how to be productive when you're not motivated

How to Be Productive When You’re Not Motivated – 13 Simple Tips

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This morning, I sat down at my desk with my coffee, opened up my computer, and attempted to write a blog post. I really felt like reading my book in my cozy library instead. I was NOT motivated to write or do anything super productive. 

So I figured, why not write a post on how to be productive when you lack motivation. It’s certainly fitting for me right now – goodness knows I need a kick in the rear to get up and get productive every now and then.

If you’re anything like me, there are some days when you bust out that to-do list AND keep the house clean AND keep the kids alive… But then there are those “other” days when you’re completely unmotivated. On those days, just thinking about my never-ending to-do list is enough to keep my butt on the couch all. day. long. 

It happens to all of us. 

The work we do as moms is hard, and, just like any other job, there are days when our motivation has left the building. When my to-do list is a mile long and I start getting overwhelmed, it’s hard to be productive, even though I need to be. 

Let’s dig deep today. We’ll start with WHY we lack motivation, then move into the #1 secret regarding being productive when you’re not motivated, and end with easy-to-implement tips to regain your motivation and productivity. 

Why Am I So Unmotivated?

Why aren’t you feeling motivated to get your tasks done? Or even start them in the first place? What is it that’s killing your productivity? Why is it such a struggle to complete super simple tasks?

Here are some of the reasons why you may be feeling unmotivated:

  • Burnout. Sometimes all of your different life roles become busy all at the same time, and everything just feels so chaotic. You keep pushing through, doing the bare minimum, in order to fulfill your obligations, but your energy disappears and your motivation suffers. This is the onset of mom burnout.
  • Avoidance of discomfort. Some tasks are more complicated, frustrating, or time-consuming than others. Sometimes, you simply don’t want to complete a particular task, and you get hung up on it, analyzing it to death, and procrastinating on that task as well as all of your other tasks.
  • Self-doubt. This goes hand in hand with avoidance of discomfort. If you doubt your ability to do something well, it’s possible that you’ll struggle to get started, and you’ll get back on that cycle of analysis paralysis and procrastination.
  • Lack of commitment to a goal. Agreeing to a task simply because you felt obligated may mean that your heart isn’t really in it, so you likely won’t take action. For me, this type of task tends to be work-related. I volunteer to handle a lot of extra tasks, and when I sit down to complete them, I think to myself, “Why on earth did I volunteer myself for this?” I’m a people-pleaser, and I don’t always think before I speak 😛
  • Mental health issues. Lack of motivation is a common symptom of depression, and it can be linked to anxiety as well. 

(If you are suffering from depression or any other mental issue, please don’t disregard it. Seek out professional help if your lack of motivation feels intolerable or like it’s lasting too long. Life gets rough sometimes – please try not to be too hard on yourself if you aren’t feeling motivated during a more difficult season in your life. It happens to me, too, and sometimes I just have to wallow in it and give myself extra grace for a bit until it passes or I get help.)

Consider the above reasons and decide which, if any, apply to you. Knowing the cause behind the lack of motivation can be helpful in moving forward.

Now, let’s get into the good stuff – here are the actionable tips and tricks you can use to bring back your productivity when you aren’t feeling motivated. Let’s start with the secret that underlies every tip we’ll talk about below:

The Secret

Most of us lie around waiting for motivation to kick in. We find ourselves feeling stuck and unmotivated, and we wonder why the inspiration to get moving never comes.

Here’s the secret: It takes action to create motivation. Waiting to feel motivated is what you *don’t* want to do. 

The real answer to finding motivation and being productive is ACTING. By moving, or taking action, you’ll release neurochemicals in your brain that create the motivation you’re seeking (dopamine and oxytocin in particular).

You may be thinking to yourself, “Yeah, Karis, okay. That sounds fabulous and all, but I really don’t feel like doing anything. I feel exhausted and burnt out. How am I even supposed to get up and do the actions that create the motivation?”

I’m here for you. This is me, too. 

Here are the tricks that I use to help me break out of those ruts of lack of motivation (which happen more often than I care to admit). Some of these tips may seem like no-brainers, but sometimes, when you’re knee-deep in Lego and dirty dishes, you just need a quick reminder to check in with yourself and get back on track 🙂

13 Tips to Get Productive When You’re Not Motivated

1. Change your environment

For me, this usually involves simply getting my butt off of the couch 😛 Just standing up and moving into a different room is often enough to get me moving.

For you, it could mean taking your laptop to the living room instead of hiding away in your office, or making that Target or grocery run now instead of tomorrow, or moving your kids’ homeschool supplies to the living room floor instead of the kitchen table.

Wherever you happen to be when you have that sluggish, unmotivated feeling – MOVE. Go to another room or leave the house altogether. 

2. Get some exercise

This doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Even an activity as simple as a quick walk will do the trick – there’s no need to buy a fancy Peloton or spend hours at the gym. You can also do a quick 15-minute yoga video or throw on some fun music and dance while you do the dishes (‘90s hip hop is my usual choice – it brings me straight back to college and peps me up almost instantly)

Bonus: Get your exercise OUTSIDE. The fresh air will truly do wonders for your motivation.

3. Just get started (AKA The 5-Second Rule)

Count down from 5, like Mel Robbins does, and get moving. Just do it. Fake it till you make it. 

4. Make a to-do list

You probably already have one of these stashed away somewhere or on your phone. But this one is just a little bit different, meant specifically for those times when you need to be productive but don’t have the motivation.

Write a to-do list (on paper!) with what you need to accomplish TODAY. These should be minimal – not quite as minimal as “keep the kids alive,” but close. On days when I’m not feeling motivated, my list contains things like doing dishes, making dinner, or maybe cleaning up the living room so it looks reasonable when my husband gets home.

This helps create a bit of a plan for the rest of your day. Typically, once you get started on this list, momentum will carry you, and you’ll do a few more things not on your minimal list. 

Plus, my favorite thing about to-do lists is being able to cross things off – it always makes me feel so much more productive and accomplished!

It’s even okay to add things to the list that you’ve already done, just for the sake of crossing them off. This will remind you that you did, in fact, already do SOMETHING today, and it can lower your stress levels regarding those other things you have left to get done.

5. Break larger tasks into smaller pieces

When you’re making your to-do list from tip #4, break the tasks down into smaller pieces. This serves two purposes: 

First, you get to cross more things off as you do them, which can motivate you to do even more.

Second, you won’t dread doing the things on the list so much if they’re quick and easy. It’s much easier to clean a toilet than it is to do the whole bathroom. Or make a bed instead of cleaning an entire kid’s disastrous bedroom.

Once you have these tiny step written down, stay focused on only the next step in front of you. Take ONE step at a time.

6. Set a timer

When I’m really struggling, I’ll choose a task, set a timer, and get to work. It depends on the task, but usually 15 or 20 minutes will do. 

Here’s the secret to this one: Give yourself permission to quit the task when the timer goes off. 

About 95% of the time, when the timer goes off, I’ll continue what I was doing until it’s done. However, even if I don’t continue, at least I’ve made some progress and jump-started my motivation.

I use this tip most often for cleaning my kitchen or putting away laundry. It also works for organizing your pantry or weeding the garden – really, it’s good for just about everything!

7. Tidy up

You’re more likely to stay motivated and productive if your environment isn’t a mess. 

My biggest trigger is my kitchen – if there are dishes everywhere and stuff all over the counters, I feel paralyzed. The best way for me to get over the hump is to set that timer (see tip #6) and clean off my counters.

The same thing can work for your desk or your living room – pick up the visible mess and clutter, and your mind will be clearer and you’ll be ready to do more.

8. Set a self-imposed deadline

This is often my first step when I’m feeling particularly unmotivated. 

I make myself a cup of coffee, allow myself 15 minutes to sit and enjoy it, and then it’s go time. My “deadline” is that time it takes to drink my coffee, and then I MUST get up. 

For me, it’s the time limit, the mindset shift, and the caffeine. It starts with “allowing” myself just a few more minutes of a break (the time limit). During that time, I start thinking about what needs to be done and pumping myself up to do it (the mindset shift). And the caffeine gives me that quick boost of (artificial) energy that I need to get back in gear.

9. Take care of yourself

Yep, this one again. Sleep, diet, and physical activity can have SUCH an impact on daily productivity. 

Are you getting enough sleep? Drinking enough water? Eating healthy meals and snacks? Doing some type of physical activity?

Here are some examples of ways to take care of yourself:

  • Get enough sleep. This is the biggest, most effective way that I take care of myself. Even getting 7 hours of sleep per night (consistently) is enough to change my days considerably. Sleep schedules aren’t just for your littles – consider setting your own. It’s much better for your body and your energy level if you’re going to bed and getting up around the same time every day.
  • Schedule downtime. Don’t completely book your calendar so that you’re spread too thin. Schedule time to do nothing, and then DO NOTHING!
  • Get dressed every day. The simple act of getting up in the morning and getting ready can be enough to motivate you! This doesn’t have to involve makeup and a blow dryer (although it certainly can!) – simply brushing your teeth and changing from night pajamas into day pajamas can be enough. Figure out what “getting ready” means to you, and do it – for me, it’s a shower, clean clothes, and coffee. Every single day.
  • Drink plenty of water. I like to keep a huge glass of water on my kitchen island. Every time I see it (which is fairly often), I take a big sip.
  • Eat healthy meals and snacks. This is sooo much easier said than done for busy moms. Do your best to prepare actual meals for yourself – don’t pick at leftover chicken nuggets from your kid’s plate and call it lunch.
  • Exercise. Even just a quick walk around the block will give you a natural boost of energy (see tip #2).

Sleep is the biggest of these for me – even getting 7 hours of sleep per night is enough to change my days considerably. And drinking enough water is close behind.

(Yes, this step is a little backwards, because it’s possible that if you’d been properly taking care of your body, you wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. So start NOW. Go have a glass of water and a healthy snack!)

10. Put your phone down

Use the 5-second rule for this one (see tip #3) – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and… PUT IT DOWN.

Now get up, turn on some music, and do what you need to do.

And don’t even think about turning on the TV for “background noise” – you’ll just get sucked in again!

11. Remember your “why”

Consider why it’s important to complete a particular task. This doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to be deep and heartfelt. 

Why do I clean my kitchen? The shallow version: Because my kitchen is so pretty when it’s clean. The deeper version: Because the kitchen is the heart of my home and the place where I cook the nourishing meals that keep my family happy, healthy, and energized.

Why am I organizing this coat closet? Because I can’t find a dang pair of mittens if I don’t.

Just remember the purpose behind the tasks on your to-do list, and you’re much more likely to rediscover your motivation.

12. Focus on progress, not perfection

Let go of the perfectionism that can stop you from getting things done. 

When you’re trying to problem-solve the perfect answer to something you’re facing or complete a task perfectly, you end up frustrated and suffering from analysis paralysis. There are two ways you can resolve this:

  • Give yourself permission to think on it, sleep on it, or whatever works best for you, and pick it up again tomorrow.
  • Lower your expectations. Remember that done is better than perfect, and most of the time it’s more important to finish a task than it is to do it perfectly (I need this reminder when it comes to cleaning… It’s okay to clean just the kitchen floor and not ALL the floors. It’s okay to surface clean the toilet and sink and not deep clean the entire bathroom. It’s okay to do the dishes now and clean the counters later.)

13. If all else fails, don’t force it

Sometimes you just need a break, and that’s okay. Forcing yourself to be productive when you really aren’t feeling it can have the opposite effect, leaving you discouraged, overwhelmed, and burnt out

This one is really hard for me – I feel like I’m wasting time if I’m not doing something productive from my to-do list, and then the guilt sets in.

The reality is, though, that there aren’t that many items on my to-do list that are truly urgent. I’ve found that the best thing for me (and my family) when I’m overwhelmed and starting to burn out is to take a break. After all, it’s not like I was actually getting anything done in the first place, since I was trying so hard to get motivated!

Take a day to relax and just do the bare minimum, then try again tomorrow!

Being a grownup is hard! There’s so much to do, and it feels like there’s never quite enough time to do it all AND enjoy your family AND have time to yourself. 

We all struggle with lack of motivation at one time or another. There will definitely be times when you need to do the work even when you don’t feel like it. Be kind to yourself, experiment with strategies to increase your motivation, and give yourself some extra grace so that you can get out of that cycle of overwork and overwhelm. 

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it to get into a pace for your life that is healthy and sustainable.

Above all, remember that one unmotivated day doesn’t mean the whole week or month is shot – tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start!

What typically causes your lack of motivation, and how do you get out of the slump? Leave a comment below!

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