#31: How to Get Motivated to Work When You’re Feeling Blah

On today’s show I talk about how sometimes I’m just not feeling it. Sometimes I just feel blah and unmotivated. But, I have client work to do. But, I’m having a hard time kicking my butt into gear.

Two interesting reasons I might be feeling blah that I learned about in recent years:

One, I learned from my acupuncturist that some people feel blah or out of sorts when seasons change. The past two years, I’ve noticed this feeling as winter turns into spring—which is strange because I’m a much bigger fan of spring than I am of winter—but I feel out of sorts around April. And now, this week, my favorite season, summer, has slowly disappeared as October has arrived. That change of seasons might be causing some of my malaise.

Another thing that women should be aware of: When your hormone levels go down, you might feel a little unmotivated and not like yourself. This can happen before or during your menstrual cycle, and for those of us in our 40s, it can happen as we head into menopause. A lot of women start experiencing menopausal symptoms in their 40s, so you might want to talk with your doctor about this.

Back to feeling blah. As an employee, you can feel blah and show up to work and go through the motions. Maybe you won’t be that productive that day and not on your game, but you’re there and you’re collecting a paycheck.

But as a freelancer and business owner, it’s all about discipline. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. So, how do you push through that malaise and get to work?

First, consider taking the day off and NOT pushing through. It will depend on your schedule, but we should not feel guilty for taking a Mental Health Day. So, if your schedule allows, take the day off and do something fun. Treat yourself.

That wasn’t an option for me this past Monday. I had work to do. But I ignored my 7 a.m. alarm and dragged myself out of bed at 8 a.m. I took a shower, which is a morning requirement for me, but I realized I needed a plan to push through my lack of motivation. A plan might not help me feel better, but I needed to work.

I started by making myself some tea with caffeine. Then I did a few guided meditations for 15 minutes using the Breathe app. Then I listened to a few fun songs, but I cannot listen to music with lyrics while I’m working, so I turned the music off after a few minutes and dug into my email.

I asked people on Twitter what they do when they’re struggling like this. Here’s what some of them said:

Sarah Brodsky said: I break up the work into 100-word chunks. After writing each chunk, I watch TV for a few minutes as a reward.

I asked Sarah how she keeps from watching too much TV because I think that would be my challenge, even though I really like this idea, and she said the dread of not getting the work done usually keeps her focused. For me, I think I would either need to set a timer to stop watching TV or stand up the entire time, so I’m just watching 10–15 minutes.

Chloe Brooks recommended: Break it into chunks with rewards in between! Give yourself 30 minutes to work on something you’d rather do and then bust out the client work.

Chloe tells Siri to set a timer. And her rewards may be as simple as stretching in a different room, taking a quick walk around the block, doing a load of dishes/laundry so it stops bugging her. But sometimes she eats some chocolate or watches an episode of something funny. She’s a fan of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Bob’s Burgers.

Chloe also recommended just moving to a different room of the house, which also works for me and was a good reminder.

KiKi L’Italien said: I’ll turn off all notifications, shut my office door, set the Insight timer app for 15-20 minutes, and practice a little deep breathing and purposeful NON-action. It works as a reset! Usually I realize how lucky I am to have the work in front of me and it shifts my mindset.

Jackie MacDougall said: I give myself one small task. That’s usually enough to trigger motivation. OR I take the day and get up the next day at 5 a.m. to do it.

Sometimes I too would rather take the day off or take the afternoon off and just get up super early the next day.

A few more tactics that I use:

Time tracking. Time tracking usually keeps me on task. I like breaking up the day into chunks of time and time tracking—for whatever reason—keeps me accountable to myself. For example, if I waste time by playing on social media or I take a long lunch while catching up on “The Voice,” I have to look at my time tracking that I scribbled onto a piece of paper. I don’t like the look of spending 30 minutes on Facebook randomly scrolling in the middle of the day or taking a two-hour lunch when I have work to do.

Pick one thing. I choose one thing that I absolute have to do that day and focus on getting it done. Its sounds simple, but the concept is described in detail in the book “Make Time,” which describes how you pick a highlight for your day and then laser focus on getting it done by eliminating all distractions.

Pick three things. Michael Hyatt, who wrote the book “Free to Focus,” chooses just three things on his to-do list each day and works solely on those. That’s not possible for all of us every day, but when it is, it’s a way to keep you focused. Zero in on those three things and don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked by anything else.

Reach out to people. This helped me feel a little better by Monday afternoon, even though I did it on accident. As an introvert, I like to be alone, so when I’m feeling down, I definitely don’t think immediately, “Hey, I need to be around people. I should call my friends!”

But three things happened on Monday that made me realize I needed people interactions: I interviewed an inspiring podcast guest who lifted my spirits. Then, by reaching out to my Twitter community and asking them how they dealt with these feelings, I connected with my network online that knows exactly what it’s like to run a freelance business. And the third thing was my husband offered to take my walk with me that afternoon and we spent an hour walking and talking about non-work stuff.

Please know that as freelance business owners, sometimes we’re going to feel unmotivated and severely lacking in discipline. Whether you can take the day off or have to push through those feelings, that’s OK. It’s totally normal to feel like this occasionally.

I’d love to know what you do to keep on track when crappy moods hit you. Feel free to email me at melanie@meledits.com or tweet me @MelEdits.

Biz Bite: Spend Your Morning Focused on Email

The Bookshelf: “All You Can Ever Know” by Nicole Chung


Episode #5 of Deliberate Freelancer: Track Your Time for Better Efficiency

Make Time” by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

Free to Focus” by Michael Hyatt

Breathe guided meditation app

InsightTimer guided meditation app

Comments 4

  1. I’ve been feeling this recently! I knew it was the change in seasons, but hadn’t considered hormones – that’s interesting, and probably accurate, when I think about it. Thanks for making me feel less alone. THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.

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  2. I love that you said sometimes we’re going to be “severely lacking in discipline.” Not just lacking, but severely. So true! That’s been me lately, and reading that made me feel not quite as guilty.

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