Do the easiest tasks seem impossible? Are you so starved for energy that you can’t keep up with housework, classwork, or your job-related tasks? Maybe your brain is foggy and your body feels heavy. How do you find motivation when you are physically and emotionally…exhausted?
I, like every other human on Planet Earth, experienced a difficult last 12 months. Despite being introverted to the point where I felt I had been training my whole life for a lockdown like we had in 2020, I fell into a clinical depression. I felt hopeless, was unable to focus, and fell behind on literally everything. Dishes and laundry piled up. My personal email inbox was full of unread bills I needed to schedule, and my work email inbox was saturated with tiny red Outlook flags that tangled together and manifested themselves into a solid pit in my stomach.
What really did end up working for me won’t work for everyone, and if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, find a mental health professional. I worked with my therapist for a few months, and after her cautious recommendation and much protest and procrastination from me, I finally reached out to a psychiatrist and got put on an antidepressant. Once I got used to it and moved past the side effects, I noticed a change. Doing dishes no longer felt like scaling Mount Everest, but like…doing the dishes. I found the energy to begin tasks that I’d put off, and once I started them, finishing them wasn’t so hard.
But I was already SO BEHIND. I had so much to do, I didn’t even know where to start.
Get Out of Bed
First things first: get up and out of bed. Brush your teeth, wash your face, take a shower, and put on clean clothes. Even if you don’t muster the energy to do anything else, you will have gotten up.
They say that a body in motion stays in motion, so it’s very likely that simply getting up and ready for the day will build momentum to help you find the energy to complete some of those dreadful tasks.
Find Motivation By Making Things Easier
I am of the mind that, if you can’t find anyone to pay you or light a fire under you to get you to do the things you don’t want to do, the first step is to remove obstacles.
For example, pretend you want to find motivation to go on a morning jog (I know, just pretend). The 8:00pm version of you may be much happier with this idea than the 6:00am version of you the next day. Remove the obstacle of getting ready for your run by setting your clothes and shoes out right next to your bed, or–if your running clothes are comfortable enough–sleep in your running clothes. If the 6:00am version of you doesn’t have to spend the time rummaging through drawers for the proper attire, you are that much more likely to meet that goal and go on that jog!
Conduct a Brain Dump
It’s especially hard to find motivation when you don’t know what you need to do. The eloquently-named brain dump can be a perfect starting point if you are looking to understand and organize what exactly you have to work on. Sit down, take a pen to paper, and list all of your thoughts. It will likely include tasks, but doesn’t need to be limited to them. Just write it down with absolutely no consideration for organization or appearance. You can do this in one sitting, or, if it would be more approachable, start a list and add to it throughout the day as thoughts come up. When you’re done, categorize them to make them easier to organize.
Below is my most recent brain dump. As you can see, I assigned categories for blog, personal, household, bills, and pets.
Once you are satisfied with your brain dump, it’s time to organize. Prioritize your tasks and your thoughts. Maybe this is putting them in a list of most to least important. You could also organize by day you plan to address it. No one knows you better than yourself, so organize your brain dump in a way that makes sense to you and will help you calm your mind.
What I did was re-order all of my thoughts by category. I then assigned numbers based on priority–and, loosely based on deadline. Those that are numbered “1” I want to complete within 1 week, “2” I want to complete within 2 weeks, etc. I put stars next to things I wanted to focus on first. I even removed something that wasn’t worth my attention at this time.
Set a Timer
Starting a task can be the hardest part. However, you don’t need to commit to finishing a task before you start it. Instead, set a timer, and work on the task for a designated time.
This works especially well with cleaning-oriented tasks. You will be surprised what you can get done in short increments. For example, if your kitchen is a mess, it may look like it will take forever to clean. Instead of approaching the chore as a whole, set your timer for 15 minutes and clean the kitchen for 15 minutes. If you have the willpower to keep cleaning after your 15 minutes are up, that’s great–but, if your timer goes off and you are ready to move on or even to rest, that’s OK, too.
Try Time Batching
Time batching, also known as the Pomodoro technique, goes hand-in-hand with the timer method above. Essentially, this is a productivity technique that schedules time to set timers. Schedule time to work through certain tasks, and–here’s the most important part–only work through those tasks. For example, if you have dozens of emails to respond to, you can schedule time from 3-3:30pm to catch up on them. Turn off your phone. Throw it in a drawer if you need to. Remove all distractions. Do absolutely nothing but address those emails for 30 straight minutes. Then, when your time is up, come up for air and change tasks.
Be Kind to Yourself
Positive self-talk is invaluable. It might feel like starting on these tasks is setting yourself up for failure, but it’s not.
It’s important to set realistic, attainable goals. And if you don’t reach these goals or complete these tasks in the time you had set, do not disparage yourself, but re-assess the time commitment you need. Allow yourself some flexibility.
Reward yourself when you complete a task. This reward can be resting, watching a TV show, or choosing to spend a few minutes scrolling through TikTok without interruptions.
I know I mentioned this earlier, but I cannot mention this enough–you don’t have to go through this alone. There are more therapy options available now than ever before. Telehealth became much more widely available last year and many insurance carriers began covering it. There are even online and text message therapy options, such as BetterHelp and Talkspace. Your primary care physician can also be a mental health resource if finding a therapist or psychiatrist isn’t easily attainable.