8 Things to do When You’re Feeling Unproductive

8 Things to do When You’re Feeling Unproductive

8 Things to do When You’re Feeling Unproductive 

by Adrienne Lotto

It’s the end of the year. Corny holiday movies and the couch are calling, while motivation to do work is waning. And if you’re anything like us here at LesserEvil, you’re spending a fair amount of time working from home. If you've been feeling unmotivated lately, you’re not alone. It can be hard to feel productive without the normally scheduled activities and structures of our past, more out-of-the-house lives. But whatever you’re struggling to stay focused on, be it work-from-home work, schoolwork, housework, or any other personal project, we’ve got a few ideas to help you out of any slump.

  1. Follow a time management method. The Pomodoro Technique is a classic one. Kind of like high-intensity interval training for your brain, it goes like this: set a timer for 25 minutes, work on your task without pause until the timer goes off, then take a three-to-five-minute break. Repeat this process three more times, and at the end of the fourth work session, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. In practice, you can customize the times however you want, but the point is to commit to a burst of activity, fully committing yourself to the task at hand for a set period of time without stopping. Don’t stress too much about the quality of your work during these intervals-- just keep going! The “sprints” of hyperactivity will bring you visibly closer to completing your task. What’s more motivating than that?

  2. Give yourself breaks. Once you’ve put in some solid time working, you’ve earned a break! But breaks are not just a reward for good work-- they’re a crucial component of it. The mind is a muscle, and just as with any physical exercise, attempting to go too hard for too long leads to burnout. It may sound counterintuitive, but the better your break, the better your quality of work. Letting your mind wander lets you come back to your task refreshed and de-stressed, allowing you to work more creatively and productively. 

  3. Get moving. Make breaktime a time to refresh your mind and your body too. If the work you’re doing isn’t physical, it’s super important to take movement breaks. Our sedentary lifestyles, compounded in recent months by lockdown measures, are taking a major toll on our bodies, from back pain to increased risk of heart disease. Breaking up long expanses of sitting with movement reduces these risks and forces your mind to rest. You can go for a walk, do some gentle stretches, or try a short exercise video (YouTube is full of convenient 5-minute options). If nothing else, just standing up to stretch your legs provides a good mini-break to get you back in the zone.

  4. Turn off your phone. As anyone who’s watched The Social Dilemma recently knows, our smartphones are designed to grab our attention and keep us coming back to them. Countless studies from the past few years confirm that phones have shortened our attention spans, with one study showing that millennials check their phones an average of 150 times per day. It’s no shock that this is a disruptive habit for getting work done-- it’s almost impossible to get into a good workflow when you’ve got that gnawing urge to pick up your device every few minutes. Take the temptation away by turning off your phone or putting it out of reach while you’re working on a task, and see how it improves your focus and attentiveness.

  5. Phone a friend. Hiding your phone to cut down on that instinctual phone reach during work is one thing, but using it with intention during a break is a different story. If you’re at home feeling unmotivated by work, chances are you’ve got a friend who can relate. When’s the last time you talked to a friend on the phone? Don’t be embarrassed if you can’t remember-- millennials are notorious phone call-avoiders. But it’s always worth it to fight your fears and call your friend. Use it as a chance to catch up, or to commiserate about how tired you are of working from home!

  6. Listen to music. When lack of productivity strikes, try using music to get yourself back into the flow. Music is a powerful motivator for me. It helps me exercise and clean the house, and I love to create playlists to match different moods and activities. But because I get so drawn in by lyrics and good melodies, I used to think I was too distractible to do computer work with music playing. Then I discovered this playlist of “lofi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to.” Now I feel much more efficient when I have some background music to work to. For me, it’s wordless, lowkey, pleasant music that does the trick. What music gets you in the groove?

  7. Make your workspace your workspace, and make it nice. This has become particularly important for the work-from-home world. When the line between your workspace and your relaxing space blurs, it can seriously mess with your productivity. Try to maintain a designated area that serves only as your workspace and not, say, as your bed. If you live in a small space, there are still things you can do to more clearly define work time. Maybe you have a particular scented candle you light when it’s time to work, or perhaps (as suggested above) a specific playlist. If you light that candle or play that music whenever you get to work, they’ll eventually work as a signal to your brain to get into work mode.

  8. Don’t judge yourself for feeling unproductive. In many ways, the pandemic has heightened people’s need to feel productive. After all, with all this time at home, shouldn’t we finally be able to write that novel, or retile the bathroom, or whatever our big project is? But while it’s important to be able to buckle down when we need to, it’s unrealistic to expect it of ourselves all the time. Though I’ve used it many times in this blog, I recognize that even the word “productivity” can have an air of inherent judgment in it-- why should we be expected to “produce” at all times? Ultimately, it’s important to remember that your worth is not measured by your output. If you’re happy with yourself and satisfied that you’re doing the best you can, you’re doing just fine.
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