How to Stay Motivated When You Just Can’t Even

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 “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”

– Winston Churchill (1874-1965), former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Huuu Huuu Huuu.
 
This is the sound I make when I cry.
 
Why am I crying? Because It’s 10:27 am on a Monday. Obvs.
 
Does this sound familiar:
 
You’re sitting at your desk having one of those “what is life” moments. 
 
You’re not even hungover from the weekend.
 
You’re just exhausted from the last work week, Friday night’s mountain of laundry, and Sunday evening’s fight through the grocery aisles.  
 
#adulting 
 
You cradle your second cup of coffee and stare blankly at your to-do list.
 
From your periphery, you can see email notifications furiously popping up on your home screen. 
 
A classic case of the Mondays. 
 
Movie still from Office Space
 
It’s hard to get motivated after two blissful days filled with brunches and dinners with friends, walks along the harbourfront, and a general puttering about in the condo.
 
You finally got to read that book about how gluten affects the brain, and even replaced your winter clothes with spring ones. 
 
Ahhh life was perfect then.
 
But today is Monday and your only goal is to power through a day of endless emails and meetings without flipping your desk.
 
Cartoon drawing of a person flipping a desk 
 
But Monday isn’t the only time we struggle with getting motivated.
 
The biggest challenge for me was staying motivated at work through lupus flare-ups
 
A mixture of the illness itself and side-effects from the medication made it extremely challenging to concentrate, let alone get any work done. 
 
When my illness was at its worst, there were some days where I wanted to quit and go home (and sometimes I did), but other days I just kept trucking along. 
 
#digdeep
 
Despite how shitty I felt, I developed techniques to help keep me motivated at work.
 
One of the biggest things I’ve learned about motivation is this: 
 
You don’t have to feel pumped to start doing something. 
 
Most people mistakenly don’t take any action because they “don’t feel like it”. 
 
They let their emotion dictate their behaviour.
 
Just start doing something and see what happens. The feeling will follow. 
 
This is a simple thing to do, but not an easy thing.
 
Before you say, “I can’t even”, try these techniques and tactics.
 
I’ve organized them into the level of motivation you need – whether it’s a tiny push or a big kick in the pants.
 
Happy reading and keep moving. :)
 
 

I’M READY TO START THE DAY…JUST NOT YET

DO THESE IF YOU NEED A TINY PUSH TO GET STARTED

 
 
 
1. Just start.
 
My dad and me at the start line at a MEC race
 
Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part.
 
 
What needs to be done now in these three minutes?
 
Open up a new email and just start typing. 
 
Pick up your phone and finally call IT about that lingering computer issue.
 
Bestselling author and entrepreneur, Ramit Sethi is a proponent of taking action.
 
He presses his students to take action first, and then the positive feelings of motivation will follow.
 
That is, Behaviour > Attitude instead of Attitude > Behaviour.
 
Do something even if you don’t feel like doing it.
 
Who says you have to feel motivated before getting started? 
 
What if you never feel motivated?
 
If you keep waiting for waves of motivation before taking any action, it’ll be difficult to make any real progress. 
 
Don’t be that guy in the park – the one who might be homeless or likely just a hipster – feeding pigeons with stale bread from his pockets. 
 

Writer for New York Magazine’s Science of Us, Melissa Dahl says this is the best advice on motivation she has ever read.

 
 
 
2. Keep your goals in your face.
 
Whether it’s a picture of J.Lo in a bikini or Warren Buffett (hopefully not in a bikini), keep reminding yourself of what you want to achieve or who you aspire to be. 
 
I created a vision board and I keep it in front of me when I’m working at home. 
 
Picture of my vision board
 
I see it every time I get up in the morning, when I’m working in my office, and before I go to bed.
 
Having a daily visual reminder of what you want in life definitely keeps you motivated to do better work.
 
I know, I know. Vision board, Carla? Really?
 
That’s SOOOOO Oprah-ish.
 
Who cares? She’s worth $3 billion and has her own TV network.
 
I’ll start giving out schools if I have to.
 
 
 
3. Google images of what you want in life.
 
European style condo in downtown Toronto, Canada 
 
Congratulations! You’re an hour and a half into your work day, and you have reached a state of flow.
 
You’re feeling pretty good about yourself:
 
Wow – I’m so into my work right now…I’m super productive…And I had so much fun hosting dinner this weekend and I didn’t even overspend. I’ll be able to afford that European-style condo in no time. Man, I’m an awesome human.
 
You briefly glance down at your phone and you see a text from your closest bro:
 
Yo man, wicked deal to Jamaica.
All-inclusive.
You in?
Chase, Jordan and I booked our tix.
Hot girls. 
Booze.
Sun. 
Hot girls.
 
As much as you would love to relax in the hot sun with your buddies (with hot girls? – it was unclear), you have been saving up for a condo for over a year now.
 
Make a list of all the benefits you’ll have of owning your condo. 
 
Look up pictures of your dream condo and visualize your lifestyle when you finally get the keys.
 
Life will always have its trade-offs.
 
Keep focusing on what you will gain instead of what you will lose or what you’re missing out on.
 
 
 
4. Visualize future you.
 
Remember the Google search exercise

List all the things you want to come up on the first page if someone googled your name.
 
This should give you the extra oomph you need to get started. 
 
Consider companies you want to work for, positions or titles you want, and organizations you want to start or support.
 
What news articles about you would appear?
 
Hopefully nothing starting with, SUSPECT WANTED…or MAN KILLED…
 
(I’m only kidding. Only some of you are probably murderers.)
 
Here’s a picture of the google search page I did a few years ago:
 
Picture of a page from my notebook with the google search exercise
 
 
 
5. Let other people motivate you.
 
Group picture at Rotary Run in Edmonton, Canada,, 2015
 
Last summer, my boyfriend and I joined a fitness boot camp. 
 
The instructors ran their classes drill-sergeant style where yelling in your face was the norm.
 
It was highly effective for the month we did it, but for me, I don’t think it would be sustainable.
 
Not just because of the yelling, but mostly because I would rather have french fries than hard abs.
 
#liveyourlife
 
Since yelling and the allure of a bikini body don’t do it for me, I’ve gotten used to motivating myself on a daily basis. 
 
This can get exhausting. 
 
So why not get someone else to motivate you? 
 
Hire a life coach or if you’re cheap like me, just go on TED or YouTube for some quick motivation. 
 
If you’re into people yelling words of motivation and inspiration at you, blogger and video montage creator Mateusz M gets the job done:
 

 
His videos are effective if you need a quick jolt to get moving, but they can get overwhelming and less effective if you watch them too often.
 
Tony Robbins is one of my go-to’s. He’s a motivational speaker, self-help author, and a peak performance specialist:
 

 
I like him because he’s passionate, but also tough. He’s also kind of scary. But in a gentle way.
 
#crushinghard
 
Set a calendar event to watch a quick motivational video every morning to get you pumped up for the day. 
 
 
 
6. Bust out the tunes.
 
Buskers in crazy costumes performing on College and Bathurst, Toronto, Canada
 
If you have a lot of solo work to do at your desk, plug in your headphones and work to some music.
 
Research suggests that listening to music while working can increase productivity. Read more about the details here.
 
If you have to do focused work, classical music is best.
 
If you are doing anything repetitive or menial (i.e. not much mental stimulation involved), crank up any of your favourite tunes.
 
There’s also a bunch of productivity playlists that smart people have made to keep you chugging along.  
 
My favourite Google Play Music playlists: 
 
  • Anything from “Happy 90’s Hits” 
  • Sweetheart R&B
  • Laidback House & EDM
Ok, relax. I can feel the judgment from across the computer screen. These tunes keep me motivated and happy. I didn’t say they made me cool.
 
#nobodycares
 
 
 
7. Do the easy stuff first.
 
Drake performing at a concert
 
Do you think that Drake wakes up each day and just starts writing songs that turn into multimillion dollar hits?  
 
Probably.
 
But that’s beside the point. 
 
He is a human like the rest of us and probably needs to get into the swing of things before he starts on the big stuff.
 
He most likely starts the day with a jam sesh in his studio or writes down a couple of lyrics before hashing out a full song.
 
(These are purely speculations about Drake’s life based on no facts or solid evidence.) 
 
He started from the bottom. And now he’s here. 
 
(Stop cringing, it was inevitable.)
 
This will get your momentum going and will give you the confidence and motivation to complete more difficult tasks. 
 
In her co-authored book, The Progress Principle, Director of Research at Harvard Business School Theresa Amabile shows how everyday small wins can increase engagement at work.
 
The key is making progress on meaningful work.
 

Meaningful work doesn’t have to be curing cancer. It can be an ordinary task like solving a problem for a client.

By focusing more on these small wins, you’ll be more productive, more motivated to complete tasks, and you’ll be happier too. 
 
What more could you ask for? :)
 
 
 

IT’S 1 PM, BUT I STILL DON’T WANNA
 
DO THESE IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING AND REALLY CAN’T EVEN
 
 
 
8. Give yourself a pep talk.
 
My boyfriend giving himself a pep talk in the mirror
Nice Bluetooth and Blackberry there, bud! (We’re dating, it’s fine.)
 
You’re probably picturing yourself in front of a mirror, talking to yourself furiously, shouting “You can do it!”, “Believe and achieve!” and other clichéd motivational sayings. 
 
If that works for you, then by all means, do it. 
 
I prefer a more subtle way:
 
I keep a list of my top accomplishments and the obstacles I have overcome to get where I am today.
 
I keep this list on my phone and in the notebook I use daily.
 
It doesn’t matter what medium you use, as long as it’s easily accessible when you need it.

Review this list when you’re feeling unmotivated. 
 
Take your phone with you on your bathroom break and review the list.
 
Through our daily hustle, it can be easy to lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing
 
Why you chose this job.
 
Why you moved to this new city. 
 
Why you made all those sacrifices.
 
Remind yourself. 
 
 
 
9. Have something to look forward to.
 
Carribana Parade dancers at Carribana 2015, Toronto, Canada
 
In my post, How to Get Shit Done: 16 Productivity Tips and Tools, I wrote about how treating yourself to rewards can be an effective way to motivate yourself to stay on track at work.
 
Set a calendar event called “TREAT YOSELF” two hours from when you started your task. 
 
The treat doesn’t have to be big – just something that you will look forward to. 
 
Some examples: a cappuccino, a pastry, or 10 minutes of browsing Channing Tatum’s fan site.
 
(Oh whatever. I know you’ve seen Magic Mike you perv.)
 
If none of these motivate you, think bigger and long-term.
 
Spend five minutes making plans for this weekend or browsing travel deals online. 
 
Planning trips are always fun. You can make spreadsheets and do research and all that fun stuff.
 
Plus, planning with your friends makes it all the more fun.
 
When we’re caught up at work, it’s easy to forget that a big beautiful world exists outside of the office. 
 
 
 
 
10. Start small and break it up. 
 
Me hitting golf balls at the driving range
 
Maybe you’re not budging because you’re overwhelmed by the huge and arduous task in front of you. 
 
Maybe it’s that 20-page marketing plan you’ve been putting off. 
 
How about spending just 30 minutes on just the outline right now? 
 
Break up the work into several smaller, more manageable chunks and start hacking away.
 
I use this technique to divide up a lot of my big projects.
 
If I didn’t, then I’m fairly certain I would spend full days switching between watching Jimmy Falon YouTube clips and checking my freezer every 5 minutes as if suddenly there would suddenly be a jar of Dulce de Leche Hagen Daaz waiting for me.
 
(Not-even-guilty pleasures.)
 
Take my blog writing process, for example.
 
A lot of work goes into each post.
 
(What – you think all this awesome happened by accident?)
 
At first, I was all over the place. I didn’t know what tasks took priority over others and I was still trying to figure out how to work a bunch of online tools.
 
I would procrastinate writing posts because the task seemed too big and overwhelming.
 
(Plus, I was in the middle of finishing Better Call Saul. Nuff said, right?)
 
I broke it up into the following smaller steps.
 
You’ll see I also added a time limit. With writing, you can revise drafts until Sia shows her face (my cool millennial version of the saying, “until you’re blue in the face”).
 
My Blog Writing Process:
 
Step 1. TUFD: Write the ugly first draft (1 hr. max.). Credit to Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes for this handy acronym.
 
Step 2. RE-WRITE: Focus on copy first, then research. (2 hrs. max)
 
Step 3. HUMOUR: Focus on making it funny. (2 hrs. max)
 
Step 4. EXPORT: Copy over to WordPress, then upload and insert images. (1 hr.)
 
Step 5. CHECKLIST: Ensure all required elements are in post – check formatting, spacing, italics/bold, hyperlinks, etc., source all unowned images. (1 hr.)
 

Step 6. FINALIZE: Choose feature image, create blurbs for social media. (1 hr.)

 
These smaller chunks are much more digestible than just a massive blog post.
 
 
 
11. Work physically close to your boss.
 
Picture of desk at work 
 
I’m totally serious about this one.
 
I have been fortunate enough to work in open concept environments where I am free to pick up my laptop and work in a multitude of boardrooms, creative spaces, and quiet areas.
 
When I felt myself goofing off or when I was starting to lose motivation, I would work at an empty desk beside my boss.
 
This made me more productive because:
 
1) My bosses have always been strong, intimidating leaders. Being in their physical presence was motivating enough.
 
2) The pressure of knowing your boss is right beside you keeps you on task.
 
OMG He’s right there. Must keep a straight posture and have a serious Matt-Damon-in-Good-Will-Hunting-trying-to-solve-a-math-equation face. Oh no I clicked out of that window too quickly. He thinks I was on Facebook. I’m fired.
 
When you’re feeling stuck and not jazzed about a particular task, try to find your boss.
 
Seeing the person you are accountable to gets the whip cracking.

 

Be careful, though – if you hate your boss, this strategy could be counterproductive. You might end up losing motivation instead of gaining it!
 
 
 
12. Change your scenery.
 
A beautiful sunny day in Liberty Village, Toronto
 
I like to pay close attention to transitions. 
 
Transitions can give great insight into what works and what doesn’t and how to make improvements.
 
In particular, I pay attention to transitions between tasks, events, and even spaces. 
 
Simply changing your environment can give you the extra lift you need to keep working.  
 
Try moving from your desk to work by a window or in a boardroom.
 
If you’re working from home, try switching to a nearby coffee shop in the afternoon. 
 
Experiment in different environments and see what works best for you. 
 
As much as I have loved working in open concept offices, they can also be very distracting if you need to do focused work.
 
At my last job, I would often hide out in empty boardrooms when I really needed to get work done.
 
This did the trick and when I went back to my desk, I was happy to be surrounded by humans again.
 
For some inspiration, check out the world’s coolest offices in 2015.
 
I personally still want to work in an office with a slide and napping pods. A girl can dream, right?
 
 
 
13. Talk to someone who inspires you.
 
 Kim and me at a Blue Jay's game, Toronto, Canada
 
Do you have one of those friends who you can always count on to make you laugh?
 
I do – her name is Kim.
 
The instant we see each other, we are already laughing uncontrollably at one of our outrageous inside jokes. 
 
We do the ugly laugh. With snorts and all. 
 
We both think we’re hilarious but when we try to tell other people our jokes, they just laugh politely and nod.
 
(Secretly they think we’re cocaine addicts.)
 
We have this one joke where we’re The Vanderbilts…
 
Nevermind. Forget it. You wouldn’t understand.
 
Aside from making me LMAO, Kim inspires me to keep my chin up when the world throws caca in my face.
 
She is a constant reminder never to take myself too seriously.
 
Have a ten-minute chat with a coworker or call up an old friend who is inspiring or motivating to you. 
 
 
 
14. Just do one more important thing.
 
Man working on laptop while holding tennis racket
 
You’re ready to pack it in for the day but it’s only 2:30 pm.
 
Before you consider the day a write-off, just address one more important task on your to-do list.
 
This relieves some of the pressure from your never-ending to-do list and usually after you’ve completed that one thing, you have the momentum to keep going and finish all the other important things on your list!
 
The other day I was crushing through my to-do list with the speed and efficiency of a modern Asian Tiger Mom.
 
By mid-afternoon, I was ready to pack it in, thinking I deserved it for being so productive for the majority of the day.
 
But I still had a shit-ton of work to do.
 
I groaned and told myself I would do one last thing on my list (hanging up my degree and organizing rack) before calling it quits.
 
I felt so much better after completing that nagging task, and it made me want to get more things out of the way.
 
This may not be considered one of my most important tasks, but getting in the habit of doing things even when you don’t want to do them will help you succeed at work and in life.
 
This is the essence of being an adult: doing things even though you don’t wanna.
 
 

THIS DAY WAS A WRITE-OFF
 
DO THESE IF YOU SERIOUSLY NEED TO GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER
 
 
 
 
15. Move two millimetres.  
 
A small turtle trying to climb big rocks
 
Why two millimetres? Because it’s such a small distance and literally ANYONE can move 2 millimetres.
 
A turtle, a baby, or even your lazy uncle. 
 
It doesn’t matter how slow you move, just don’t stop.
 
Take tiny steps: respond to the easy emails, schedule those meetings, summarize the notes from the client briefing.
  
Use the psychology of crosswalk counters and queue numbers to measure your progress, no matter how small.
 
For some people, a simple To Do list does the trick and the satisfaction of crossing off items as you do them is enough to keep you moving. 
 
I have a big whiteboard in my home office where I write my top three goals and tasks for the day.
 
It’s extremely satisfying to erase each item from the whiteboard as soon as it’s complete.
 
(Yeah, I should probably get out more.)
 
My goal is to have an empty whiteboard at the end of each day.
 
Remember: slow and steady wins the race.
 
Unless you have hard deadlines. In that case, move your ass NOW!
 
 
 
 
16. Do some soul-searching.
 
My dog, Bernie, underneath a decal of a zebra
 
What’s really holding you back from moving forward? 
 
Maybe you need to dig deeper to overcome your limiting beliefs or inner conflicts. 
 
Are there still some hard questions you have to answer? 
 
I can tell pretty quickly if something isn’t gelling with me.
 
When I graduated from university, I was torn between pursuing a career in finance (because that made the most sense) and doing something else (I didn’t know what this “something else” was at the time). 
 
One day in particular stands out.
 
I had an interview for a trading position at an investment firm in Toronto.
 
I took the 45-minute subway ride to North York, walked for about 10 minutes in the pouring rain, stopped, and then headed straight back to the subway. 
 
I called the company and cancelled my interview. 
 
The whole time I kept thinking, “I hate this. I hate this. I hate this. I don’t want this job. I don’t want to do finance.”  
 
I was so conflicted. I wanted to do what made sense and what was practical.
 
But I quickly learned that I value authenticity more than a job that looks good on paper.
 
Sometimes I wish I was more motivated by money, but alas, I grew up in a household that emphasized kindness and generosity.
 
(Damn it. I hate you, loving parents.)
 
 
 
17. Think about your haters.
 
Angry friends
 
Make a list of all the people who you want to prove wrong. 
 
Let this fuel your fire to keep moving forward. 
 
Use this to start working on that passion project or losing those lb’s.
 
WARNING: Before you try this technique, just remember:
 
You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone.
 
Instead, focus more on enjoying what you do.
 
As soon as you start doing things for other people instead of for yourself, your success or failure will be tied to these people’s approval instead of your own intrinsic motivations.
 
I included this tip for that extra push of motivation after you’ve tried all the other tips above.
 
Sometimes I think of negative people I know in my life who are quick to criticize any idea or attempt at changing things for the better. 
 
I think of these people and have fake conversations with them in my mind. 
 
(Shut up, I have hobbies and stuff.)
 
Whenever they put down or criticize my work, I just smile and calmly say, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”
 
(But I really want to say: “I hope all your dreams die and your cat gets pneuomnia.”) 
 
But let’s face it: nobody cares if you fail or succeed either way. 
 
Thankfully, everyone is wrapped up in their own lives to care too much about what you’re doing. 
 
Just don’t start posting Instapics of your special parts.
 
That’s gross.
 
 
 
18. Remember: it’s not all about you.
 

Picture of my crazy family during Christmas

 
If you’re slow to get started on something, think of the people who are counting on you to get it done.
 
Keep pictures of your loved ones at your desk to keep you motivated.
 
Maybe you live with a S.O. and you’re splitting the bills.
 
You need to do your best at work to contribute. 
 
Unless you have a sugar daddy.
 
In that case, why are you reading this? Go have fun on your boat, you basic b. #jeals
 
For the rest of us, remember that we have friends and family who look up to us and lean on us for support.
 
 

 
Want more tips on how to be more productive at work? Read How to Get Shit Done: 16 Productivity Tips and Tools.
 
How do you stay motivated when you want to throw in the towel?
 
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. :)
 
 

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