Get Done the Doing: How to Be Productive When You Just Don’t Want To

young adult in plaid shirt and jeans with leather bag speaks on phone while leaving houseThese days, it’s hard to stay on top of things. Life is crammed with tasks, calls, and appointments. Kids need to be dropped off and picked up, friends called, and the work-life balance, well, juggled. If you are like me, at times you struggle to find the energy to keep up with the pace of life.

On the mornings I feel enthusiastic and excited for the day ahead, I spring out of bed with zest and positivity. I work out for 30 to 45 minutes, make a healthy breakfast, and zip to work. When my day is finished, I come home, take the dog for a walk, talk to my wife, play with my children, and maybe call a friend. Just before bedtime, I spend an hour reading or working on a hobby.

But not all days feel so invigorating. Some days, I feel lethargic and disengaged, and motivation is hard to find. I have less pep, and the day feels long and boring. But life doesn’t slow down just because I want it to. My daughter predictably leaps into my bed and jumps on my chest, the dog is hungry, and the phone will soon ring. My principles will be tested, my grit challenged.

What can I do? How do we get through the low-energy days without falling behind? And is motivation necessary to have a successful, productive day?

I say no.

Motivation is nice, but what we need more than motivation is the doing. We need to get done the doing of our lives.

I have developed the following eight strategies to help you get done the doing in your life. These strategies help me commit to what’s important to me even when I don’t feel like my day is important. I hope they serve you similarly.

  1. Do anything except nothing: Newton’s first law states an object in motion tends to stay in motion (unless acted on by a net external force). When you’re unmotivated, getting active gives you a better chance of staying active. One idea is to use a sit-to-stand desk. These hybrid desks can help to reduce sitting time and increase activity level. On low-energy days, set the desk to stand so you are upright and more engaged. Also, consider walking while talking (on the phone or otherwise); it’s a great way to get some exercise on those days when you aren’t inspired to hit the gym.
  2. Do the worst first: When you start your day, prioritize the most difficult or burdensome task first. Once the tough stuff is out of the way, the day feels more manageable, which may give you the extra boost of motivation needed to be more productive. Leaving difficult tasks for later leaves you with that sinking feeling there is a lot of work ahead, which can make you feel overwhelmed and unmotivated.
    Leaving difficult tasks for later leaves you with that sinking feeling there is a lot of work ahead, which can make you feel overwhelmed and unmotivated.
  3. Eat light, eat right: Instead of the typical three-meal diet plan, try eating five smaller meals. Research shows eating five smaller meals per day can increase metabolism and provide more energy. Also, avoid a lot of carbohydrates, which can spike and then drop blood sugar levels. A burger with fries or big bowl of pasta might be tempting, but it may ultimately leave you feeling drowsy and sluggish. Processed foods taste yummy, but these energy hijackers can lead to post-digestion fatigue and decreased stamina.
  4. Be your own photojournalist: When you know you have low motivation, try to be more connected to the present moment. Mindfulness is the focus of one’s awareness on the present moment with an acceptance of emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations. Pretend you are a photographer observing a highly motivated subject (you) through a camera, taking photos of your actions throughout the day. Imagine what the piece would say about you and what pictures would be taken. See if you can create the “pictures” through your actions.
  5. Tic-tac-toe your tasks away: Often, the size of the task can dictate our level of motivation. To write this article, I broke the process down into three smaller, more manageable tasks: sit down and start writing (tic); complete the section on the eight skills (tac); and submit for review and make any necessary edits (toe). What seemed like a difficult project became much less daunting when I separated the whole into bite-sized parts.
  6. Avoid the siren songs: In Greek mythology, sirens were dangerous creatures that lured sailors with their seductive voices to crash into rocks. On low-energy days, be watchful of the deceptive traps in your life: television, phone, internet. If need be, put your phone away and stay out of the house. It’s never a bad idea to get off the grid for a few hours as a way to stay productive.
  7. DO the opposite: On low-motivation days, our minds are not to be trusted—so do the opposite of what your mind tells you. If your mind says, “I need to call a friend,” do the opposite and call someone you have been avoiding, like a bill collector. If your mind tells you to relax, go to the gym. Whatever the task, do the opposite. Trust me. It works!
  8. Meditate: Perhaps the most overlooked method to gain motivation is meditation. Research shows meditation increases energy and creativity, both important ingredients of motivation. Try to start your day with a 20-minute meditation (though it need not be that long). If it helps, for 20 counts, say the following mantra: (inhale) “I am the master of my ship”; (exhale) “I am the captain of my soul.”

Now that you have these eight tools, get after it! An exciting life is waiting for you. As Bruce Lee said, “If you love life, don’t waste time, because time is what life is made up of.”

References:

  1. Calzato, L., Ozturk, A., & Hommel, B. (2012). Meditate to Create: The Impact of Focused-Attention and Open-Monitoring Training on Convergent and Divergent Thinking. Frontiers in Psychology, 3:116. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00116
  2. Foster, H. (2017). Why Eating Little and Often Is Best. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-53111/Why-eating-little-best.html
  3. Hall, N. (2015). Newton’s First Law. Retrieved from https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/airplane/newton1g.html
  4. McKenna, B. (2002). James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Reference Guide. Westwood, CT: Greenwood Press.

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  • rory

    rory

    June 7th, 2017 at 8:17 AM

    I’m glad that I saw my method on here because I sort of go through and prioritize based on the things that I enjoy doing the least. If I hate to do it then that is sure to be the thing that I do first because if I put it off until the end then knowing me it will never quite get done.

  • Justin Lapilusa

    Justin Lapilusa

    June 12th, 2017 at 3:17 PM

    I completely agree. I try to start each day with the question: “What kind of man do I want to be today and what do I need to do to be that kind of man?” The answer gives direction and course to my day and enables me to be more aware of any need for adjustment. Thanks for the reply!

  • Justin LaPilusa, PsyD

    Justin LaPilusa, PsyD

    June 12th, 2017 at 3:19 PM

    Rory,
    I know that I have the hardest time with writing blogs and articles etc. I try to get most of that type of writing done in the day because it requires more thought and focus then the more technical writing I produce later in the day. I am glad that you found the blog helpful and thank you for sharing your thoughts. All the best

  • Oliver

    Oliver

    June 12th, 2017 at 2:05 PM

    For some reason it gives me great pleasure to make a list at the beginning of the day with all the things that I want to accomplish in that day and then mark them off one at a time every time I complete something. For some people this will not make any difference to them at all but for me having that visual effect of seeing the tasks dwindle down one at a time until there is nothing left for the day, man, that feels really good to me. And then I get up and do it all over again the next day!

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