How to stay productive when you just don’t feel like it

There are some days that you totally rock the day. Just annihilate that to do list. Then there are other days in which we don’t feel as motivated. We look at our tasks for the day and say “I don’t feel like doing this at all.” As a freelancer it is hard to stay productive at times.

We may find ourselves goofing off down YouTube rabbit holes or Facebook threads rather than getting work done. This will mess with our schedule for sure. So how can we stay productive even on those days when we don’t feel it?

The first thing in staying productive is cutting out anything that’s unproductive. So close the tab out of YouTube. The momentum of productivity is powerful. But there is positive and negative momentum.

On the days where we aren’t feeling ourselves and want to do nothing but just dive into rabbit holes, negative momentum is winning over positive. So we first need to cut any sort of tasks that breeds the negative momentum.

This is a Snapchat story that I did where I spoke about 3 of these techniques. This is just one example of the types of tips and tricks I do daily on Snapchat to help other freelancers in building their business.

Schedule in Productivity

The easiest way to cut out the negative momentum is just by doing something that’s small, positive, and productive. This can be as easy as waking up in the morning and making your bed.

Yup, just like your Mom always said to make your bed in the morning, this is an easy win and doesn’t take longer than a few seconds to do. It sets you off with a productive task first thing in the morning.

I call these types of tasks “low energy” tasks. I sprinkle at least one of these into my task list every day. These are things like “Test signup form on website”, “Check on the renewal of the domain”, “Review help desk tickets and reply”. These are all tasks that really only take me a few minutes, but allow me to tick off a task when I’m not feeling my productive self.

Learn to say “no”

You’ve heard me say this before. Saying “no” is critical to staying productive. Often times as a freelancer we take on jobs that don’t quite fit the bill. We take them on anyway due to the need to get paid and keep the lights on.

These projects however tend to be ones that we aren’t exactly enthusiastic about. As such we tend to procrastinate on them and push them aside for the more “fun” work. However what happens is that even though you may be pushing it aside, it’s occupying space in your brain that’s negative.

Kids do this all the time when parents ask them to clean up. They drag their feet doing something else just to procrastinate from doing the “un-fun” task. There focus is on not doing the other task, rather than focusing 100% on the task at hand.

By saying “no” to those tasks and projects that aren’t quite a fit for us, allows us to maintain a high level of quality in being productive on the tasks that are a fit.

Do creative work first

When you first wake up in the morning your brain is well rested and ready to do some heavy lifting. Think about how you feel physically in the morning. You have energy and ready to tackle the day. Same thing with your brain.

Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a “morning person.” In fact my wife will attest that until I have coffee in the morning, often times I won’t make any sense.

However I do know that my most productive time is the morning. I make sure to capitalize on that fact to ensure good progress on the tasks that I know require lots of brain power.

By creative I don’t just mean design or writing, I mean anything that you do that requires heavy thought, brainstorming or analytical thinking. All of these require parts of your brain that quite frankly at the end of the day become tired and ready to just watch tv.

Be mindful of your energy levels vs tasks

todoist-energy-levels

One of the best things that you can do to stay productive is know exactly when you are and are not productive. Knowing those times of day allow you to schedule the tasks accordingly.

As I mentioned above, I tag every task with a “high”, “normal”, and “low” energy tag. This way I can see at a glance during the morning what I need to take care of first. Than throughout the day I can pick off the other tasks depending on how I’m feeling.

I always schedule a low energy task every day. This is so that if I start feeling sluggish or start to procrastinate, I can pick off that and start to gain some momentum back in my day.

I know for me that as the day progresses, my energy levels diminish. So I know how important it is to accomplish as many high level tasks as possible in the morning.

This is true for the week as well. I’ve said before that I don’t schedule calls on Mondays. That’s because I want to make sure that I gain the momentum of getting work done for the week. Come Friday afternoon, my head starts thinking about the weekend and I’m not about to pull out my code editor and start building out a brand new custom plugin for someone.

Shuffle other tasks

If you do find yourself starting to procrastinate and can’t gain any sort of momentum at all, then it might be time for you to shuffle some tasks around.

This is something that I don’t do very much of. When I set up my tasks for the week, I stick to them because I know that I need to get them done by a certain day. However I also realize that there are times when I slack off. Or there are other times when something unexpected comes up that I need to take care.

When this happens, try and shuffle tasks around that you know are flexible in timing. If you are feeling unproductive, then try and do 2-3 low or normal energy tasks rather than 1 high level. You may find yourself getting back in the groove anyway after 2 tasks and feel like you can tackle that high energy task.

Find a different place to do work

In Back Yard

Sometimes different scenery helps. If you are used to working out of your home office, go outside and take your laptop with you.

Different lighting and sounds can help focus you. All the psychology of you changing up your “spot” just for the purpose of getting stuff done puts your mindset into a different place.

For example, going to the gym vs having exercise equipment at home. Some people can’t exercise at home because there are too many distractions between family, chores, or Netflix. But when they go to the gym, they can spend a couple of hours doing an intense workout because they physically left the house to go to a different place to get it done.

So try going to a coffee shop, a cafe, or just outside in your backyard to get stuff done.

Reward Yourself

Gamification is a big thing when it comes to playing games with your mind. That gratification of getting something in exchange for doing something is something we see everywhere. It’s in loyalty programs for stores, it’s everywhere on the web in social media, put it into your slow days.

It can be as simple as giving yourself a 15 minutes break after you do that one task.

Try things like if I get these 5 tasks accomplished today, then I’ll have a beer or glass of wine with dinner tonight.

It’s just simple rewards to give you that extra motivation to getting your work done and staying productive.

These are 7 ways that can help you stay productive when you aren’t really feeling it. Leave a comment below with what works best for you when it comes to those days where you much rather sit and binge watch the latest season on Netflix rather than work on that client project that has a deadline coming up.

/ Jason Resnick

Jason is a WordPress developer helping small businesses, design and marketing agencies achieve their goals by specializing in Ecommerce and increasing conversions. Learn more about him here.

More Posts | Twitter | Work ON Your Business Challenge | Coaching

2 responses to “How to stay productive when you just don’t feel like it

  1. Tagging tasks as high, normal, and low energy is such a helpful tip. I tend to go about my to-do list without even paying attention to the intensity, thus, the more difficult tasks always fall to the end of the day when I’m dragging the most. I’ve also found that I’m way more productive when I’m exposed to lots of natural light. Funny how our bodies work around nature. Thanks so much for writing!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *