What do you do when you have work to do, but no mojo, motivation, or momentum to get started? Seriously, I’d love to know because I am not “feelin’ it” at the moment. I even toyed with a few justifications and rationalizations why I didn’t need to write a post this week. It’s not coming easily. My muse has gone fishin’.

To be fair, my malaise isn’t terrible, but what I’ve realized is that I am great in two modes.

Full Speed Ahead

When I’m in this mode, I’m thinking of ideas before getting out of bed in the morning. I’m noticing at 1:30 that I worked right through lunch. I’m having an insight while working with a client and immediately parlaying that into a new tool or article. The challenge when I’m in this state is that there aren’t enough hours in a day. My fingers can’t type fast enough to keep up with my brain. This turbo-charged state is amazing…but the fuel isn’t endless. That’s why I have the second state.

Closed for Business

I am pretty darn good at switching off. And I mean the kind of time off that’s less like sleep mode and more like a full factory reset. Prior to Covid, we were closing down 3COze for five weeks each summer to clear the cache, update the software, and fully recharge. This dormancy is fantastic and my investment in turning off each summer made me like my work, my family, and myself more.

The Doldrums

Covid threw a wrench into my normal summer sabbatical plans again this year. For a variety of reasons, I ended up splitting my long hiatus into a couple of two-week vacations plus an extra day off here and there. I’m taking roughly the same amount of time off, but it’s not nearly as effective. Some of the problems are self-inflicted. When I’m on vacation somewhere local, with decent wifi, it’s been too easy to say ‘yes’ to client meetings. In my first two weeks, I only did 3 meetings, but that was enough to never feel far from shore. (In the two weeks I have left, I’m going to say ‘no’).

While the shorter breaks have meant that I’m only half checked out while on vacation, they’ve also meant that I’m only half checked in while I’m supposed to be working. I still love my clients, so my sessions and my keynotes have provided the necessary shot of adrenaline to make me feel genuinely engaged and enthusiastic. That’s not the problem. The problem is that anything non-immediate, anything that is just ‘the right thing to do,’ or whiffs of proactivity, is leaving me stone cold.

How to Get Things Done When You Aren’t Motivated

My own predicament provided a great laboratory to test out what works and doesn’t work for trying to get things accomplished in the absence of motivation. I thought I’d share what I’m doing (and not doing) to get through the doldrums.

  • I guard the two hours where I have maximum energy fiercely. Normally my high-energy time is 6:30-10:30 am, but I’m keying in on 8:00-10:00 right now. I’m using those hours for the most important, arduous, unappealing things I should get done. Then 10-12 is for the things I must get done. See the difference? I’m putting negotiable ahead of non-negotiable. I realized that using the high(er) energy times for must-do tasks was a waste because the fear of not getting them done would drag me through them even if it was a lower energy time of day. I was pretty pleased with myself for figuring this one out.
  • I break my work into chunks and have low standards for what I accomplish. I realized that my sleepy brain can do some of the work for me if I just spend a little bit of time considering an issue and then let it soak for a while. When my energy levels are high, I often start and finish things in one go (hence missing lunch sometimes). Now, I just take it as a given that a task is going to require a few passes and I find that each time I start back at it, I have a new insight gleaned while slacking off.
  • I commit to working on my should-do tasks for only 15 minutes. I set the timer on my phone and get started. I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve stopped at 15 minutes. It’s a great hack because when I give myself permission to stop at 15 minutes, I am more likely to start. Once I start, I’m more likely to continue. (It’s somewhat sad how gullible I am to my own tricks.)
  • I recommit to my bullet journal and have a single to-do list with everything on it. I notice that in lower energy times, I abandon my bullet journal. Getting everything back on paper and right in front of my nose helps me keep tabs on what I want to accomplish. And in those moments when I can’t muster enough energy to even spend 15 minutes on something, I can at least write in on the list so I know it’s not going anywhere.
What I’m not doing
  • Getting frustrated with myself for being a slacker. I accomplish a lot in a year and it’s ok that being full speed ahead most of the time requires that I rest and restore sometimes
  • Making up for my reduced capacity by working more days a week. Au contraire. I normally write my posts on the weekends, but I’m writing this on Friday morning (8-10) so that I can be fully off-the-grid this weekend.
  • Starting new things. Nope, they can wait. I’ve been writing this blog for nine years, so I know how to do it. Anything that needs the best of my creativity will be high on the list come September.
  • Working 8-hour days. Well…actually, I facilitated an 8-hour session on Tuesday, so that counts, right?!? Otherwise, it’s been more like five or six hours. That’ll do.

There is one more giant ugh of a task waiting for me before my final time-off of the summer. I want to finish the copy for our new 3COze website. It’s going to take every one of these strategies to get it done. Wish me luck.

When do you feel like you’re in the doldrums? What works to keep you accomplishing some of your should do’s and not just your must do’s? Let me know.

Further Reading

Busy is a self-inflicted wound

Flip Your Priorities

Why your company needs you to take a break