Ten things you can do when you don’t feel motivated to get stuff done

It happens to the best of us. At some point or another, your motivation will seem to dissolve into thin air. This can happen quite spontaneously or, at other times, it seems to gradually sneak up on you. Chances are that throwing your to-do list out the window is not an option. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to increase your motivation and actually begin getting stuff done.

  1. Start small. Often when your motivation is lacking, just getting started can be a big obstacle. But, you can convince yourself to begin working on your projects by committing to work on the least amount items for the shortest amount of time. This means that you can narrow your focus by picking one thing to work on for a short time block (like 10 or 15 minutes). Keep in mind that using a timer can also help to release you from the task once your time is up, though (in my experience) you’ll notice that once you get started, you’ll probably continue working a little longer.
  2. Focus on a mantra. Mantras and inspirational quotes can spur you to doing your best work. They can also help you get through difficult tasks. When I start feeling frantic because I have a lot to do, I often say to myself: “A little plus a little equals much.” (Thanks to my friend and fellow professional organizer, Geralin Thomas, for that wonderful quote.) This helps me to keep a steady pace and to push the temptation to multi-task aside.
  3. Think with the end in mind. How successful and proud will you feel after you finish your tasks? Ask yourself this question when you find that you’re ignoring your most important projects. By focusing on the positive feelings you will have when you actually do what you set out to do, you are actually creating a persuasive argument for getting things done.
  4. Choose a reward. Extend those positive feelings by planning a way to reward yourself when you start crossing stuff off your list. This can be the shove you need to get you started, but remember to pick something that’s attainable so you don’t end up feeling disappointed.
  5. Rewrite your list. If your to do list seems daunting, reconfigure it. Do you need to move things around? What about your deadlines? Have you set “due by” dates and are they realistic? Which items can you delegate to someone else?
  6. Do something else. Sometimes working on something else on your to do list (perhaps a task that’s easy to take care of) can help put you in the right mindset — even though it may not be a top priority. This sort of structured procrastination can build momentum for sustained productivity.
  7. Exercise. Exercise can energize you and improve your mental outlook. Engaging in physical activity can also help to clear your mind so you can focus on those important tasks. If you create a schedule where exercise is regularly included, you might find you are well-equipped to successfully handle those moments when your motivation and productivity begin to wane.

    And, there’s research to back this up:

    A habit of regular exercise will help keep you mentally sharper throughout your entire life. Over a shorter time-frame, an exercise routine can give you more energy throughout the day. Most of your cells contain components called mitochondria, often referred to as the cell’s “power plant.” Mitochondria produce the chemical that your body uses as energy, known as ATP. Physical exercise stimulates the development of new mitochondria within your cells, meaning that your body will be able to produce more ATP over time. That gives you more energy to exert yourself physically, but it also means more energy for your brain, boosting your mental output.

  8. Organize your work space. Chaotic workspaces probably don’t contribute to productive work nor do they motivate you to get things done. So, set the stage — remove paper piles, clear pathways and the space behind your chair, and neatly gather together the supplies you need. Though organizing your work area isn’t directly linked to the tasks you need to get done, putting things in order can reduce stress and create the productive mindset you need to get started. (Just don’t decide to clean your entire house, stick to your workspace.)
  9. Listen to uplifting music. Music can help you feel more inspired when you don’t feel like working. Is it any wonder that it’s the one constant that you’ll find at your local gym? Once you begin tackling your list, consider listening to unfamiliar music to ramp up your productivity.
  10. Call a friend. When all else fails, consider calling a friend (also known as an accountability partner) who can impart a few words of encouragement and check in with you on your progress. You’ll probably be more likely to get your tasks done (or started) if you know that someone will be following up with you.

These are just a few ways that you can turn your workday around when you just don’t feel like doing anything. As with any strategy, not every suggestion will work for everyone. Give some of the suggestions a try to find the ones that move you from inactivity to productivity.

13 Comments for “Ten things you can do when you don’t feel motivated to get stuff done”

  1. posted by Susan on

    Thank you so much for this. I like all the suggestions very much. I recommend the timer. It still amazes me how much I can accomplish in 15 minutes. Sometimes I even get a small task completed in that amount of time. I’m sharing this with friends.

  2. posted by Ellen Delap on

    Love this list! My go to motivator is exercise! So glad you included the statistics about that too. My second is listening to music. Thanks for a list that everyone can find a way to get motivated with.

  3. posted by April on

    Can you give some suggestions for rewards? I don’t know how to reward myself with anything other than food (do this small thing, eat a piece of chocolate; do this big thing, go out to eat for dinner; etc.). But I’m trying to lose weight, not gain it.

  4. posted by Denise Lee on

    I love how this list has something for everyone. I focus on just doing something for 10 minutes – focusing on the time rather than the task somehow neutralizes an otherwise blah situation.

  5. posted by Marcy on

    Thanks…just what I needed. I’m new to your blog and really enjoying it!

  6. posted by Lindsay on

    This is a great post. I especially love number 3 – reminding myself that if I do go work out, I will feel great and if I don’t I’ll be super regretful.

    I like to break things up into smaller pieces – MUCH smaller pieces. Like when I need to clean my kitchen, my list reads “Rinse sink, wipe countertops, scrub stove, unload dishwasher” etc. Then I tackle it one thing at a time….I think to myself, “It will just take a couple of seconds to rinse out this sink.” And then I get a thrill from crossing something off my list, and then it snowballs as I keep checking off each small thing.

  7. posted by TinaInVA on

    Years ago a hilarious co-worker in our super-busy environment would say at the end of the day, “Well I did my one thing today!” Some days are like that, when so overwhelmed with with being behind, ya freeze, do nothing, play video games, clean instead of The Work.

    Pick one thing, one little thing and do it. This does get you started.

    Create a very short list of easy, short length objectives of 5 or 15 minute tasks. Checking them off can lend enough satisfaction to encourage you to keep going.

    Stop the Perfectionism. Overcome the inertia of that first step. Similar to writer’s block, many of us won’t start something if we don’t see the perfect end, understand the whole sequence, imagine not being able to do it perfectly. Or we imagine the pain or boredom of the task. Just do it. Accept that you might do it badly – but as they say, every journey must start with the first step.

  8. posted by Erin Doland on

    @April — I’m not a snacker, so I’ve never been one to reward myself with food. (Coffee, however, is a completely different story!) Anyway, the rewards I use are things like: working on a project I’m super excited about, calling a friend/family member, jumping onto social media for a few minutes (I use a timer for this), doing a load of laundry (it can feel like a reward when I really don’t want to be working), going for a run/walk/bike ride, running an errand, reading a chapter in a book, baby name searching (this is a HUGE reward for me right now as we are trying to adopt and still don’t have a name picked out), etc. Pretty much my rewards are anything I would rather be doing than what I need to do. Each person is different, so find something that works for you and enjoy the respite from your non-enjoyable task!

  9. posted by Deb Lee on

    Hi April – I actually am a snacker (lOVE dark chocolate!), but I try not to use food as a reward or else I’ll eat too much. =) I like to reward myself by hanging out in the garden (watering plants, pulling weeds — it’s calming), taking my daughter and dog for a walk, researching new ways to entertain a toddler and looking up interesting meals to make. As Erin said, the reward will be different for everyone, so try to find something that makes you smile or brings a little joy to your day.

  10. posted by [email protected] on

    Definitely #1 and #5. Setting the timer for 15 minutes works like a miracle. Rewriting my list helps, too. Sometimes I just pull 3 things off the list and work on those – usually easy stuff. Once I get started, I’m usually fine. It’s getting started that’s tough.

  11. posted by David Clar on

    Starting small task is very effective if you want to keep things on tract. I usually save the hardest last to avoid eating my time out. I follow the pomodoro technique on productivity and reward my self in between task. Great to keep your self motivated.

  12. posted by April on

    That helps, thank you!

  13. posted by Jeffrey James on

    I think #7 is my favorite on this list. Exercise always helps me to feel motivated and better able to focus.

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