How to get it done (when you just don’t want to)

How to get it done (when you just don’t want to)

Lauren Bonk's Layout avatar

Well, here you are.

Tidying up the kitchen counter, avoiding the accusing stare of your computer screen (or drafting table, or easel, or jigsaw), wanting to do anything but work on that deadline.

There are countless roads that can lead you to this place… maybe you took on too many clients, spent an excessive amount of time on another project, or simply got dealt an unexpected card by life that ate up all your time. Who knows? What you know is that, regardless of how you feel about it, the job’s got to get done.

So. What can you do to get motivated?

As a freelancer, I’ve experienced “the rut” a fair amount of times. When there’s no boss looking over your shoulder, motivation can become an issue when you get tired or life gets hectic. I’ve tried just about everything (it feels like almost everything, anyway) to hop out of my funks and power through assignments… and I’ve accrued a few successful methods in the process.

Bearing in mind that not every approach works for everyone, let’s tackle this from three different angles:

Mind & Body

Get moving.

I think a very wise and crafty person on Pinterest once said, “If you move your ass, your mind will follow,” and then painted the quote onto a Mason jar. This sentiment often rings true for me, though, and is one of the more successful tactics I use to jump-start the creative part of my brain.

Doing even 5-10 minutes of light exercise can turn your whole day (or late evening) around. You don’t have to break a sweat or bench-press a bookshelf or anything, you’ve simply got to get some blood pumping. Yoga is a fantastic choice for not only motivating you to work, but also helping with work-related body pain like back-aches and carpal tunnel syndrome. YouTube is a great resource for quick exercise and yoga videos that can be surprisingly specific to your needs. Working from a public place? You can even find some discreet “desk yoga.”

Photo credit to Matt Madd. Photo credit to Matt Madd.

Freshen up that brain.

Although it might seem a little far-out to some, meditation can become a very practical tool for a designer or freelancer. Stressing about multiple factors often quashes one’s ability to focus on a single task. By listening to a short guided meditation video (again, good old YouTube) or audio recording, you can help quiet some of the nagging voices in your head long enough to get some good work done, which will ultimately relieve some of your stress. If you’re confined to a desk at work, use one of your breaks to find an isolated place where you can spend five minutes listening on your favorite device.

Similarly, if you need help getting to sleep, a guided meditation will help you get that brain turned off so that it’s fresh and ready to work at the crack of dawn… or before.

Wash off those doldrums.

If you’re working from home, sometimes you just have to hop in the shower and push the reset button. Find soap with a mint or citrus scent to wake up your senses, and emerge from behind the curtain ready to work. You could even go so far as doing your hair or putting on some nice clothes to convince yourself that it’s time to get things done.


Rituals & Rewards

For some, the thought of actively tackling your motivation problems might seem exhausting or counter-productive, and that’s okay. Another approach is to provide yourself with a more tangible motivator to get those wheels moving.

Never underestimate a ritual.

Just like Pavlov taught his dogs to have that special affinity for a dinner bell, so, too, can you trigger an automatic work-response in yourself. Creating a recurring environment or performing a specific action that signals impending work-time (and following through with it on a regular basis) can be a way to sidestep the motivational rut. Whether it’s tidying up your workspace or brewing a special type of tea, you’ll find that, after time, a ritualistic process will be able to help you roll up your sleeves and get to work.

You deserve a reward.

Or you will after you knock out that project you’re avoiding. There’s nothing wrong with dangling a carrot in front of yourself sometimes, especially if it’ll help you leap over an obstacle that is causing you stress. A reward can be as minor as 15 minutes of recreational social media time or something as major as an online purchase you’ve been desiring for months. Or maybe you’ve got a carton of ice cream calling your name in the freezer… anything that’s going to get your product into the client’s hands on time.


In case of emergency…

One of my favorite tactics is the “emergency motivator.” This is something special that you keep tucked away in an inconvenient place, waiting patiently for a particularly desperate time. It could be a favorite beer that only comes out seasonally, or some incredibly expensive chocolate that you can’t afford to eat on a regular basis… reserved only for work-time on the wire.

Cold, Hard Reality

Okay, so maybe all of these suggestions are too fluffy for you. You don’t usually get to this point, but when you do, it’s rough and a mere square of chocolate is not going to do the trick. This is when it’s time to get real with yourself and ask some questions:

What’s at stake if I don’t get this done?

How long will it take, and is it feasible to actually finish it?

What steps am I going to take with the client if I can’t make the deadline?

There are real consequences for missing a deadline, and they can range from simply not getting paid to having your reputation smeared by a disgruntled client. Visualizing these scenarios can be just the kick you need to dive back into that project.


Assess your situation and carry on.

As long as your issue truly is a lack of motivation, there’s a good chance one of these tips will help get you back in the game. If you’re dealing with something much deeper, like an illness or catastrophic life event, it’s important to practice self-care and communicate your needs with the client or your superior. Your goal is to provide a quality service or product, and that’s difficult to do if you’re not taking care of yourself.

So, what will it be? Some jumping jacks? Concert tickets? What’s going to get you out of your head and into your project? Whatever you choose, it’s time to get it figured out and get back to work.

Comments ( 1 )

  1. Alissa Apel

    June 9, 2015

    I make a list of things I HAVE to get done. Then a list of things I WANT to do. A little of each list gets checked off each day.

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