17 Ways to Motivate Yourself When You’d Rather Do Nothing
Updated: Aug 20
We all have days when we're not motivated. Here are 17 things you can do to get motivated, so you can get things done.
You woke up today and thought, “No. I don’t want to ______ today.” Whatever ______ is, you don't want to do it.
In fact, you dread the thought of doing it. You’re unmotivated and so far, the conversation in your head hasn’t inspired you to do anything.
You can’t seem to muster the oomph you need to get moving. At the moment, you would rather do nothing.
Here’s the thing:
First, remind yourself that everyone has those moments -- and those days. Second, know that there are things you can do to move past the conversation in your head.
Today, I’m going to share 17 tools that help me when I’m in a funk and need a little extra motivation to get stuff done.
Every large task is nothing more than a series of small tasks carried out in a particular sequence. You do this, then you do that.
1. Break big tasks into small tasks. Don’t look at a task as a large, complicated chore to get done. Instead, break it down into simple, manageable tasks.
Project managers understand this. They use a document called a work breakdown structure to make projects manageable. This document breaks work into manageable tasks.
Here’s why breaking down a big task into small tasks is so important:
Every large task is nothing more than a series of small tasks carried out in a particular sequence. You do this, then you do that. You keep doing this and that until you complete the last task.
When you break the tasks down on the front end – before you get started – it becomes more manageable. And when it seems more manageable, you have one less reason to procrastinate.
2. Take the smallest first step you can take to get started. Put your energy into taking that first step. If it’s running a report, open Excel. If it’s drinking a kale smoothie, put the kale on the counter. If it’s paying bills, log on to the website.
Complete the smallest step you can take to move forward. Here’s why this helps:
Let’s use the Excel report as an example. Right now, you dread running the report because it's complicated and takes a long time.
Instead of focusing on running the whole report, open Excel. this is the smallest first step in completing the report. Opening Excel redirects your thought process and creates momentum.
Now you have a strong starting point for taking the next step.
When you focus on everything, you focus on nothing.
3. Weed out what doesn’t matter so your to-do list is more manageable. You want to focus on your priorities. Focusing on everything dilutes your attention and saps your motivation.
It’s like the saying, ‘when you focus on everything, you focus on nothing.’
That’s why photographers choose a focal point for their photos. The focal point supplies focus and clarity for the viewer. It’s what stands out in the image.
Priorities serve a similar purpose. They help us figure out what to focus on. They direct our mental and physical energy to the things that matter.
When good is good enough, let go of perfect.
4. Accept that good enough is good enough. Perfectionism is not your friend. Chasing after it won’t make you any happier or help you get things done.
Those occasions where we get it perfect are rare. Even the top athletes -- the best at what they do -- don’t get it right every time.
In 1997 Michael Jordan filmed a commercial for Nike called “Failure.” In it, he said, "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.”
Here’s the thing:
Michael Jordan doesn't play a perfect game every time and neither will we.
When good is good enough, let go of perfect. When all you want is a drinkable smoothie or to pay your bills on time, good is good enough.
5. Stop telling yourself what you can’t or don’t want to do, and start telling yourself what you will do. Mindset, particularly a positive mindset, makes a difference in how we feel about a lot of things in life.
Positivity is good for you and too much negativity hurts you.
Telling yourself things like “I don’t want to do this” or “I can’t do this” gives you a reason to procrastinate. You set yourself up to do nothing.
Reframing your thoughts by saying “I can do this, and I will” keeps your mindset open, positive, and flexible. In short, you're in a better frame of mind to tackle that task.
Being outside makes you feel better. It helps lower your stress, which can help you move past ‘do nothing’ mode. Taking a walk while you’re outside is good for you too.
When you find yourself in a do-nothing funk, remember to get up, get moving, and get outside.
7. Add something you enjoy to something you want to avoid. Think of it as the seasoning in your tacos. You can eat the tacos without seasoning, but they taste a lot better with it.
Adding something you enjoy doing to something you don’t helps offset the unpleasantness of the task. For example, listening to music while you pay bills offsets some of the pain of giving money to creditors.
This strategy doesn’t completely remove unpleasantness, but it helps. Improvement, even when it's small, is still an improvement.
Be kind... to yourself.
8. Be kind to yourself. Don’t let your inner critic tell you you’re lazy. Negative self-talk isn’t going to motivate you. Plus, it doesn’t change anything.
While you’re spending time filling your head with negativity, the work you’re avoiding is still there.
Letting your inner critic run wild won't make you feel better or change the situation. So what do you do?
Dr. Lisa Firestone in this article on negative thoughts recommends zero negative self-talk. She recommends shutting down your inner critic as soon as it starts speaking.
She suggests telling yourself “That’s not me. That’s my inner voice…trying to take me off course and steer me away from my interests and goals.”
Sometimes, the only thing standing between you and getting something done is a nudge.
9. Reward yourself when you complete an unpleasant or difficult task. Sometimes, the only thing standing between you and getting something done is a nudge.
A nudge is a reward that’ll get you moving. Rewards don’t have to be big, complicated, or expensive. To work, all they have to do is encourage you to act.
Here's an example of a nudge:
If you love a second cup of coffee in the morning, promise yourself a second cup after you finish the Excel report.
But, keep this in mind:
The reward needs to be accessible and realistic in your situation. Driving an hour across town to get a second cup of coffee may not be worth the effort.
10. Consider the consequences of doing nothing. There is a consequence for everything we do. If I sleep eight hours every night, I wake up feeling rested every day. If I sleep six hours every night, I wake up feeling more exhausted as the days go by.
Those consequences result from my sleep choices. When you’re feeling unmotivated, think about the consequences of what you're avoiding.
Look into the future:
What negative result could result from not taking action? Could that result hurt your health, your job or career, or a relationship?
The consequences of doing nothing may be the motivation you need to get started.
Adopt a “fake it till you make it” strategy.
11. Pretend you’re motivated. Adopt a “fake it till you make it” strategy. Pretend that you’re motivated. Do the things you would do if you were motivated.
Here's the most important question: Does this strategy work?
Researchers studying a similar situation found that smiling makes you feel happier. Even when you’re only pretending to smile.
Pretending to be motivated won’t hurt and might help, so it’s worth a try.
(Learn more about how body language shapes your thinking by watching this Ted Talk with Amy Cuddy.)
12. Focus on what you need to do now – not later. Imagine you’re sitting in a chair thinking about how much you don’t want to prepare your Excel report.
While you’re sitting there, your mind wanders:
You think about how long the report usually takes to prepare and the changes she might ask you to make. Thinking about the past and the future distract you from the present.
Focus on what you need to do right now. Start with suggestion #2 – Take the smallest first step you can to get started.
(Focusing on the present is called mindfulness. Read more about mindfulness at Mindful.org.)
13. Give yourself 10-20 minutes to work on a task. Some it’s easier to start a task if you know you don’t have to work on it for very long. If this approach appeals to you, try this variation on the Pomodoro technique:
Set a timer on your phone. Once you start, work on the task without distraction until the timer goes off.
Work without interruption until the timer goes off. Then stop. Take a quick break. After the break, set the timer and repeat the process.
Keep repeating until you finish the task or no longer need the timer for motivation.
14. Spend time prepping before you start the task. Lawyers don’t walk into a courtroom unprepared. They just don't do it.
And there's a reason for that:
Preparing makes their job easier and increases the odds they'll win their case.
Having what you need when you need it makes every job easier.
Put down your phone.
15. Put down your phone. Let’s be honest. If you're like me, you spend a lot of time on your phone.
Here's what I've found about that:
When I'm not motivated, it’s a lot easier to scroll mindlessly than get to work.
Here's what I do to stay off the phone when I need to be productive:
I turn off notifications and move the phone out of reach. I set it far enough away that I have to walk to get it. I silence the ringer and turn off the vibration.
16. Visualize your plan to get things done and how you’ll feel as you complete those things. Visualization is a powerful motivational tool. If you can see a plan in your mind's eye, you’ve already passed one hurdle:
The “I can’t get started because I don’t know what I need to do” hurdle.
If you haven't passed that hurdle, create a plan that lays out a starting point. You don't have to even have to write it down. Just picture it in your mind.
The last step? Visualize success. What does it look like? What do you need to do to be successful? The answers to those questions are powerful motivators.
(Learn why a visual action board helps you achieve your goals.)
It's important to know your why.
17. Clarify why you’re doing the task in the first place. It’s hard to motivate yourself to do something if you don’t know why you need to do it. That's why it's important to know your why.
If you don't know your why, here's a way to figure it out:
Imagine that you’re asked to justify the task to someone else. What would you say to make your case? Can you convince them that putting in the time and effort is worth it?
What you say to make your case will tell you a lot. It can also motivate you to get started.
You’re just stuck and need to get unstuck.
Everyone feels unmotivated at some point. Feeling unmotivated doesn’t make you lazy or less of a person. You’re just stuck and need to get unstuck.
I hope you find the 17 tools in this article a useful starting point.
What do you do when you feel unmotivated? Email me at anita (@) simplelife365.com and let me know.
NEXT: You might enjoy 15 Things to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed.