What to do when youíre just not feeling it?

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Mar 18 2024 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

I have worked on hybrid teams or fully remote for almost 25 years. In that time, Iíve written multiple books, taught classes, and helped start and run a company. Clearly, I can get stuff done. But what about those days when you lack motivation? What happens when you just canít seem to get over the hump on a project? In short, how do you keep yourself working and productive when youíre just not feeling it?

We are talking about days or a couple of days in a row when you lack motivation. If you find yourself feeling like this all the time, stronger actions may be required. But when itís just one of those days, consider these ideas:

Look for some quick wins

Especially when weíre in the middle of a time-consuming project, we become unmotivated. It feels like no matter how hard we work we donít make progress. Our brain says, ďWhy bother?Ē An effective way to break out of that is to look at your to-do list and find things (no matter how inconsequential) that you can easily complete. Get them checked off your list quickly and efficiently. Your brain rewards you for finishing several tasks and you build up momentum. When you feel better, you will be ready to tackle that larger task.

Take a break from work

This feels counterproductive. ďIf youíre not getting work done, quit trying to get work done,Ē feels like odd advice. When we are stuck in an unmotivated cycle, our frustration makes things worse. Our self-talk becomes more negative. We know we should do something. But if we canít do it or donít do it well, it confirms our feelings of helplessness or anger.

So step away from your desk. Physically walk away. Just playing solitaire on the same computer in the same seat wonít help. Go for a walk. Finish one or two of those household chores that are waiting for you. Take the dog for a walk. Allow your brain to reset and do something that doesnít require much attention or focus. This can allow your mind to daydream or chug away in the background. When you go back to work, you may find your internal resources have replenished.

Break the elephant into edible chunks

As the saying goes, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. The task youíre working on may be big and important. But that pressure starts a lot of negative self-talk and suddenly youíre frozen in your tracks. Instead of saying ďIíll finish this by the end of the day,Ē try taking smaller bites of the elephant. ďI might not get it all done today, but I can do that part by 11:00.Ē So stack up the accomplishments in manageable pieces.

Talk to your teammates

Working remotely can be great, but it can also be isolating. Youíre left alone with the voices in your head, which may or may not be a good thing. Talk Ė actually talk Ė to your favorite teammate or two. Ask how things are going for them? Are they stuck on the same thing you are? How can you help? What can they do to help you? Webcams are great for this. You can see another face and talk in real time. The phone works too. Texting and chat arenít nearly rewarding enough to your brainís social requirements.

Do what you can and recognize ďtoday is not that day.Ē

As the song says, ďSome days youíre the windshield, some days youíre the bug.Ē We all have days where things donít come together. Donít beat yourself up. If you can, choose other tasks to work on. If there is something in your personal life causing the distraction, put your efforts into addressing that. It will clear your mind for the next day. Knock off early (assuming you donít have time-sensitive commitments or people arenít relying on you to get their work done.) Do what you can, get a good nightís sleep, and come back tomorrow ready to go at it. Forgive yourself. Treat yourself as you want a good manager to treat you Ė with understanding and grace.

Remember, we are talking about the odd time when you just canít get out of the mud. This assumes it is an occasional problem. If you find yourself feeling unmotivated, disengaged, or unproductive for longer stretches of time, itís time for a chat with your manager (and your conscience).

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.