6 Productivity Hacks for When You’re Feeling Least Motivated

The next time someone tells you distractions are bad for productivity, send them this article.
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The next time someone tells you distractions are bad for productivity, send them this article.

Staring blankly at your computer screen, you will and woo yourself to be productive. No luck. You want to get going and know you have to, but you just can’t focus. Did your usually efficient and motivated self take a mental vacation?

Some days, our willpower to work just isn’t there. These productivity slumps happen to even the most ambitious and disciplined. As it turns out, research shows that our willpower reserves are finite; they tend to decrease over the course of our day.

Whether from frustration, tiredness, or burnout, your workday is not lost yet. You can still lure your productivity back with these six easy work hacks.

01. Allow yourself a few distractions.

If your body is signaling that you need a break, just go with it. University of Illinois research and other studies show that brief distractions can actually increase concentration. Take a walk outside, read a good book, or grab coffee to reset your brain. Have a nap-friendly workplace or flexible schedule? Sneak in a power nap. The National Sleep Foundation recommends twenty-minute naps to improve alertness.

02. Work somewhere else.

A simple change in setting can jolt you out of slacker status. Sit at a different desk, find a room on another floor, or squat at a nearby coffee shop. Physical places trigger different emotional and mental responses based on environmental conditions—air quality, lighting, noise, temperature, and spatial arrangements, to name a few. Relocate to a serene spot if your current spot is stifling your work ethic.

03. Divide your work into micro tasks.

Paralyzed by a mountainous workload? Whittle it down into small subtasks. Take on one item at a time for realistic milestones that your fleeting attention span can handle. Harvard Business School researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer uncovered the progress principle that supports the power of small wins. This principle states that progress has a very strong impact on motivation. So think minuscule to get back into the swing of things.

04. Tune in to some ambient sounds.

Pause your usual jams, and cue up some calming, atmospheric melodies. Of all musical genres, ambient music is the least distracting and most likely to enhance creative performance. White noise—such as a gentle rain, ocean waves, or a tropical forest—boosts productivity by prompting clear thinking. These soothing sirens will bring back your productivity.

05. Pull inspiration from your previous work.

Stuck in an ideation block? Steal from your personal portfolio. Review related projects to repurpose your ideas, templates, or processes. There’s no shame in self-sourcing when you’re grasping for an action point. As author, filmmaker, and speaker Kirby Ferguson shared during his TED talk, the creative process involves copying, transforming, and combining. Working from copy helps us learn and launch new ideas.

06. Browse for baby animals (yes, really).

Ooh-ing and ahh-ing over cute memes can help revive your productivity. Several experiments have shown that viewing adorable images actually narrows attentional focus, promotes careful behavior, and improves task performance. Now, don’t spend hours perusing video playlists of puppies meeting kittens for the first time. The experiments indicate that a brief one- to two-minute browse through adorable images is enough to produce positive emotions associated with motivation.

Before you give in to your next productivity crash, try out these hacks. Sometimes all you need is a fresh perspective, a change of scenery, or a quick distraction to crank out your best efforts. Be kind and patient with yourself, and you’ll get your work mojo back before you know it.

Photo Credit: Paige Morse Design