You know that feeling of excitement and motivation you have when you start a new project?
I had it when I first started my blog. I would spend every moment of free time I had on it. I would spend my lunch hour working on new blog posts, and I would stay up way too late tinkering with my website design.
After I had been at it for a few months, it was hard to maintain that same level of motivation. I would get distracted easily and make excuses to work on something other than my blog.
When I didn’t feel motivated, I just didn’t do it.
I can tell you after more than five years, and after having turned this blog into a business, there are days I don’t feel motivated.
There are days I don’t feel motivated to write blog posts. There are days I don’t feel motivated to write the freelance articles I have due.
But I do it anyway.
I learned early on that motivation is not enough to keep me productive. In this post, I’m sharing what the real secret to productivity is, and how I get shit done when I’m not feeling motivated.
How to Be Productive When You Aren’t Feeling Motivated
Why motivation isn’t the secret to productivity
Think of how motivated you are when you have a great new idea for a project. You’re so excited that you spend all of your time working on it. Even missing out on a few hours of sleep doesn’t seem so bad. You’re motivated and genuinely having fun.
And your motivation is what you’re relying on to keep you productive.
Then a few days or weeks or months go by, and suddenly you aren’t feeling quite so motivated. Instead of working on your new business idea, you find yourself turning on Netflix instead. Instead of getting up early to go to your workout class, you sleep in or make brunch plans with friends.
There comes a time where motivation just isn’t enough to be productive and stick to everything on your to-do list.
So what is the secret to productivity? Well, there are two actually.
How to be productive when you aren’t feeling motivated
When you aren’t feeling motivated, you have to rely on your discipline and your systems to keep you going.
Discipline is that feeling where you aren’t feeling motivated, but you do it anyway. Think about being in school when you have a huge paper do.
Do you want to write the paper? Of course not. But you can’t afford to let a lack of motivation stop you from writing it, so you do it anyway.
There are going to be times going after your own goals where you won’t feel motivated. Even if it’s the thing you want most in your life, sometimes the motivation just won’t be there.
It’s on those days you have to rely on discipline.
Having systems in place also helps, because it takes less effort to get certain things done.
For example, struggling to stay motivated to work on your finances? Set up automatic bill pay so you don’t have to sit down every month and do it manually.
You can apply to same concept to any area of your life where you’re struggling with motivation.
Know that discipline takes time — you don’t just have it overnight
How often do you tell yourself you’re going to do something after work, whether it be working out or writing a new post for your blog — And then you don’t actually do it.
Discipline is a muscle just like any other, and it isn’t one that you develop overnight. But once you’ve got it, there are few things you won’t be able to accomplish.
Think about how disciplined you are when you’re doing something at the request of your boss, or when it comes to doing a favor for your best friend.
You wouldn’t back out. You know those things are non-negotiable. And yet we don’t look at our own projects with the same dedication.
Practice honoring what you said you would do. There will be times you slip up. Just don’t beat yourself up too much.
But as you get better at doing what you said you would do, your brain will learn that’s what happens. When you say you’ll do something, you do it.
Put it on your calendar
Do you ever look at your to-do list and feel instantly overwhelmed by the huge number of things you have to do? You just stare at your list with no idea where to start, and by the end of the day, you’ve barely gotten anything done.
That’s how my life went for years. And to fix it, it took just one small change to the way I prepare for my day.
Today, instead of putting tasks onto a running to-do list that’s probably never going to get done, I put tasks directly onto my calendar. And I make my tasks as specific as possible.
So instead of writing “work one blog” on my huge to-do list, I put “write and schedule Monday’s blog post” on my calendar for 10 AM.
Once you’ve got it on your calendar, you have to take it one step further. You have to actually honor what’s on your calendar. That means if your calendar says you’re going to work on your business from 6 PM – 8 PM and Thursday night, and a friend invites you out for drinks, you tell them you have plans.
We’re really good about honoring plans with other people. You wouldn’t cancel on your boss or your best friend, would you? And yet we’re so quick to cancel plans with ourselves.
Shut out distractions
If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I’m easily distracted.
If my email is open in another tab, I’ll check every new email as it comes in. If my phone is next to me, I’ll pick it up every time it buzzes.
Since I know this about myself, I do everything I can do avoid letting these distractions near me when I’m working.
Years ago I turned off the social media notifications on my phone, and a few years later I did the same for my email. And you know what? To this day, I haven’t had an email so time-sensitive that I needed to read it immediately.
When I’m writing an article, I do everything I can to clear my workspace of distractions. I close my email tab and social media tabs, I put my phone facedown on my desk.
Another thing I’ve started doing is using Toggl to track my time when I’m writing. I know roughly how long it takes to write one of my freelance articles, and I know that letting myself get distracted will increase that time.
I look at it as sort of a challenge to myself to beat my time from previous articles. That motivates me to ignore distractions at all costs.
Remember why you’re doing it
No matter how much you practice being disciplined, there are going to be days where you just don’t want to do what’s on your calendar. There are days where the effort doesn’t seem worth it. In those moments, you have to remind yourself why you’re doing it.
Brandon and I have been saving to buy an RV so we can start traveling full-time. We’re almost there, just a few months away.
I can picture exactly what our life is going to look like in the RV, just our small family of me, Brandon, and our dog Toki. I can picture the places we’re going to visit and the adventures we’re going to have.
And on the days where I’m not feeling motivated and my discipline is waning, that’s what I think about.
Your reason is going to be different. Maybe you’re working on growing a business so you have the freedom to work for yourself. Or maybe you’re going after a big promotion.
In the moments you’re not feeling motivated, just remember that why.
Assume you won’t feel motivated
I know that when I start a new project or idea, I have so freaking much motivation! You’ve probably felt it before too — It’s the kind of motivation where you stay up all night working on your new thing and can’t wait to tell your favorite people about it.
But here’s the thing. That feeling never lasts. Sure, you might feel crazy motivation about your new goal today. But in a few months…or a few weeks…or maybe even a few days…you aren’t going to feel quite so motivated.
And this is where 99.9% of people drop their goal for the next new exciting idea.
But what if instead of relying on motivation, you just assumed that you wouldn’t be motivated and made a plan to do it without motivation?
Putting it on your calendar is one of the ways you do this, but it’s not the only way!
For example, let’s say you want to start working out in the mornings. At 9 PM the night before, you’re probably super motivated that idea thinking it’s definitely going to happen.
But then what happens at 6 AM the next day?
For most of us, you turn that alarm off and go back to sleep.
But there are so many things you could have done to set yourself up for success under the assumption that you wouldn’t feel motivated. You could have:
- Put your alarm on the other side of the room, meaning you would have had to get out of bed
- Slept in your workout clothes so that when you got out of bed to turn off your alarm, you were already dressed for your workout
- Put your workout shoes next to your bed so when you get out of bed to turn off your alarm and you’re already dressed, you also trip over your shoes
You see my point. Assume you won’t be motivated and figure out how you’re going to do it anyway.
Practice thoughts that make you feel motivated
Ok, I get that no matter how many times I tell you that you don’t need the motivation to get shit done, it’s still always a heck of a lot easier when you’re feeling motivated.
The good news is that motivation can be created.
Yeah, you read that right. You can CREATE a feeling of motivation by thinking thoughts that make you feel motivated. When I read this, my mind was literally blown.
So what thoughts should you practice to make yourself feel motivated? I like to remind myself of WHY I’m doing what I’m doing.
Obviously, you have to figure out what thought is going to work for you. But a good place to start is remembering that first day where you were overflowing with motivation. Why thoughts did you have that created that feeling of motivation?
That feeling of motivation and being able to get anything done is a great one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last.
The trick to being productive and accomplishing all your goals is learning one simple skill — Discipline.
I promise that if you can master discipline, you can do just about anything you set out to.