How to Get Stuff Done When You’re Just Not Feeling It

UPDATED: January 8, 2024
PUBLISHED: June 17, 2019
How to Get Stuff Done When You Have No Motivation

Motivation is a tricky thing. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a student, a stay-at-home parent, or a worker bee in a large corporation, you know that motivation comes in a schedule of fleeting, unplanned waves. At some point, caffeine simply doesn’t cut it.

When it comes to motivation, we generally understand that it either flows from within us or from an external source, such as a boss—intrinsic and extrinsic. But, it’s important to think deeper than just these two overarching categories. After all, simply realizing that checking your email as an entrepreneur needs to come from within doesn’t actually make you want to check your email any more.

Related: The Science Behind Why You Don’t Feel Motivated

The subcategories of motivation vary, depending on the author, study and genre of study. But generally, you can create a personalized list of subcategories for your own life. For example, if you work in a traditional business setting, you’ll have a supervisor, peers, a human resources department, etc. Each of these groups will require certain things from you each day, week, month and calendar year. Your supervisor expects you to complete the tasks listed within your job description, and your peers might add in a few things that aren’t on your regular schedule. These types of extrinsic motivation might be listed as fear-based: If I don’t perform my regular duties, I could lose my job, or incentive-based: If I perform well on these tasks, my supervisor and peers will recognize me as an exemplary employee.

Intrinsic motivation is sometimes a little more difficult to define, at first. For example, humans are naturally drawn toward mastery. We want to accomplish goals, learn new things and generally never stop growing. But knowing that information doesn’t make you stick to that personal budgeting class that isn’t as exciting as it was on week one. Here, we need to dig a little deeper. Maybe the process of learning is a natural source of energy for you. Or maybe you crave increased control over your life, and managing your finances is the first step to getting there.

Simply identifying the type of motivation present during a certain task can help keep you on schedule. Continue reading these tips and case studies to better understand your lack of motivation to complete certain tasks, as well as a few ideas for coaxing a little gumption during the need-more-coffee days.

1. Attach reason to the task.

Let’s be very clear: Getting motivated about a task doesn’t mean you have to be happy or excited about it. Sometimes you must ask yourself: Why is this task important? What will it bring about in my life? The answer could be as simple as I won’t get fired. The key thing to remember here is that motivation is nebulous. The motivation for answering your inbox full of client complaints is going to be starkly different than your motivation to get up at 5 a.m. so you can spend time with your daughter before her first day of school.

2. Assess your unwillingness to get started.

Have you ever had a looming deadline on a big project only to spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning out your refrigerator or detailing your car? Maybe you’re afraid of failing at the upcoming task. Maybe this is an ongoing trait that you need to address on a deeper level. If you struggle to get started on a project until it’s crunch time, you might have an unhealthy relationship with stress.

A 20-year stress study by the University of London found that stress can release dopamine—the feel-good chemical—which encourages repeat behavior. Simply put, people can be just as addicted to stress as they are to likes on their social media posts. More importantly, the study found that those with unmanaged stress levels were at higher risks for cancer and heart disease than smokers or those with poor diets.

3. Use the 15-minute rule.

You might not have issues keeping up with your career tasks because those pay the bills and come with a pretty clear level of accountability. But what about the mundane daily tasks at home? After a long day at the office, the last thing we want to do is put away the clean dishes or organize last month’s receipts in preparation for tax season.

Use the 15-minute rule, advises Gretchen Rubin in her book, Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life. You can accomplish quite a bit in just 15 minutes, and yet most of us fritter away that time on our phones in between meetings or during a commute. Commit to working on a put-off task for 15 minutes without interruption. Stop at 15 minutes. Don’t allow yourself to work any longer. Do this every day for a week and mark your progress.

no motivationNikita Savostikov/

Amber GarrettAmber Garrett

Founder of Amber Garrett Photography, Las Vegas

Being an entrepreneur is about so much more than one’s art. When I first opened my business in 2016, I had no idea what all went into being a business owner. There are fun things, such as photographing and editing; and there are not-so-fun things, such as advertising or making sure my business remains legal and protected. I’ve learned that I hate having photo shoots on Mondays because I don’t feel like I can enjoy my Sundays. I choose to spend Mondays doing my office work because I know it’s an entire day where I won’t be interrupted by any photo sessions.

Always give yourself twice as much time as you think it’ll take you to complete something. There were so many years that I spent anticipating a task would take me an hour, and then it took me two hours. I’d feel down on myself for not being as productive, when in reality, I wasn’t giving myself enough time to properly complete that task. If the system you’re currently using doesn’t work, change something. Maybe it’s your location, the tools you use, or the people you work with. You’re allowed to make changes to make things better. Have a plan for your days and stick to it, but don’t be self-critical if things have to change.

Tyler HogdsonTyler Hodgson

Founder and president of NXT Mortgage, Dallas

I definitely have a suck-it-up and just-do-it mindset the majority of the time. Everyone fails; entrepreneurs definitely fail more than the average person. Lofty goals such as waking up every day at 4:30 a.m. and going to the gym can be hard to accomplish consistently. There are certainly days when I am too tired, or just not feeling it, and I fail. If I’m not feeling it, I usually go through one of two scenarios: First, do it anyway. Give it your best, and even if you only do a little bit, you are better—you at least did a little bit more than nothing. Second, I admit that I need some rest, take the rest in the moment, but come up with a plan for how I will make up for it.

Many entrepreneurs think they have to work 80- or 100-hour weeks to be successful. Or when they’re busy, they might think they have to put in 12- or 14-hour days to get everything accomplished. I’m a strong believer in balance and prioritization. There is a need for long days and long weeks on occasion, as long as you don’t burn yourself out. Once you start getting tired or burned out, your productivity will suffer so much that you would be better off taking the rest and working fewer hours in a fresh state. When you have 12 hours’ worth of work to accomplish in a day, sometimes you just have to select the most important eight or nine hours’ worth of work and forget about the rest.

Brea RoperBrea Roper

Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, Kansas City, Missouri

There are so many good things you can do every day, but the good keeps us from the great. Setting goals is key to staying focused. Identify your goal for the day, and three-to-five tasks that will get you there. Write it down. Anything else that comes up throughout the day should go through this filter. If the distraction doesn’t serve your goal, choose to defer, delegate, or dismiss.

Start your day with things that fill you up (working out, meditation, reading, brainstorming, coffee with a friend, meeting with a new connection, etc.), and you’ll be excited to get right to it. For me, being verbal and making genuine connections with people really fills my emotional tank and gets my creative juices flowing. I usually plan to start my day with an early morning networking event, coaching session, or coffee with a friend. Then, I’m more energized and motivated to get through the boring admin work.

The struggle is real, so I time-block. I’ll set an alarm for 45 minutes and knock out as many emails as I can, then get up and move my body for 15 minutes. Doing something fun to break up the monotony and keep my blood flowing is key. Learn what works for you, and make it work for you.

Related: 10 Action-Packed Quotes to Keep You Motivated at Work

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by Dusan Petkovic/