We’ve all been there – you feel like you have a million and one things to do, and you don’t even know where to start. Or, you have a lot of tasks you know need to get done but you have zero desire or motivation to complete them. But as we all know too well…the tasks won’t get done themselves. So we have to somehow find a way to push through the overwhelm and get something done. Read on for my best tips for staying productive when you’re feeling unmotivated or overwhelmed!
I’ve always been extremely organized and type-A, but I still struggle with feeling unmotivated and overwhelmed with tasks on a regular basis. When I started my new job this summer, I came in about four weeks before our biggest event of the year that I was in charge of planning. I had little experience in event planning and all of a sudden I was tasked with organizing a 400-person event.
Even for the most detail-oriented and organized person, this would be an overwhelming and daunting task. There would be moments where I would just sit there paralyzed, so completely overwhelmed with the number of tasks in front of me – I had a To Do list in a Word document that was over 10 pages long in 10-point font.
I was also trying to learn all the policies and procedures that come along with a new job, how to figure out an organization system that would work for me, while trying to build relationships with everyone I was now working with. So, even for the most organized and ambitious people with the best work ethic, feelings of overwhelm or lack of motivation will always come knocking. However, there are a few ways I’ve found to reset my mind and get me back in the Zone of Productivity when these feelings arise (as they inevitably will) and hopefully they’ll help you, too!
Make a list
Even if you’re not a “list person” (like my fiancé Steve), if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks you have to do, it really helps to have everything written down (either on paper or on your phone, or any type of list app) so it’s all out of your mind. I use notes on my phone and Trello at work (check it out if you haven’t already, it’s amazing)!
Once you make a list, it’s important to look at the tasks on the list and break them down into the smallest possible steps. This always helps me when I’m not feeling motivated because maybe sitting down to write an entire paper feels overwhelming and I don’t want to do it, but just writing an outline feels more manageable.
Next, prioritize. What are the most important or time-sensitive items you need to get done in the next few hours? Start with those. If you can’t decide what needs to get done today, start with unpleasant tasks first because you’ll feel much more accomplished if you get those done than the “easier” tasks on your list.
For me, this means putting my phone away in my bag or in the other room and keeping it on silent and turning off all notifications on my computer as well. I also turn on the Self-Control app (or if you’re using Chrome there’s a Self-Control plugin you can install) if I’m habitually browsing other sites when I should be working or focused on a task. Know what distracts you and do everything you can to block those distractions.
Set small goals for yourself and reward yourself when you reach them! Maybe you set a goal to do some uninterrupted work for 45 minutes or to follow up on those 10 emails in your inbox, and then you reward yourself by walking to the coffee shop with your coworker or taking a 10-minute walk outside in the sunshine. (Just make sure the amount of breaks you’re taking don’t exceed the amount of time you’re doing actual work – ha!) Setting small goals makes everything more manageable and you’ll be more likely to stick with it if you have a reward waiting for you at the end!
Make it more fun
If there’s a task I really, really don’t want to do, I’ll try to change it in some way to make it more enjoyable. For example, I had to update my budget spreadsheet at work recently. I really don’t like doing this and it can be really tedious, so I usually put it off. I also happened to be in the middle of a great podcast that I had started listening to in the car on my drive to work, so I realized I could probably put my headphones in and keep listening to the podcast while I updated the spreadsheet. Win, win! I got to listen to my podcast while completing a task I don’t like very much. If there’s a way you can add something more fun to your task – maybe that’s listening to a favorite playlist or drinking your favorite latté while listening to that webinar – it will be way easier (and more fun!) to get it done.
Check in with yourself (and practice mindfulness)!
This is the most important and often overlooked. Truly check in with yourself – why are you not feeling motivated? Is there a larger issue behind these feelings? Dig a little deeper and see if you can reframe your thinking to see whatever task you’re charged with in a more positive light.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try a quick 5-minute (or even 2-minute) meditation. The Calm app has an amazing “Emergency Calm” meditation I’ve used when I’m really, really overwhelmed. I just did the meditation at my desk, but you could also go to your car or somewhere else that’s semi-private if you’re at an office or shared work space. Just sitting down to breathe and get out of your own head for a couple of minutes can really help you feel more calm (pun intended) and ready to get back to the tasks ahead.
Hopefully these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me. Completing tasks we don’t like is a part of life – but I truly believe if we make them more fun, shift our mindset, and take time to check in with ourselves and take breaks, it can change the game completely.