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How do you handle days where you just aren't motivated?

Ben Halpern
A Canadian software developer who thinks he’s funny. He/Him.
・1 min read

Discussion (47)

johnpaulada profile image
John Paul Ada

I've read about the Five Second Rule on a TED Talk. When you're not motivated, just count to 5 and then just DO IT!

This trains your mind to just work after 5 counts. In the beginning it'll be difficult but it'll slowly be a part of you.

scrabill profile image
Shannon Crabill

I'm not sure if she's the originator, but I've heard Mel Robbins talk about this. I'll have to find her TED talk.

johnpaulada profile image
John Paul Ada

Yes! it's her! It's her "stop screwing yourself over" talk on a TEDx event :D

onecuteliz profile image
Elizabeth Jenerson

I go with it...
If I can afford it I switch my calendar to be a day to move SOMETHING along.

Unmotivated days for me = way less creativity so the order of the day is tasks that will move something along but not don't require a whole lot of thought.

Sometimes clock-punching happens. 😑

ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

Sometimes clock-punching happens

Are you comfortable leaving early on those days (meaning is this allowed or encouraged at your place of work?)

onecuteliz profile image
Elizabeth Jenerson • Edited

It's absolutely not encouraged at work. 😖
That's why I gotta shift around the ole calendar to look busy (unfortunately) but being honest to myself that my work will not be inspirational THAT day 💁🏾

But when I have my own company (you have to talk it into existence 😁) I will allow folks to skip out so long as they are available for their coworkers - answer questions or attend meetings.

I find de-motivation is a symptom of boredom or frustration or physiological issues (lack of sleep). Get your stuff together and give me your A game.

_patrickgod profile image
Patrick God • Edited



The keys mentioned in the article are:

  • Remember your goals
  • Just take the risks
  • Document your results.

Especially documenting your results can give you a big boost in my experience.

perigk profile image
Periklis Gkolias • Edited

Every time I have something nontrivial to do I pretty much follow the same process, regardless of my motivation

  • I am blocking any unnecessary "distractions" like my mobile phone or websites that are just consuming my time and are irrelevant to my job
  • I'm getting a distractions sheet,  in order to note every random thought that comes to my mind in order to be "assured" I will tackle it later.
  • I'm putting my headphones on

The only two things that differ regarding my motivation that day are:

  • The duration of the "focused session I'm about to do. If I am completely demotivated, I am just setting the timer for 10 or 15 minutes.  This is how I am  “fooling” myself into working  "just a little bit”. I have consistently noticed that after the first minutes the discomfort goes away. The key point here is to not stop after the X minutes have passed. On the contrary, continue for a reasonable amount of time like 45 minutes.
  • The kind of “Music” I am about to hear. This might be ambient music,  like noisli, my favorite songs from Spotify, or binaural beats.
ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

Nice process!

ryanhaber profile image
Ryan Haber

Yeah, binaural music helps me. So does switching into pomodoro mode and using the breaks to get up and get away. It helps to remind myself during the 25-minute "on" periods that I don't have to push through boredom all day - just for the next 25 minutes.

"Helps" is key. Sometimes it just doesn't.

I think at the heart of it that boredom is not caring. I never get bored doing home improvements. It's my home. I own it. I'm invested.

I am really grateful for my work because, for the most part, I own it. I don't get second-guessed or hemmed in by bureaucracy or committees.

booligoosh profile image

I really like the idea of the distractions sheet!

elabraha profile image
Eliana Abraham • Edited

Here's the thing. Sometimes fear is motivating and sometimes it's debilitating. For me, my motivation can either come from fear of not meeting a deadline, or in the case of self motivated projects, my lack motivation comes from fear. I generally have to spend some time working out what I'm so afraid of before I'm ready to tackle a lack of motivation. This mostly applies to a long term lack of motivation for personal projects and such. When it comes to chores and reading a book or something like that, it has more to do with a lack of focus for me; I don't have many strategies for approaching my ADHD patterns. I just kinda just deal with that one. If anyone has any suggestions let me know.

jess profile image
Jess Lee (she/her)

In regards specifically to Mondays... avoiding the NYC commute and working from home helps 😊

damcosset profile image
Damien Cosset • Edited

Usually, my regimen involves getting mad at myself and keep procrastinating until the day is over.

So, yeah, I can't quite handle that... I mean, I'm supposed to be working now, not posting here...

craser profile image
Chris Raser

I do two things:

First, I start with a really little (less than 30 minutes) task that I've wanted to do for a while. This usually means automating something I do a lot, or creating a handy TextExpander snippet, etc. Just a little treat to jump start my day.

Second, I spend a few minutes sketching out a list of what I want to get done that day. My biggest drag when I'm not motivated is that I take longer making design decisions, or deciding what to work on next. So I get that out of the way up front, and can just work my way down the list for the rest of the day.

Big picture, I try to keep an eye on my general motivation level, and figure out why I'm not motivated. Sometimes what gets me motivated again is actually adding a couple of tasks to my plate, if they're the right tasks. (Ex: I'm more motivated if I get to fix a bunch of regressions and refactor the code or add tests to address the underlying reason why we had so many regressions.)

johnlukeg profile image
John Luke Garofalo

I read way too many articles on :)

booligoosh profile image


  1. Open up
  2. Open about 5 links in a new tab
  3. Read each post
  4. Go down and read every single comment in each post
  5. Open up some more posts
  6. Repeat for a few hours 🔁
aurelkurtula profile image
aurel kurtula • Edited

I'm like @damcosset

But I read a post where someone said they they could not concentrate for a long time. But instead of trying to "fix" themselves they embraced it.

They'd work for a bit one project A, then read some internet feeds, then work on project A or project B, then play some video games.

I have started to embrace that.

Now it's just a case of starting more then one project so that when I'm board of one I can jump to another.

I haven't figured it out yet but I used to be like that cartoon, I might "hate today" and so procrastinate all day. Instead now I procrastinate because I want a brake and then get back to being productive

Edit -- And this way, at the end of the day I feel good, in comparison to procrastinating or dragging my feet all day, it used to guilty and old (I can't fully explain the cringe worthy feeling)

shalvah profile image

A similar thing here. Recently discovered my concentration was becoming tougher, so I embraced the distractions. Sometimes I'd have Twitter and other random stuff open in a few tabs. I'd work a bit, and when I start to lose focus, switch to Twitter. Kinda helps keep my mind fresh.

ghost profile image

Jumping jacks.

Jumping in general is a good, quick mood/energy booster. You don't need a lot of room so it's easier to find a place tucked away if you don't want to be seen.

I discovered this through years of observing my partner who LOVES to dance, always taking time out each day to find a place to turn up music and let go. I know few people as consistently happy and productive as she is.

I however am not an avid dancer but I do like exercise. Running or the gym aren't exactly quick motivators in a pinch so I started doing jumping jacks. - Try it!

scottishross profile image
Ross Henderson

I normally work on something else. I prioritise my work by difficulty, and if I'm struggling with motivation one day, I start working on the easier things. The more work I accomplish, the more motivated I become and eventually I can start attacking the important stuff!

stefandorresteijn profile image
Stefan Dorresteijn

I put my work down, stop coding and start organising, writing, planning, etc. All the things I needed to do anyway but didn't make time for because I had coding to do. Clears my head and makes me appreciate coding much more.

erm3nda profile image
erm3nda • Edited

I have a little trick.

I have lot of things to do (and learn, always). When i am not OK doing x some day I just pick another thing to do, something fresh.

Example: Meh, i won't code more game today :-/
Solution1: Coding some CLI tool that makes my usual work faster/better.
Solution2: Read that git pro manual you saved to docs and never saw again.
Solution3: Go internet to look for websites like

In short, sometimes rains, so you do something different that day...

In case you're just paid and forced to work x hours daily, just try to compile something at work then... :

In case you go serious about 303... i do recommend those:


straleb profile image
Strahinja Babić

For me personally saying, If i am really out of motivation, i realise any work done is better than no work done. 😃
So make a plan on how much and what you will do 😃, to me it happens by planning i get the motivation to do more so i do the full schedule hehe 🙂

lexlohr profile image
Alex Lohr

I love to commute by bike in any weather. Starting every work day this way is a good way to be fresh and motivated.

tedhagos profile image
Ted Hagos

Take a walk. Do something mundane, like the dishes, take out the trash. Mundane things seems to clear up my head quickly. I suppose when the brain gets a rest, it kinda resets itself; then I go back to my list and chug at it again.

mortoray profile image
edA‑qa mort‑ora‑y

If I'm feeling completely demotivated to do something I usually won't. I'll go do something else. This might be another project, or a walk, bike-ride, chores, whatever.

It's a flexibility I have in my work -- I value this extremely high and would have a hard time adapting to not having it anymore. As I get paid hourly nobody feels cheated nor do I have to feel bad.

jesuszilla_tm profile image
Jesuszilla イエスジラ

Precisely, I make up the hours because I have the luxury of a flexible work schedule, as long as I get 80 hours in and I’m there for a reasonable amount of time on average so that people who need me will have my support.

I don’t like not doing anything, and I certainly don’t feel good being paid to do nothing, especially because that makes it hard for me to bill time. If I can’t do anything, I go home so as not to waste my valuable time or the company’s valuable resources.

jsitapara profile image
Jay Sitapara

It is perfectly fine to have blue days when you don't seem to do any productive work at all. All I do is take up another activity, like learning about new things or tasks which will add something to your personal development.

Or sometimes you can just leave your work and rest. Not enough motivation comes from not enough enthusiasm which shows your lack of fresh air inside your mind. Though I make sure to cope up with the stipulated work within the same week.

Afterall, results matter. When and how they are done, don't!

jaakidup profile image

Yesterday was one of those days.
I was kinda sorta but not really motivated. Enough to want to do something, but not enough to overcome all the distractions. Between home renovations at one neighbour's house and other neighbours moving in and out and perhaps my headphones not being able to block all the noise, I go to a stage where I decided, "Up to here, and no further".

So I decided to go get some exercise in the park with a nice run, with no real need to go back home. Just having some fun.

A few hours later I was banging away at the keyboard like nothing was ever wrong :)

nearlythere profile image

There's great advice in a book called The Accidental Creative (also a podcast!) You are called on to have brilliant ideas at a moment's notice. To do that, you have to feed your inspiration by purposefully spending time exploring ideas. You can't constantly output without input.

I also love Neil Fiore's book "The Now Habit" - he recommends scheduling in "guilt free play," and other techniques to overcome procrastination. We have to build in time to develop ideas, and it might not look absolutely productive, and it might not be billable time either.

When you're running on empty take time to get curious about something, and really dig into it. Maybe you need to go for a walk and listen to a podcast or a talk from a conference.

Chaining yourself to your desk hoping your muse will come to you isn't helping.

ssmusoke profile image
Stephen Senkomago Musoke • Edited

Eat the biggest, fattest, ugliest frog in the pond (the most boring and dreadful task on your list)!! After that your day cannot can get any worse

Many times we are not motivated because of the tasks ahead of us - maybe now is the time to clear that stack, and just slog through that list

  • Write those slides and documents that have been there for weeks on end
  • File those expense, trip and activity reports
  • Write those unit tests
  • Triage that list of issues and bugs

Then reward yourself - movie, coffee, lunch whatever your heart desires

espoir profile image
Espoir Murhabazi

I open stackoverflow , looking for answered questions about my favorites tools , try to answer somes and when i see an upvote notification, i feel energized and motivated !

akanksha_9560 profile image
Akanksha Sharma

I always prepare the list of minimum tasks I absolutely have to do. Then I think if I do it then I can leave for home or take a rest. Once those are done if I want to do more I do it or I postpone it to next day. I think because of my daily stand ups and daily Pull request routine on my bad days I try to do minimum so as to not be completely unproductive.

shiling profile image
Shi Ling

Video game music. 🎮🎵

But only from slow-paced games that are requires carefully thinking about your moves - FTL, Endless Legends

It shifts me into a relaxed mood for serious thinking.

joshuaai profile image
Josh Ihejiamaizu

I ignore the typical schedule and drag myself through the day's activities until things get interesting and the work-week mode returns.

jacoby profile image
Dave Jacoby

If there are tasks to be done that are small and don't require digging into legacy code, I do them.

hoffmann profile image
Peter Hoffmann

Youtube binging mostly, sometimes some OSS programming. Long chatters in the hallway. I'm usually back at lunch time for some paid work.

jesuszilla_tm profile image
Jesuszilla イエスジラ

Go home, make up the hours on another day. I don’t want to waste time and money if I can’t focus.

jenc profile image
jen chan

Procrastinate til I can’t take it anymore and make a list

jenc profile image
jen chan

That turns into three trello boards.
Also, running up and down stairs works

aswathm78 profile image
Aswath KNM

I finished 7 seasons of greys anatomy and 20 episodes of other latest episodes in 7 days !!!

inozex profile image
Tiago Marques

Hard music!

tadaboody profile image

I look for an easy win