30 minutes and knock a large piece of it out of the way, I will feel so much better when it’s over!
I give myself a reward.
Writing some of these things down is kind of funny because I’m realizing that I’m using some of the same tactics on myself as I try on my boys! Just like I’m not above bribing them to do certain things, I am not above bribing myself with a reward if it will help me get those dreaded tasks out of the way.
I put away my phone.
I feel almost embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve found that sometimes I’m simply not motivated to do any of the important tasks on my list because it’s just easier to stare at my phone and get lost in the social media scroll. My mind turns to mush and I get lost in the world of memes, viral videos, and status updates.
I don’t think social media or games or all of the other activities we do on our smart phones are all bad, but I do think that a break from them can work wonders for clearing up our brain fog and helping our motivation to return.
I go back to my “why.”
Sometimes reminding myself of why I’m doing the task that I’m not feeling motivated to do is enough to reinvigorate me to get going. Other times I find that my original “why” is lacking, and I need the reexamine the reasons behind why I’m doing a task.
For example, when I first started to get serious about blogging, I would write blog posts because it was fun and allowed me to be creative, but also because I wanted my blog to grow and my traffic numbers to go up.
When I started to feel like I was in a blogging rut at one point and reexamined why I was doing this whole blogging thing, I quickly realized that higher numbers or more “followers” wasn’t a motivating factor for me anymore. What I really wanted to do was use the knowledge/ skills/ gifts that I had to help other people in whatever way I was able. Once I shifted my “why” and found a more clear sense of purpose behind why I was doing what I was doing, my motivation came back, and I found that I was excited about blogging again.
Similarly, I have found that my motivation can start to wane once I’ve accomplished a goal that I’ve set for myself. For a long time our goal, our “why,” was to buy a new house. After living in our townhouse for seven years, we finally bought our current house, and after we moved in there was sort of this sense of, “Okay, we did it! Now what?”
When we had accomplished the thing that had been our motivation for so long, we sort of let down and lost our drive for a little bit until we realized that we needed to take some time to regroup, set new goals, and create a different “why.”
Chat with a Doctor
Finally, this isn’t always necessary, but sometimes, particularly if you’ve experienced an unusually prolonged stint of feeling unmotivated, it might be helpful to check with your doctor to see if there is something else going on that could be contributing to the way you’re feeling. They’re often able to recommend even small changes that can make a bigger impact on your energy and day-to-day motivation.
Adulting is hard, friend! And it’s especially tough when you feel like you’ve hit a productivity slump. Yes, there will be times when you’ll be on a deadline and have to knock it out even when you don’t feel like it. In that case, I just try to picture how great the end result will be and push through until I’m able to put the task behind me.
But we’re not robots. We can’t live in a constant state of overwork and overwhelm. We have to be able to give ourselves some grace, take a step back, and fall into a pace of life that will be sustainable and healthy for the long term. It’s not always easy, but we’ll definitely be thanking ourselves in the long run!
Have a wonderful week!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.