We all have them. Days where we wake up and just can’t face the laptop. I’m going to show you my method for dealing with those days, where you just don’t feel like working.
WARNING: Some of this post is pretty exposing so let’s play nice.
The real kicker with these types of days, above all else. Is the guilt.
It’s well known within our industry as both creative and digital, that depression, anxiety and other mental health issues might cause us to experience long periods where we just don’t want to work.
Waking up in the morning and being totally unmotivated to crack on with work might be a larger symptom of some broader problems.
You need to address this
Every once in a while, I feel exactly the same way. I just cannot be bothered to work. Tiredness, over-sleeping, under-slept, hungover. Whatever. For a long time, I battled with depression and I’m happy to say I’m on the winning side now.
But a lot of the advice you’re given is “just go for a walk instead” or “just sit down and force yourself to work”. It’s not always as easy as that, but you do need to recognise when you’re feeling unmotivated.
I’ve seen it happen over and over, time and time again. To friends, family and colleagues. Not doing the work leads to guilt short term. Long term it might affect your income. Which also adds to the guilt factor. Before long, you’re in a spiral where you feel guilty and anxious. Which stops you from even getting out of bed.
On top of that suck salad
You might be putting off acknowledging something else. Money, debt, projects that have fallen behind. Sometimes the bed is much safer and nothing can touch us there.
Except for the monster that lives under the bed.
5 ways to tackle days where you just don’t feel like getting out of bed
These are 5 tactics that I’ve used, ranging in severity, to dealing with unmotivated bed-itus.
Some of these are from friends, or things I’ve worked out myself. Others are from my Mum, who was a constant source of support during a very difficult time in my life.
Some of these are aimed at the shorter term “I really am not feeling it today” and others tackle longer term motivation issues.
One step at a time
From writing massive long form blog posts, to getting out of bed in the morning. A big part of my mindset, is taking it one step at a time.
I don’t think I’ve got to write a 10 000 blog post. Or run a 10 mile run. Or upload all our process documentation. Or wake up and start the day.
I break everything down into small steps and focus on the first one. That’s all.
I’m not getting out of bed. I’m just going to drink a glass of water.
I’m not going to write 10 000 words. I’m going to think of a title.
Karl Meltzer, who recently completed the 2,190 mile Appalachian Trail (in 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes) says he never runs an ultramarathon. He runs 8 miles at a time.
If you’re feeling a case of bed-itus coming on. Think about one tiny, easy action that you can accomplish. A glass of water. Turning on your laptop. Opening WordPress.
Putting on your trainers is the hardest part about going to the gym.
Take your journey and break it down. It can feel overwhelming to deal with 50 emails, a call to the bank, sending off a parcel, writing a blog post and proposal and running a customer workshop.
But sitting up to take a glass of water is much much easier.
You can see how I break up my day, every day into little manageable steps in this guide here.
What would motivate you?
Longer term stretches of bed-itus might be a symptom of a larger motivational problem. It’s often because we just don’t know why we’re doing “this thing”.
Why am I sitting in front of this screen? I really don’t like working on this project. I don’t know what to write about.
Most of these feeling might indicate that you’re not doing stuff for the right reasons.
We do stuff, because we’re motivated too. It’s a pretty simple equation.
Many people surround themselves with as much motivation as possible. Goals of money and income. A vision for changing the world. Kids, family, mortgage. Whatever.
I’ll admit, sometimes it’s not that easy. Why do some people just DO stuff? Why do some people have an innate ability to keep pushing? I honestly don’t know.
But you don’t have to be like that. Whatever you want to end up with, should be personal to you.
You might have to have a long think about what it is you really want. If you’re not motivated day to day, that’s an indication that your motivation and goals aren’t compelling enough.
We’ve got a worksheet and training below that might help you with that.
Drop it like it’s hot
Often, that feeling of dread and lack of drive to do something today. Is attributed to a sense of overwhelming. That’s there’s too much to accomplish.
So drop some of it.
Drop some of those tasks like a sack of shit.
That committee that does nothing but sit around and argue? Leave it.
The customer that does nothing but complain and costs you more than you make? Fire them.
Stephen Dubner, of Freakonomics fame, talks about quitting all the time (you should listen to him talk about it here).
Dropping responsibilities can be both healthy and productive. We shed dead skin all the time. We lose toxins every day. We should do the same in our lives.
About 4 months ago, I took the tough decision to stop a podcast I had been running with some friends. I loved the guests, the other presenters and even the topics.
But I was loosing time and energy to something that I didn’t really care about. It had to go.
We’re often told over and over that we should commit to things and see them through no matter what.
A sense of pride? Because our Fathers told us as children? Because other people will be disappointed?
That’s life and they’ll live. Think about some aspects of your life and business that you can quit.
This might be one of the hardest things to do. Seek help.
Business and mental.
First, the business side.
“Mark, I just can’t keep doing this. I fucking hate [customer name] and I don’t like the projects. Besides, I’m drowning in work that does need my attention and even that I can’t handle all by myself.”
Mark, my CEO and business partner let me rant and rave at him for about 15 minutes.
We were on Skype and had an influx of work land in our inbox.
Two big funnel projects and some small pieces from other customers. The problem is that our developer was tied up with our own work and our designer had left. I was doing the majority of the funnel building process while Mark managed the customers.
I felt we were both at the limit of what we could do, there just weren’t enough hours in the day.
Mark let me finish and replied. “How can I help?”
It was so simple that I hadn’t even considered it. I was so caught up in my own mind, that I forgot the entire reason we partnered with each other.
“Honestly? We need someone to take some of the work off my plate. The lower cost stuff takes as long as the larger projects but they’re not profitable” I replied.
“OK, so let’s look at some work. In the meantime, let me talk to [customer name] and explain his request might take a little longer”
I couldn’t believe it. A sleepless night of worry and after 10 minutes on Skype, I felt a million times better. It really showed me the power of asking for help.
Bank debt, late payments, rough customers. There’s very little that we can’t deal with, if we reach out and communicate.
Hell, I’ve personally seen banks lower their monthly credit payments just because I called them up.
It’s in most people’s interest to collaborate. But they can’t help if you don’t talk to them.
Second, on a mental health note, asking for help can seem much harder.
After months of never leaving my room or even my bed. It became apparent that I might need help.
Counselling always seemed like something rich people did when they had too much money. Medication really wasn’t my scene either. I didn’t want to become a zombie.
A good friend of mine had recently started medication for manic depression. He spent some time in hospital and while talking to me over a beer, he explained how both counselling and medication had changed his life.
“It’s not forever” he explained. “I know I need to take the pills to level out my chemical imbalances. And talking to someone who doesn’t know me, really helps.” To this day I thank him for sending me on a path to recovery.
It turns out, after my first session, that my depression was probably caused by a chemical imbalance. The result of which was due to coming off a drug which I had been taking for a long time. So me thinking I was cleaning up my act, in fact left a deep chemical hole in my head which caused a slip into depression.
The pills I took lasted a few years. Mainly just to balance out my brain. I never felt like a zombie, or dead to the world. In fact, I felt that I had the pressure taken off.
I went to counselling for years. Through most of university, most of work and only stopping after I decided to quit my job. It turns out I had a lot of unresolved anger and issues from childhood which was exacerbated by a long-term depression.
Talking it over with someone, without a doubt, was the most powerful thing that happened to me.
If you feel you need help. Ask for it.
Take the day off
Finally, stop beating yourself up. Take the day off.
As an exercise, take a day off from work. Just go and do something else that isn’t delivering projects, replying to emails or doing usual work stuff.
One day isn’t going to make or break the business. What we’re doing is seeing what activities need completing on that day.
At the end of the day, go over what SHOULD have been done. Those items are the processes that you should write up.
Writing blog content, emailing customers, social posts, replying to customers. All the items that needed to get done today, are what you should focus on writing up the process for.
Everything can be systemised. There are other people that can take work from you. If literally no one else can do it, it’s not scalable. If you can’t teach other people to do it, it’s not scalable.
What would have had the biggest impact on your day if YOU didn’t have to do it? Interviewing guests for a podcast? Writing to sponsors or suppliers?
Whatever should have been done is usually what you should be outsourcing and focusing on. Everything else is secondary.
Don’t beat yourself up. Take some time off and do something with people you love. Even just a walk to the park or a coffee with a mate can be a huge relief. The good thing about work is that it isn’t going anywhere.
“Doesn’t quitting and getting help fly directly in the face of your last post Mike? About not moving the target?”
I totally see how that looks. And yes, quitting might seem like a huge no-no in the eye of the man who wrote this post.
But here’s the reason. I’m happy to quit things when I realise that I don’t care if it works or not. A customer who’s difficult to work with, pays late and I don’t enjoy the project for example.
I don’t care if it goes live or not. If I don’t care about the result, I’ll quit.
Sure they might be pissed off. But it’s short term and I’ll survive.
Break down your entire day and projects into smaller steps. Manageable chunks that seem easier.
Discover what truly motivates you (use our exercise below) and use that as fuel.
Quit and drop what doesn’t help you move to your goal.
Seek help and ask your friends, colleagues and suppliers. Most of the time they’ll help.
Take the day off. Use it as an exercise in project management.
Have you tried any of these before? Something you want to try next time the day doesn’t start right? Have I missed a tactic that you use? Let me know in the comments below.