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How to be motivated and productive when you’re just not feeling it

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Francisco Collazo
It was way too early in the new year for me to feel the way I did last week– unmotivated and unproductive– but such is life. Yucky weather, an energetic 3 year old who was sleeping less than usual, and the tedium of a project I appreciate but am not passionate about were circumstances that conspired to make me feel a certain dread each time I opened my laptop or looked at my to-do list.

What I felt like all last week... minus the sunsh

What I felt like all last week… minus the sunshine.

I couldn’t not make progress, though, not only because I knew I’d get buried by the growing to-do pile, but also because I know the cumulative effect that not doing my work has on me: it makes me feel guilty and, in turn, even less motivated. Though I knew I wouldn’t make significant progress on the biggest project, I also knew I needed to feel like I’d done worthwhile work and that I’d accomplished something meaningful.

Here’s how I stayed motivated and productive even though I wasn’t feeling it at all:

1. Step back from the most pressing project.
Even when you’re on a tight deadline, taking a breather from the priority project on your to-do list works wonders. Go for a run, make a cup of tea or coffee, research something that interests you, write a letter, post a banal status update on Facebook… whatever will take your mind off the project that’s most demanding. Give yourself 30 minutes or an hour and don’t think about the project at all.

I made valentines with my daughter and read a lot offline.

2. Do something that requires less effort…
I’m not opposed to doing nothing, but if you’re like me and you need to feel like you’ve gotten somethingdone, then choose something easy.

I edited a few hundred of the 2,000+ photos we’ve got on our hard drives. It was a task that didn’t take much thought or energy, but it left me feeling like I’d gotten something–anything–done.

3. Or do something that will produce an immediate sense of accomplishment.
You probably have projects that are the ones that interest you most… and they probably occupy the bottom third of your to-do list. They’re the ones you hope you get to every day, yet never quite seem to. Give yourself the time and permission to at least start one of them.

I started editing some videos that have been backlogged on my to-do list forever, some I intend to use on my own blog, and some that are actually promised to editors for paid assignments. Getting one video done and sent off helped me feel that I’d made progress on an item that had been on my plate for ages.

4. Just be where you are… no excuses.
This one’s really hard for me. I don’t like to admit to myself, much less anyone else, when I’m just not feeling it, you know? And I hate the feeling itself, even though I know it’s temporary. But telling myself, and then an editor, I was having a tough week and giving myself permission to accomplish less helped me feel a little bit better. Fortunately, I feel back on track this week.

How about you? How do you stay motivated and productive when you’re not feeling either one? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.


7 responses »

  1. Very timely post for me. Thank you.

    • Julie Schwietert Collazo

      You’re welcome. Sorry you’re feeling the same way, but glad this can help. And the good news is: it does pass. 🙂

  2. Oh god. This is the universe speaking to me today. Thanks so much for posting this!

    And where are you posting videos to? I would dearly love to see your work.

  3. Pingback: Inspiring minds « Wordsmatter

  4. You’re right – writing can’t be forced. There have been times when I’ve sat down and “made” myself write (deadlines, frustration, etc.) and I’ve never been pleased with the results. When these moments happen, I find myself doing some of the things you suggested: step back or do something that requires less effort. Seems like when I give my mind a break, the words flow when I’m least expecting it and I can head back to the drawing board. Glad I’m not the only one! Thanks for the great suggestions.

  5. It’s always good to read some new advice on something as widely contagious as “just not feeling it.” This feeling is detrimental, I think especially for creative folks. Art is love. So when you’re just not feeling it for something as passionate as your art, it feels awful. I’m happy you turned it around and still managed to accomplish some things!

  6. I was definitely right there with you last week, Julie. Glad you’re feeling more on track this week.


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