If you’re feeling unmotivated and unfocused right now, trust us - you’re not alone.
The thick fog of confusion of the news cycle and uncertainty for the future is making it extremely hard to be productive. Daily routines and structures have gone out the window, and we’re all rushing to find ways to adapt to a new normal and find focus.
Finding motivation is a tricky thing to muster during stressful and uncertain times. It’s hard to encourage yourself to complete both important and menial tasks when the world seems to be spinning on its head. What do we do when “just get it done” doesn’t work?
Even when there’s not a pandemic going on, knowing how to get unstuck when you feel unmotivated is useful. Here are our top tips to strengthen and find focus in times of uncertainty.
Accept That There Is No One Right Way To Do Something
Cut yourself some slack, and know that you won’t feel unmotivated forever - you might just be looking at a problem or work project in a much more complex light than it deserves. Get down to the basics, and try to come up with a few alternate ways to approach the work you’re trying to complete.
With work, and pretty much anything in life in general, there is no single, or even best, way to solve a problem, find focus, or complete a task. So being open to trying different methods, sharing progress early and often, and being open to experimenting with our work doesn’t carry any risk in the beginning. Bouncing ideas off a coworker or friend might bring some new inspiration to light, too.
Eliminate Decision Fatigue
When you don’t have a routine or structure, you have to use precious brainpower to constantly make decisions about your schedule. What time will you start working, and what will you work on first? When will you take the dog for a walk? What will you eat for lunch?
Making decisions requires mental energy, and every decision, no matter how small, depletes your energy. A decrease in energy leads to decision fatigue, and your willpower and ability to focus will be drained.
When you create structure for your days, the amount of decision you will need to make will be significantly reduced, and you’ll feel a greater sense of stability and focus. Try to be consistent with your schedule - at the least, know when you’re going to wake up, begin work, eat meals, do extracurricular activities, and end work.
A helpful method for scheduling and getting the most out of your day is called time blocking. With this method, you plan out every hour of your day so you only focus on what you should be doing at any given time.
Another useful way to add structure and find focus is to create “boundaries” that help you transition into different activities as you move through your day. For example, before you begin work, shower and get dressed. Then, when eating lunch, enjoy it at the kitchen table, not at your desk. When you cross these boundaries, it signals that to your brain that you’re moving on to the next part of your day.
Focus On Something Else
If you can’t make headway with the task at hand, do something else. Try getting some smaller tasks off your plate, such as responding to email, or simply step away from your desk entirely and get moving. Research has found that physical exercise helps to force you out of left-brain dominant thinking, allowing you to instead adopt a more creative mindset. Exercise also increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain, which sharpens mental clarity. According to this article, aerobic workouts may even stimulate imagination and new ideas. Who knows, your next big eureka moment might happen after a good sweat session!
Practice Self-Care And Intentionally Manage Stress
Many of us are feeling overwhelmed with current events, but often suffer under the heel of chronic stress regardless. With all of the responsibilities in our lives, including family, work, school, maintaining relationships, and more, it’s no wonder that anxiety builds and motivation weans.
It’s important to make sure we’re cultivating a healthy lifestyle, as actively working on ourselves can be very helpful to sustain motivation. Neglecting the basics (sleep, nutrition, and exercise) can lead to a decrease in mood, concentration, and ability to focus.
If you’ve fallen off the healthy bandwagon, start by implementing small changes in your schedule. Shoot to consistently go to bed and wake up at the same time. Try to eat healthy meals each day, and have set meal times to provide a nice rhythm to your day and find focus. Practice mindfulness exercises to promote mental clarity and relaxation, such as meditation, yoga, or stretching.
Get Rid Of Digital Distractions
During a crisis, the temptation to constantly check the news and scroll through social media is amplified. However, all that browsing can take a toll on your mental health, and even the World Health Organization is urging people not to check news and updates that often: “Seek information updates at specific times during the day, once or twice. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried.”
Cutting back on the amount of time spent consuming news and social media can reduce anxiety levels and give you back some mental clarity. If you have trouble taking a break from these kinds of websites, try implementing apps or browser extensions that limit your screen time or can block certain websites and phone apps so you can’t access them. By decreasing mental clutter, you’ll feel calmer and more positive.
Give Yourself A Hard Deadline
Sometimes a little bit of pressure can be a great motivator. Make your deadline meaningful - try something like “If I don’t finish this task by Friday I can’t watch a movie after work.”
Even if a project doesn’t have a set deadline, you’re free to make one up yourself. For example, you might decide that you want to finish a project by a specific date, you could choose to spend a set amount of time on it each week, or you could make a plan to take one step each day toward completion.
Stick to your commitments by writing them down, ideally in your calendar so you’re constantly reminded of how much time you have left. If you know that during busy times you’ll delay non-deadline tasks, look for a time in your schedule where work is lighter, and then truly commit. Define exactly what you want to get done by which dates, which helps yourself prioritize. Plus, working on the task will feel more urgent, which will be highly motivating.
Enlist Positive Peer Pressure
Sometimes the best way to get motivated is to enlist an accountability buddy. When you tell someone your time frame for completing a task and regularly send them updates, your incentive for making progress grows.
Choose a trusted friend, team member, boss, or coach, and report back to that individual to encourage you to stay on top of your goals. Or, if you’re feeling bold, make a public declaration on your social media channels that you will complete a certain goal by a specific time. This strategy is sure to work if you have a network of people that will follow up with you.
Alternatively, you can choose to get collaborative and get others involved. For example, you might set up a time for you and a coworker to work together on a team project. Or, you might try virtual coworking with people from around the world working on different tasks. This strategy works best if you tell others what you’re planning to do during that time period, and then report back to them when the session ends. The proximity of others helps hold you accountable because your coworkers will all be working too, so it mimics a focused work environment. You’ll be less likely to start scrolling through Twitter when you know others are watching!
Pick the approach that’s most comfortable and motivating for you. All of these strategies create accountability, so even if there isn’t a real deadline, there’s a sense that you might disappoint someone or not staying true to your word if you don’t follow through.
Be Nice To Yourself
Above all, it’s essential to be kind to yourself in stressful and uncertain times. You’re going to have days when you feel unproductive and unmotivated, no matter what’s going on in the world. You may feel more tired than usual, and that’s normal. You’re only human, and just like everyone else, you’re going to feel emotionally affected by current events.
Eventually, things will get better. Taking steps to improve your level of focus while decreasing distractions will help build structure into these strange days and promote positivity. Even if you’re not feeling 100% focused after trying these strategies, cut yourself some slack - your motivation will surely come back, just give it some time.
This post was brought to you by Dmitri Leonov, VP of Growth at SaneBox.
Dmitri Leonov is an internet entrepreneur, leading growth efforts at Sanebox. He has over 10 years of experience in startups, corporate strategy, sales strategy, channel development, international expansion and M&A.