How to Be Productive When You’re Feeling Unmotivated

Try these expert-approved tips the next time you’re feeling stuck at work.

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We’ve all been there: staring at our computer screen or growing to-do list, unable to find the energy to start working. Experiencing a lack of motivation can feel debilitating, but it doesn’t have to be a barrier to your progress. Use these three expert-approved methods to be productive, even when it’s the last thing you want to do.

Take a quick break

Sometimes, the only thing you need to reignite your enthusiasm for a project or surpass a mental block is to remove yourself from the situation with a quick break.

“Step away from the task and do something different, and preferably enjoyable,” Robert Brill, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Moravian College, tells Thrive. The time away will help refresh your brain, and could even boost your creativity. Try taking a mindful walk, chatting with a co-worker, or grabbing coffee at a nearby cafe. Just make sure your break isn’t too long — Brill says that 10 minutes is optimal for recharging your motivation.

Incentivize yourself

Establishing a reward system for yourself might feel silly at first, but the science behind it is workplace-approved. Research shows that when incentives are provided for completing work, employees are not only more productive, they are also more creative. Even if the reward is small — for example, treating yourself to a latte or enjoying a snuggle session with your dog — having something tangible to work towards can stimulate your brain and drive you to persevere when the thought of finishing the task isn’t appealing enough.

Keep track of your progress

Jerry Seinfeld famously practiced this technique — now known as the “Seinfeld Strategy” — when he was trying to make a name for himself in the world of comedy. The premise is simple: Each time you start or complete a task, or otherwise make progress towards your goal, mark it down in a place where you’ll see it often. As you build a streak of successes, the desire to keep the momentum going will help motivate you.

“[It] could be as simple as keeping track of the number of workouts you do each week. But have a quantitative tracking system you keep up with,” Bob Pritchard, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida, tells Thrive. Try keeping track of your achievements in a journal or planner, or take a page out of Seinfeld’s book and mark down each success on a wall calendar to inspire yourself every day.

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