Getting Things Done When You Don’t Want To Do Anything

It’s not always easy to get things done. Sometimes, there appear to be competing priorities, sometimes, it feels like motivation just got up and left the room. Other times, there just isn’t a whole lot of time for getting things done, and when you finally have a moment to sit down, the last thing you want to do is be productive. Sometimes, anxiety or depression may get in the way. Despite all that, things still need to get done. Here’s how to go about doing it.

Be very clear about your priorities

It’s hard to get started if it feels like everything is important. If you’re stuck and can’t get going, quickly jot down your big priorities. Be honest about what’s most important to you, what’s the next-most important, etc. It may be helpful to draw an Important-Urgent matrix. Grab a piece of paper and draw a large plus sign. The top half of the plus  will be your “Important” half. The bottom half will be “not important.” The right side will be “urgent” and the left side will be not urgent. Starting in the upper left “box” made by the sign and going left to right, top to bottom, you have:

  • Quadrant 1 (Q1): Important and Urgent
  • Quadrant 2 (Q2): Important and Not Urgent
  • Quadrant 3 (Q3): Not Important and Urgent
  • Quadrant 4 (Q4): Not Important and Not Urgent

Everything that you think you need to do falls into one of those boxes. Ideally, you’ll work mostly from Q2, but if you’ve fallen behind, you may have a lot of fires to put out in Q1. Delegate anything you can in Q3. Reconsider whether anything in Q4 is indeed something you should do or if you can scrap those items (or at least put them onto a “someday-maybe” list.

Make a list of everything your brain is holding onto

Sometimes we can’t get started because we’ve got entirely too many things sitting around in our brain. We’re trying to remember the Girl Scouts meeting and the board meeting and the grant and the article we promised and that thing that we said we’d do for that good friend. Get it all written down and out of your brain. You’ll feel like someone took a huge load off just by doing that.

Make an “already done” list

Sometimes, something that helps me is if I start making a list of the things I’ve done rather than a list of the things I need to do. When I see how much I’ve accomplished, it pushes me to continue on. Of course, that won’t necessarily help if you’re having a hard time getting started in the first place, but even accounting for previous days’ accomplishments can be the spur you need to get going.

Get accountable

Find a way to keep yourself accountable. I have a dear friend I work with to keep accountable. We go over our lists of things we want to get done on a regular basis then check in with each other to see how that’s going. An accountability partner can be a great asset.

It can also be helpful to post on social media: “I’m going to work on my project today,” or “I’m going to make sure I exercise today.” When you do such a thing, you’re more likely to be pushed into action to get things done because, well, you don’t want to tell your friends or followers that you didn’t do what you said you’d do.

Do something leisurely, but set a timer

Sometimes, burnout is what’s at work when you’re having a hard time getting going. If you can, set a timer for even just 10 – 15 minutes and do an activity you enjoy – whether that’s reading a book or magazine article, checking out your favorite blog, or playing a fun computer game. Sometimes tuning out and temporarily giving into the urge to procrastinate is just the push you need. Be careful though, make sure you stop when the timer goes off.

Play this productivity game

When I don’t know how to get started, I have a trick up my sleeve. I play a little game. I write down the things I have to get done and a few things I want to get done. I keep a bunch of legal notepads around for this purpose. I number the items and put stars next to anything that’s a priority. If the priority items aren’t at the top, I move them to the top of the list and rewrite it in a second column. Then, I use a random number generator to select a number between 1 and the number of items on my list + the number of items with a star. I then complete the task that’s next to that number for 10 minutes. If I don’t finish in 10 minutes, I put a check mark. If I finish, I cross it out, and if that number is selected again, I skip to the top of the list and complete the first item on the list that has not been completed.

By gamifying what I need to do, it can really help on those days when I’m feeling frazzled or mentally drained but still really need to get things done.

Start a streak

This piece of advice has been around for a little bit, but to be honest, I myself didn’t really make a whole lot of use of it until recently. In June, it was my goal to get my email inbox to 0 every single day. Now, that’s a habit. I no longer wind up having email pile up so much that I have to dig through in order to find that really important one that needed to be responded to yesterday. For July, I started a run streak where I run/walk at least a minimum distance every single day. I’m on day 23, and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to continue it as long as I can. There’s power in not wanting to break a streak.

What do you do when you need to get things done but you’re having a hard time getting started?

Share your tips in the comments!

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