6 Tips for When You’re Not in the Mood to Work

“Daydreamer” courtesy of Nelsonius

We all have times when we’re just not in the mood to get on with work. Perhaps we’re feeling tired or apathetic, or weeks of stress have finally caught up with us. Maybe we’re just having a hard time staying on task – Facebook, Twitter, webcomics and other distractions seem, well, more distracting than usual.

So how can you stay on-task and on-track when you don’t feel like working?

1.    Do Something Else!

Okay, it’s not always possible – but how about doing something else instead? If you’re trying to force yourself to work on your small biz at the weekend and you’re feeling fed up, then the best solution may well be to simply take a break.

You can end up wasting a lot of energy by pushing yourself on by sheer willpower … when, in fact, it may be the case that your brain and body really need a break.

Of course, this isn’t an option in your average job (no boss wants to hear “sorry, I wasn’t in the mood to work today”) but if you have flexible hours or work for yourself, pay attention to early signs of fatigue or burnout.

2.    Make a (Short) List of Tasks

A sense of overwhelm is often at the root of our work problems. If you’re struggling to work because you don’t know where to begin, sit down and write a short list of things which you want to get done today. Try to keep it to just three or four items.

Once you have a list in front of you, you may well find your resistance to work melts away. It’s easy to knock off the tasks on a list; it’s hard to cope with that sense of having far too much work and nowhere near enough time.

3.    Focus on How You’ll Feel Later

Often, we end up procrastinating because it’s easier to play a flash game rather than get on with work. The problem is, procrastination inevitably leads to feelings of frustration, guilt or irritation – we know we’ve wasted time.

Instead of thinking about how you feel right at this moment (bored or fed-up with work) think about how you’ll feel in a few hours time if you get that work done. You’ll probably be relieved, satisfied, proud of yourself. Focus on getting through your work so that you can end the day on a high note.

4.    Just Open the Document

Our resistance to work is a funny thing … it can feel huge, but it starts to vanish as soon as we take the tiniest action towards getting something done. One really simple tip is to open the document which relates to the work you’re putting off. Just open up that report, or that email.

Once it’s on the screen in front of you, you’re already getting yourself into the mood to work on it. If you’re still struggling, tell yourself that you’ll spend five minutes working. Set a timer if you have to. As soon as you get going, it’ll get easier.

5.    Do the Very Best You Can

When you don’t feel like working, it’s easy to tackle everything half-heartedly, doing the bare minimum to scrape by. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t do much for your motivation; you end up feeling vaguely dissatisfied with what you’ve done.

Instead, resolve to do the very best on the piece of work you’re tackling, however mundane or unimportant it seems. Even if no-one else ever notices, you will know that you gave it your best shot, and you’ll be proud of yourself for that.

6.    Promise Yourself a Reward

Finally, if nothing about your work itself can motivate you, then try a bribe! Promise yourself a treat if you get through those three tasks on your list, or if you finish this one piece of work which has been hanging over you.

You might decide to take the rest of the day off (which encourages you to work faster rather than procrastinate). You might go to your favorite restaurant for lunch. You could treat yourself to a new CD or book which you’ve been meaning to buy. Rewards can be hugely motivating – give it a go.

How do you manage to get on with work when you’re not in the mood? Do the above tips work for you, or do you have any others to share?


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

3 Responses to 6 Tips for When You’re Not in the Mood to Work

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