2pm has been difficult for me recently. The afternoon rolls around, and I find myself exhausted. More often than not, I’ll end up staring out the window at the lengthening shadows—or worse, staring at Twitter—while I try to get my gumption back.
Now if you’ve ever met me, or read any of my writing for that matter, you know I’m something of a workaholic. This whole unmotivated “not working” thing was unacceptable. And so of course I was beating myself up over it, which only made it worse.
So, I started trying different productivity hacks: pomodoros, bullet journaling, GTD, anything I could find. Some of them turned out to be pretty useful in their own right, but none of them fixed my motivation problem.
That is, until one of my boyfriends asked me, “Have you thought about taking care of yourself instead of trying to do more?”
. . .no. As it turns out, I had not. Which is especially silly, considering that I already had a self-care list that I use when my OCD is flaring up that my psychiatrist helped me develop (and which I think he cribbed pretty heavily from this list).
I took the basics from my OCD list, and started running through it every time I felt stuck or unmotivated. It worked embarrassingly often, given how simple it was.
The list itself is so simple that I actually wasn’t going to write about it. I figured everybody else knows this stuff already. But then I realized that there are other workaholics in the world, other people like me that might need permission to take care of themselves, or just hadn’t thought to do it. So consider this your own personal reminder, and a peek into what works for me.
1. Hippies! Hydrate!
If you’ve ever been to a festival, I bet you’ve heard this one. It doesn’t make it any less true. If you’re feeling unmotivated, drink a glass of water. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a quick fix if it does.
2. "I love you. Eat something."
This is where I admit my eternal shame. Three quarters of the time, I just need food.
I’m the type of person that—when in “work mode”—will pace around the kitchen, open the cupboards and refrigerator doors, and not eat anything because I can’t put it directly in my mouth. Seriously, if it even requires utensils or a microwave, I won’t bother, because it’ll break my flow state and I’d rather be hungry if it means getting more done. And I don’t want to admit how many times I’ve given myself food poisoning by eating something expired because I wasn’t paying attention.
It is so bad that when I get sick—and therefore more distracted and less inclined to take care of myself—my boyfriend will text me just to tell me that he loves me, and that I should really eat.
Or at least, move your body a bit. Do a few crunches (abs are my favorite) or choose a favorite yoga pose. Maybe go for a walk.
If I’m being honest, this is the one that I resist the most while I’m going through the list, because it takes time away from immediate work. But I always feel better once I’ve gotten my blood pumping.
4. This isn’t the 90s. Take off the flannel.
I am all for pj days, and I live the vast majority of my life in flannel pants. But sometimes I get stuck, and the only thing that will help is a change of scenery—and feeling like a person rather than a freelancer. Getting dressed, in real clothes, helps put me in the right mindset.
5. Do something—anything—no matter how small.
Put away that dirty dish. Write a response to one email. Something about this creates a sense of getting past friction and getting into motion. If I’m lucky, one small action will give me enough forward momentum to keep going.
And just let yourself think. Sometimes I need time to plan my next move. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by all the things I could be doing, and can’t figure out what I should be doing. At the end of five minutes, if I haven’t made a decision, I try doing whatever I was thinking about last. Usually though, I figure out what I ought to do long before the timer runs out.
* * *
I’ll occasionally make it through the entire list and still not feel motivated. Then I know it’s because I’m truly exhausted, and I should take a break without guilt.
However, that doesn’t mean I want to go back to Twitter or staring at a wall. I’m a huge fan of productive procrastination, so when I made my self-care list, I also made a list of other fun and productive-ish things to do when I just can’t work. I made sure to include hobbies and my fuck you project too—things that I want to do, but still feel like an escape from work. That way I don’t have to be creative or make any hard decisions when I’m out of energy. I just choose something off the pre-ordained list. (For me, that list includes reading a book, playing the piano, and taking a self-portrait).
And the best part? Even when I’ve had an unmotivated day according to my writing or business or to do list, I did something that I care about. I feel good about it, and that helps me recharge to take on the next day.