What to Do When You Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything

It’s just one of those days, right? You’re sitting there with a big to-do list and no motivation to get started.

This happens to all of us from time to time. Such a day can struck with no warning. Sometimes even immediately after a highly productive day.

… So now what? What to do to save it and get some work done despite the adversity?

First of all, let’s face it, if you don’t feel like doing something you most likely won’t generate any good results… Do you expect a sprinter to win the 100 meter dash at the Olympics if they don’t feel like running? Of course not, it’s impossible.

So is there any point in forcing yourself to work only so you can screw it up? I’m not going to say something like “yes and no” because that’s just lame and I hate when people say that (don’t you?), so I will choose one side and say: no.

However, the fact is (whether you realize it or not) what you’re feeling isn’t really the lack of motivation to do every possible kind of work. It’s just a lack of motivation to do the work that you’ve originally planned for the day.

I mean, you have your to-do list (or other form of personal work organization tool) with a number of tasks on it, and when you look at them, nothing seems interesting enough to get into. As I said before, there’s no point in forcing yourself to something because you’d most likely have to do it over again after the initial screw up. What you can do, however, is find a suitable replacement and use it as a starting point.

Your favorite kind of tasks

No matter what line of work you’re in there’s always something you’ve enjoyed doing every time. Some specific kind of task that comes easy to you and you don’t need to put much effort into it to produce great results. Everybody has something like this, and this is a great starting point for an initially unproductive day.

We all know that getting started is always the most difficult part. A space shuttle uses most of its fuel during the first couple of seconds after launch. The initial movement always creates the biggest friction. Starting with your favorite task gets you going and helps you to fight this resistance.

As life shows, once you’re working for a while you can switch to different tasks more easily. There’s a high probability that you will be able to come back to your to-do list and execute it despite the initial resistance.

Everything’s in your mind. If your mind tells you that it doesn’t feel like working you simply need to trick it into working by starting with a task that doesn’t really feel like work. That’s all there is to it.

So what’s the remedy for a bad start?

1. Find your favorite kind(s) of tasks that don’t feel like work, and come easy to you.

Ones where you can create great results with little effort. They don’t have to be the highest leverage tasks possible, but they still need to be useful. By useful I mean tasks that move you forward towards your goals.

Moving forward towards your goals is something you need to devote special attention to. Working just for the sake of working is the stupidest thing you could do. If something doesn’t bring you closer to your goals then you’re better off reading a book … or even watching a cat video on YouTube.

2. Create a specific task within this favorite field and work on it.

For example, if you enjoy writing you can start by crafting a guest post for a popular blog. Simply set the exact topic you want to write about, and get going immediately. In such a scenario this is a great task to start with.

3. Once you’re done switch to other tasks from you to-do list.

Getting started is always the most difficult part and now you’ve done just that, so there’s a big probability that you won’t have any problems switching to other tasks.

What’s the friendly initial task for me?

My university diploma says that I’m a programmer. And I’ve always enjoyed playing with PHP code. So whenever I don’t feel like doing anything I start by working on improving my blog.

(No matter how well optimized your blog is there are still some things that can be improved.)

It’s also a task that’s congruent with my goals. Improving the blog’s structure gives me extra points for SEO, usability, accessibility, or performance (depending on the thing I focus on).

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what your friendly initial task is. Do you have more than one?

This is a guest post by Karol K (@carlosinho). He is a 20-something year old writer, a web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland, and a grad student at the Silesian University of Technology. He shares his thoughts at Tune in to get his online business and personal productivity advice.

Photo credit: ‘Lazy Dog‘ from Big Stock

55 Responses to What to Do When You Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything

  1. Amanda Koh says:

    It happens to anyone. That day when you don’t feel like doing anything at all. Other than doing things on your to-do list that you like, I suggested not even doing stuff at all, on my blog post:

    – Amanda

    P.S. The dog’s really cute.

  2. Sam Spurlin says:

    I usually just work on brainstorming the various projects I have going. Brainstorming is easy because I get to let my mind run wild and I always have plenty of projects (whether they’re school, business, or writing related) that need some additional thought.

  3. Justin Mazza says:

    I usually do the task that brings me the most joy first. I find that once I am in the flow of getting things done everything after that becomes easier.

  4. Brandon says:

    What I usually do (it works amazingly btw!) is I keep a list of different area’s of my life. When there is a day that I don’t feel like doing anything, I know it’s time to look at my list and find a area that inspires me! It NEVER fails to get me out of a slump.

  5. That was a really insightful article.  I don’t normally feel like that, but lately I’ve been recovering from illness and I’ve felt like that just about every day.  As you said, I have not been able to force myself to tackle my list.  It never occurred to me to do something I like to do or that’s easy.  I was determined to get my list done no matter what – only I didn’t.  I didn’t end up doing anything, and doing things I like or that are easy, would have been so much better!

  6. I usually do something with the hope that doing something will get me going enough to move onto the next thing.



  7. I’m a full time mom and my to-do lists often involve an overwhelming amount of menial and repetitive tasks. But my “initial” task usually ends up being cooking/baking because that’s something I enjoy or at least don’t mind doing. At the bottom of the list is vacuuming… good thing I have a small house! 

  8. Nice post, this happens often. When your a online marketer you have a lot of small, but important things to do. Getting that initial boost on productivity can be rough. I actually start my day a bit early so I can hit the gym. Once I am out of the gym I pick up my to do list and start running. The energy from the gym gets me going. Have a great day.

  9. Brainstorming is also a great thing to do. I love a good old brain dump. Lay all the ideas out and clean up for the next task. I use evernote.

  10. Alex Conde says:

    I try to radically re-imagine my day like that when I hit what I call my “blah block”.

    It’s surprising how much you can get done in a day if you just throw out a plan that isn’t working and start fresh!

  11. Alex Conde says:

    I try to radically re-imagine my day like that when I hit what I call my “blah block”.

    It’s surprising how much you can get done in a day if you just throw out a plan that isn’t working and start fresh!

  12. What an incredibly simple idea for amazing results.  Sometimes when I have a task I don’t like, I set a timer for 10 minutes so I know I won’t be suffering for long. Some times I keep going after 10 minutes. Sometimes I just stop. But I feel better for having gotten SOMETHING done.

  13. sometimes though, i just let myself sit and not do anything when I don’t feel like doing anything, or go out for a walk, watch TV, read a book, and let it be…

    Noch Noch

  14. Tony Fuentes says:

    Great post Karol, great idea. I usually start my day by doing what I love most. The best thing about working on your passion first thing in the morning is that no matter how “unproductive” you are from that point forward, you’ve already done what’s most important to you. :)

  15. Tony Fuentes says:

    Great post Karol, great idea. I usually start my day by doing what I love most. The best thing about working on your passion first thing in the morning is that no matter how “unproductive” you are from that point forward, you’ve already done what’s most important to you. :)

  16. I had a different take on this same subject. I don’t see how a lack of motivation means you’d mess up the task you don’t feel like doing. I say if you’re not in the mood, you need to do it anyways. That’s how real progress is made. Here is the aforementioned article if you’re interested in reading… 

  17. Just to clarify, I don’t disagree with the entire article. Just the part that says you’ll mess up a task and have to redo it if you’re not “feeling it.” Good stuff otherwise.

    It’s a dangerous habit to only work on things you feel like working on.

  18. amy swanson says:

    I usually start to feel this way at about 2:30 when I’ve done all my “must do” projects, but I still have time before 5:00 to work on stuff. Your tips will help me get over that lag in the day, thanks!

  19. Sierra Doehr says:

    When I get up in the morning, I immediately make my bed and open all the shutters in the house. It’s my “hello” to the day. My friendly initial task would be making a nice breakfast. It would be even nicer, however, if I could tidy up after making the kitchen a total nightmare.

  20. Mary Lou says:

    Well, what if you really don’t feel like doing anything, not just the stuff on your list? I know I’ve experienced that with depression, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

  21. writingbee says:

    thanks for link

  22. Me, i just lie down and watched tv all day long

  23. Jereepetrie says:

    I find that when I really feel resistence to doing something what seems to work is to genuinely give myself permission not to do it (which is harder than it sounds). The longer you keep trying to force yourself to do something the more resistence you feel and the more time you waste. As often as not, after a while I feel a lot better in general and the task suddenly seems do-able. It’s a bit like agreeing with someone who is critisizing you – it shuts them up immediately; whereas if you argue back and insist on your point of view you just prolong the argument and get nowhere. It goes against logic, but it really does work.

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  26. Life Quotes says:

    I like the way you
    explained about “What to Do When You Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything”. Keep posting stuff like
    this I really like it.

  27. Alyana Mari says:

    I am a full time mom for so many years and the kids are grown ups now but my husband still doesn’t want me to work for his reasons that I don’t know. I really want to have a career of my own but whenever I attempt to let him know my plans it will just turn out into contention. This situation really upset me more and made me feel not to do anything each day…

  28. Carl says:

    I usually place a little ‘seed’ in my head the night before about what I want to do the next morning so I wake up ready to go on that particular task – this can have either a positive, negative or unexpected result.  I’ve been working on the same blog post for a few weeks now (so getting a bit jaded, no surprise) but I decided to focus on getting the post finished this morning.  My brain rebelled overnight though – this morning as I was waking up it generated about 5 great ideas for another blog I’ve just started.  They went straight on the whiteboard I keep in my bedroom (before I forget).  Still working on that darned blog post I’d planned but starting off with 5 buzzing ideas has cheered me up regarding the rest of the day.  My biggest idea generating activity, would you believe, is ironing clothes.  I keep a voice recorder on me when I’m ironing because the ideas just pour out of my brain.  So, if you want to send me your ironing to do … when I definitely don’t want to do anything I regard that as vital rest time.  Something will bubble up, it always does.

  29. I am not truly positive if greatest practices cover emerged roughly things like that, except I am sure that your big work is obviously discovered. I was questioning if you offer some subscription to your RSS feeds because I would be very interested.

  30. Tamara says:

    You see, I’ve already finished the ‘fun’ tasks and am still not getting about doing the other ones! Frustrating..

  31. Vijaya says:

    Dear Alyana,

    Could not help but reply to you..if you do really want to have a career of your own after so many years of putting the family first, just go for it. If discussing your plans causes contention, a good way is to just begin working on your plan, before discussing with your hubby. All the more reason that you should get going!
    Always remember that its solely your responsibility to bring your dreams into reality. It could be difficult to do with all these years of putting others first- but is not impossible. Don’t let your feelings come in the way of your dreams.. I am sure once you are on your way, every member of the family (yes, your husband too!) will support you and feel happy for you.

    With love and best wishes,
    mom, freelance software engineer and blogger 

  32. Sillyi7 says:

    I don’t really even have a to-do-list other then some homework, which I don’t need to do right now… It’s more like I have NOTHING to do. Though, I do have somethings but I’ve done them so much that it seems arduous (even playing a video game seems like it’ll require effort)… It’s so annoying… Maybe I’m just tired–should probably hit the hay early I guess.

  33. Joshua Regitz says:

    i love to draw and want to learn how to paint properly. because its the least effort my initial task is just to make scribbles of people around me in my sketchbook. as soon as i catch fire i will make more and eventually sitting there, full of oil colors splashes with brushes everywhere.

  34. flyfox says:

    Taking a shower and refresh yourself might help abit though

  35. boob sucker says:

    i like sucking boobies!

  36. Sarah says:

    the amount of my ” not feeling like to do anything ” is that , I don’t even feel like reading your motivations and explanations!

  37. Katie McCringleberry says:

    i feel like this everyday…

  38. Nate says:

    I pick something quick with instant and visible results. At home this could be emptying one trash can, putting dirty clothes in the hamper, cleaning up around the couch, etc. What ever takes about one or two minutes and allows me to sit back down and feel the gratification of seeing my world one small step better.

    Improving my immediate surroundings always makes me feel better and, typically, when I feel better I feel more productive.

  39. Lina says:

    Writing in my diary.

  40. Edith M Knight says:

    I never thought about that, I always use a 20 minute timer start my distasteful chores figure I can stay with it for at least 20 minutes when that time period is up I watch tv or do something I enjoy, for 20 minutes then back again for 20 min, I usually get in the mood and get things done.

  41. Guest says:

    Gud one

  42. Bill McDonalds says:

    Read a book if you don’t know what to do, it helps me a lot

  43. Jagoda Perich-Anderson says:

    Good idea to shift your attention to something you enjoy. Gets your energy going. Another tip I learned some time ago is to do whatever needs doing for just five to ten minutes. For example, I don’t much like cleaning, so I might say that I’ll just wash the bathroom sink and mirror. Easy. Sometimes, that’s it but more often than not, then I also decide to clean the toilet bowl and while I’m at it…you see how it works?

  44. Tarannum Khatri says:

    nice article…I have one blog..may be you like it .

  45. Matt the Engineer says:

    I’m an engineering student who is overloaded with homework and responsibilities within my engineering club. I plan full day long schedules to do work. I will literally put a full few days aside for homework. I get so demotivated that I just sit there and crumple. It is frustrating and I get depressed about it. I did work today in my engineering group, but not towards my homework. It is causing me great anxiety.

  46. When i’m bored of doing work i eat. That gets my enthusiasm running again.

  47. cc says:

    do you have depression?

  48. cc says:

    no interest.

  49. cc says:

    no you aren’t. I don’t even get out of bed half the time. Horrible.

  50. Jessica says:

    I,m really really bored.Today was completely planned for me,I
    Was going on vacation.Everything went wrong when my office called in saying that they decided to take my leave back 0because they wanted me to do stuff for the next two
    Weeks .I cancelled my tickets to Rio de janerio and here i am.bored,not wanting to do anything .and my stomach,s also upset so i cant cook or eat anything good.

  51. Shite lynn barnes says:

    What if theres nothing good on tv?

  52. Shite Lynn Barnes says:

    Same here Cece. :)

  53. full time human says:

    As opposed to a part time mom?

  54. Anonymous says:

    What to do if you dont feel like reading this text?

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