How to be Productive when you Lack the Motivation to do Anything

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Motivation is rather elusive, isn’t it? Some days you’re on a roll, checking tasks off your to-do list like nobody’s business. Other days, it’s hard to encourage yourself to do anything and be productive but stare at your computer screen blankly, and even the most menial of tasks seem insurmountable. 

Needless to say, mustering up motivation has been harder than ever. The thick fog of the confusion of the news and uncertainty for the future is making it incredibly hard to be productive. Daily structures and routines have been cast aside, and we’re all trying to find ways to adapt to a new normal and find focus. 

In times of stress, chaotic current events, or even when you’re just feeling uninspired, knowing how to get unstuck when you feel unmotivated is useful. Here are our top tips to get motivated and find focus in times of uncertainty. 

Set Straightforward and Simple Goals

Sometimes, feeling unmotivated to get things done is compounded by feeling overwhelmed by too many tasks on your plate. Your zeal to complete work weakens when you don’t have a plan of attack. 

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Rather than having too many things to do and sitting around not doing them, start by sorting out your tasks in order of importance. Prioritising your tasks makes it easier for you to understand what needs to get done, and in what order. Once you have a plan and an organised list for the week, you’ll likely feel more motivated to get going. 

Also, make sure you are simplifying your goals. Big goals may be more challenging to achieve, which will quickly lead to frustration and the inclination to give up. Instead, break up your tasks into smaller, more attainable goals. For example, if you have a big project to complete, break it up into smaller parts that you can assign to yourself daily. More realistic goals are easier to handle than big goals, which are more likely to immediately overwhelm you.   

Engage Accountability

Goals take hard work, perseverance, time, and commitment to achieve. When results don’t come as quickly as you hope, you can easily lose motivation and give up. However, you’re much more likely to keep faith in the process when you leverage an accountability system. To hold yourself accountable, all you need is a clear goal and a willingness to let others help you accomplish it. 

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Research says engaging the power of accountability accelerates your performance. The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) found that you have 65% more of a chance of completing a goal if you commit to someone. If you have a specific accountability appointment with another person, your chance of success will increase to up to 95%. 

When you are accountable to someone (or a group of people), you can easily get stuff done because you use the power of social expectations. For example, when you tell your boss you will get the slide deck done by the end of the week, you are most likely to stick to your deadline and get it done. When you tell a client you’ll send over a proposal, you deliver. The expectation and fear of disappointing someone else are incredibly motivating to get you to commit to the work. 

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Offer Incentives

There is one other super-motivating force besides accountability – incentives. According to one theory of human motivation, actions are often influenced by a desire to acquire outside reinforcement. The incentive theory is one of the major theories of motivation and indicates that behaviour is motivated by a desire for incentives or reinforcement. 

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Rewards for completed work feel good and may act as an impetus for getting things done. Try creating incentives to motivate yourself. Make your incentive meaningful – try something like, “If I finish this first draft by Friday I can order takeout from my favourite restaurant after work.” Knowing you have a treat waiting for you on the other side of your workday will help you get into gear and be productive. 

Take Breaks

Chances are, if you’re feeling unmotivated, you may be burnt out as well. In our overworked society, taking time for yourself during work hours isn’t always encouraged. However, taking breaks throughout your day can actually increase your creativity and productivity

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Research confirms that the busier you are, the more you benefit from quiet time away from the stress of work. If you’re feeling like your critical thinking and problem-solving abilities are off-kilter, it’s time to take a break! Try some intentional activities such as journaling, getting lost in a good book, enjoying a cup of tea, or taking a walk around the block. 

Or, get your heart-rate up! Research has found that physical exercise helps to force you out of left-brain dominant thinking, allowing you to instead adopt a more creative mindset. Exercise also increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain, which sharpens mental clarity. According to this article, aerobic workouts may even stimulate imagination and new ideas. Who knows, your next big idea might happen after a good sweat session! 

Stay Healthy

When you’re figuring out why you’re feeling unmotivated, ask yourself: am I taking care of myself? It’s important to make sure we’re maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as actively working on ourselves can be beneficial to sustain motivation. Neglecting the basics (sleep, nutrition, and exercise) can lead to a decrease in concentration, mood, and ability to focus.

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Many of you are feeling overwhelmed with current events but often suffer from chronic stress regardless. With all of the responsibilities in our lives, including family, work, school, maintaining relationships, and more, it’s no wonder that anxiety builds and motivation fades.

If you haven’t been taking proper care of yourself, start by implementing small changes in your daily routine. Shoot to consistently go to bed and wake up at the same time. Try to eat healthy meals each day, and have set meal times to provide a nice rhythm to your day. Practice mindfulness exercises to promote mental clarity, such as meditation, yoga, or stretching. 

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Be Kind To Yourself

Above all, it’s important to be kind to yourself in stressful and uncertain times. You’re going to have days when you feel unproductive, no matter what’s going on in the world or in your personal life. You may feel more sluggish than usual, and that’s totally normal. You’re only human, and just like everyone else, you’re going to feel emotionally affected by current events. 

Eventually, things will get better. Taking steps to take care of yourself and improve your level of focus will help build a daily structure and promote positivity. Even if you don’t feel 100% motivated after implementing these strategies, cut yourself some slack – your motivation will return, just give it some time. 

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Originally published Jul 14, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023

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