I frequently have conversations with friends that go like this:
Them: Hey! What have you been up to?
Me: Not much! I’m attending a panel this weekend for my literary magazine, I have an article due this Friday, and I’m prepping for a long editing session since the writers at another zine I work for are turning their pieces in this Saturday.
Me: What about you?
Them: *surprised Pikachu face*
Them: I’ve been doing nothing… how do you have so much motivation when you’re constantly working?
What they don’t know, is that behind my high functioning capabilities, I’m a machine. Just kidding. I just have a lot of discipline. While that seems like such a simple word, a simple thing to achieve, it isn’t. It requires you to put in the work.
Which is a bit difficult if you lack the motivation. Hence the predicament that a lot of people (and myself before I turned into a machine — I mean, learned some discipline) find themselves in. But not to worry! I have eight tips to share that you can use when you’re feeling unmotivated and still want to get things done.
1. Don’t just make to-do lists — break each task into actionable steps.
It’s easy to write down all the things you have to do and call it a day. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help your heaps of tasks to complete before nightfall feel any less daunting.
Instead, you should take each item on your to-do list and break them down into actionable steps. For example, when I have an essay that I need to write by the end of this week, I don’t just put down “write essay” in my planner. Instead, I break the assignment down like this:
- Open Google docs.
- Create heading.
- Format document with correct font + line spacing.
- Outline introduction
- Outline body paragraphs
- Outline conclusion
- Write introduction
- Write body paragraph (1, 2, 3, 4, repeat as many times as necessary)
- Write conclusion
- Plop essay into Grammarly
These clear steps make it so much easier for me to see what I need to accomplish. It also helps me feel so much more productive since I can check off all these little steps instead of just staring at one ginormous and seemingly impossible task. You don’t have to do this for every single task since it can be a bit time-consuming. However, I highly recommend starting your days this way as it helps you settle into a productive mindset and keeps the momentum going for the rest of the day.
2. Time-blocking is your BFF.
Time-blocking is a new favorite technique of mine. Essentially, it’s you putting down the hours of the day when you’re awake, then designating what you’ll do each hour.
You shouldn’t beat yourself up if something comes up or if you end up not following your schedule to a T. Using this technique in moderation, however, is a great way to build a routine. It forces you to hold yourself accountable for when you should be doing what.
Also, you’ll always have something to do (even if it’s self-care for an hour). You’ll never be sitting there without another task on your mind, scrolling through TikTok aimlessly because you don’t have an agenda for the day.
3. Use the Pomodoro technique.
We’ve all been there. You tell yourself you’re going to take a quick break until 5:30 p.m. But after going to grab a snack and watching a Youtube video (or two), you come back to find that it’s 5:32. Now, there isn’t any reason you can’t start your work… but something in your head tells you it would be better to wait until the next round number. 5:40, then. But then, you resurface from your Youtube binge at 5:43 and again you tell yourself can’t start since it’s not a round number. This happens again and again until it’s 8:00 p.m. and you have yet to return to your work since taking that first break.
The Pomodoro technique is all about discipline. You’ll work in small chunks (or “sprints”) for 25 minutes. Then, you’ll take a 5-minute break. After repeating this technique throughout your workday, you can allow yourself longer breaks — but it’s all about keeping that momentum and consistency.
You could always use the Clock app on your phone to set timers, but one of my favorite tools for easily setting a time and getting straight to work is a website called Pomofocus! It’s super easy to master and is free to use.
Never again will you have to worry about not being able to start/end work on an even number. If you keep yourself in check and use the timers correctly, you’ll find that your productivity will amp up immensely. Say goodbye to those even-numbered start times — and wave hello to operating on your own clock.
4. Listen to lofi/instrumental music/ambient noise.
Silence can be intimidating at times, but listening to music with lyrics usually ends with you standing on your desk with your pen in hand, lipsyncing the lyrics to “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift. Which is the opposite of productive.
Instead, you can fill the silence of your study space and set the tone by putting on some ambient noise or instrumental music.
One of my favorite resources for finding relaxing lofi mixes is a channel on Youtube called Chill with Taiki.
5. Tidy up your workspace.
My philosophy is that a cluttered workspace equals a cluttered state of mind. You don’t want to sit down at a messy desk, attempt to start working, then feel frustrated at how many pens are laying about or how many papers are getting in your way.
To prevent this, make it a part of your working ritual to tidy up your workspace before you start anything. Not only will you feel much more refreshed when you sit down to finally get started, but you’ll also feel like you’ve already accomplished something by cleaning up the area!
6. Lock your distractions in a box. (Okay, not literally.)
Trying to study for that AP Literature and Composition exam is 10x harder when your phone is sitting right there, lighting up with notifications from your friends.
Say your phone is the most distracting thing in your life right now. Either keep it away from you by asking your sibling to hide it from you, shove it in the closet under the clothes you haven’t folded, or just straight-up shut it off and lock it completely.
If you’re not ready for this kind of commitment, there are apps like Forest that can give you some incentive to stay focused (e.g. you either have to put your phone down or you’ll kill your tree). While apps like these can be a bit gimmicky, they’re still a great solution if you don’t want to part with your distracting electronics.
7. Schedule a time to recharge your batteries.
It’s so important to nourish yourself and spend time doing the things you love. These are the moments where you get to rest and recharge for the amazing things that you’re doing. In fact, this article from the Harvard Business Review agrees that you should prioritize self-care as you would an important meeting!
One of my favorite things to do during my breaks/during the moments where I want to practice self-care is to read! I always set aside at least an hour or two every day to step away from the screens and do nothing but sit in my bed with a book in hand.
8. Romanticize your work.
What if I told you that the time you’ve been spending on Instagram is actually productive? There’s nothing quite like seeing someone else’s stunning work and wanting to emulate it for yourself.
Your notes and study spaces don’t have to match the peak Pinterest aesthetic. That said, it can be motivating to see other people having fun with their work/studies! In the same vein, watching other people getting their studies on can also be a great way to get yourself pumped for getting started on your productivity as well!
All of these tips aside, you’re not going to become a productivity wizard in a day. Discipline takes work to accomplish — which, combined with a lack of motivation, probably seems impossible to achieve. The most important part about fighting this lack of willpower is to show up.
Consistency is important, especially in those moments when all you want to do is roll over in bed and put your pillow over your ears to drown out the sound of your 6 a.m. alarm. You might not feel anywhere near motivated to start working, but once you get into the groove, once you start feeling like yourself again (even if it takes two cups of coffee), your unproductive and unmotivated mindset will vanish.
Get out your pen and paper, and write that to-do list. Remember, starting’s the hardest point. It’s all downhill running from here.