How to get work done when you’re not feeling it

It’s not always possible to be “in the right headspace” for work. In fact, more often than not, you’re probably nowhere near the right headspace for the work you have to do.

Maybe you’re feeling sad. Or maybe there’s something in your life that’s interfering with your focus. And, of course, it’s more than likely you’re feeling tired. These are conditions we often face. And somehow we are usually able to find a productive space to get things done despite these hindrances. It’s pretty impressive when you think about it.

Clearly, some days are harder than others. Some days, mental health presents challenges we don’t feel up to facing. And some days, we’re really, really tired. That’s okay too. If you need to take a day to not feel the pressure, or to blissfully do nothing, we recommend that you respond to the needs of your mind and body.

But for those moments where you aren’t feeling it, and also really need to get some work done, it’s not immediately a lost cause. There are things you can try to get some momentum going.

Zoom out and re-motivate

Easy things first. We’re not doing anything yet. We’re just looking at the situation. If you’re lucky enough to be working on something you care about, your first step might be to engage with that side of yourself.

If you’re staring down a long list of mundane tasks, or financial spreadsheet-y things, it makes sense that you’d feel drained before you even started. But if you were instead able to see these tasks in the context of the bigger things you’re working towards—that spreadsheet ensures you’re able to pay your employees on time, that list of action items ensures you turn your transcript in on time—it might spark some motivation inside you to get it all done.

Break it all down

Workaholic plan

Even with that positive energy, your workload might feel overwhelming and numbingly large. So take a seat, and take a survey of your tasks for the day. What are we dealing with here? Busy work? Or is there some deeper work today that requires more brain power?

Do you think you could reasonably handle your workload today? If the answer is no, take this moment to break off a piece from the pile – the easiest piece – and look at it on its own. Hopefully it looks more manageable. Could you envision knocking this out easily right now? If it’s simple enough, give it a try.

The hope is that you can build up some momentum here. The first task is the hardest. Starting in the first place is the biggest hurdle. If you finish that first piece and you’re still feeling good, try for another. Continue in this way—breaking things down to approachable, un-intimidating tasks. You’ll be amazed at how much of the pile you can whittle down after an hour or two of breaking it down like that.

Make things comfortable


Okay, now we’ve got some motivational strategy and a baseline plan of attack. If you’re still struggling to get started, next take a look at your environment. Let’s try to fix what might be ailing you. Are you warm? Cold? Is your shirt scratchy? Are you just dully anxious? Or are you anxious for a very specific reason? You’re definitely probably tired.

We can pause here, and try to address those things. Clean your desk off. Adjust your air conditioning. Make a snack, or a coffee. Just prep yourself and your workspace with everything you might want or need to feel at ease while you’re working.

Get ready to go

Creative burnout - working

Now we have a reason, a plan, and a productive environment. Let’s get to work, shall we?

This would be a great time to open the RescueTime Assistant and start a Focus Session. Committing to a set length of time during your session will help you avoid getting distracted or giving up at the first instances of adversity as you work.

The Assistant will guide you through a short introduction to your session to help you get centered and focused and ready to work. Then, you work while RescueTime blocks the distracting activities that are even harder to avoid when you’re not feeling your best.

You owe yourself at least one solid attempt at an at-bat. And you’ve done the best job you could by getting yourself in the right space to try.

If all else fails

computer on desk

If none of that truly moves the needle, though, there’s one last ditch effort you can make: just start.

It sounds simple, and trite, and cliché, because it’s an overused sentiment (and not just if you wear Nike shoes). It’s overused because it’s a truly powerful, corrective, and effective strategy to kick things into gear.

As we said before: the hardest part is starting. So if you can lurch and crawl and struggle your way into your chair, or even just pull the laptop into bed with you and open one productive application, you’ve completed a non-zero task. You technically did something productive. Tiny, baby steps, but steps all the same. Now that you’ve got that word document open, try typing something. That’ll be another productivity win. Now just keep trying to string wins together. Keep the momentum up. Treat it as a game, and maybe it’ll get fun after a while.

The hardest part is starting. So if you manage to start at all, you’ve already won.

Good luck out there.

Robin Copple

Robin Copple is a writer and editor from Los Angeles, California.


    1. Thank you for the message! I totally understand the feeling. It’s gotten harder and harder the past couple of years!

  1. Thanks, Robin for keeping at it – it is truly inspiring and definitely has a rub-on effect each time I read your new mail and online post. Working on an unhasty, stable progressive route

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