Motivation is a powerful thing.
You feel alive and full of endless energy. You’ve got the confidence to take on the world and achieve any goal. Your ideas and work flow flawlessly with ease, creativity, and sheer brilliance. It’s a perfect world.
But that perfection doesn’t always happen, does it?
Some days you’re feeling too tired. Other days you’re too stressed. Sometimes it’s just random things popping up that take away time from your schedule and break your productivity.
Still, you want to be as productive as possible for as long as possible. You want to always have the perfection and success that comes so easily when you’re motivated.
There are ways to make it work, even on those off-days. The key is to be both smart and adaptable with how you spend your time. Here are the 3 best ways to get motivated when you’re feeling tired.
(1) Optimize for energy
The reality is that you’re not going to be 100% motivated and full of energy for the entire day. There will be times when you’re more motivated to do work than others. It could be right after you wake up, right before you go to bed, or anywhere in-between. All people are different.
One of the best ways to stay consistently motivated over the long-term is to optimize your day for energy. Figure out the times in your day that you feel the most energetic and motivated. Then, always do your most demanding and important work during those times. For example, my best time of the day is in the morning shortly after I wake up; I can usually write about 1000 words for an article in under an hour.
By doing your important tasks at that optimal time, you’re ensuring that you get them done faster, with higher quality, and more consistently. This is supported by scientific research as it has been proven that we have a limited amount of willpower to use throughout the day. As such, you want to make sure you’re using that willpower on the most important things.
The flip-side of that idea applies to your lower-priority tasks. You can schedule them during the times when you’re feeling less motivated since they’re easy and don’t require as much willpower. For example, I usually do my article editing and book reading in the evening time when I’m more tired. Those tasks require less effort for me so I save them for the times when I have less motivation and can still get them done.
Finally, you may also find that certain times of the day are dead slow, where you consistently feel tired and not up to working at all, not even on low-energy tasks. For example, the half-hour immediately after dinner for me is usually the least productive.
The best thing to do there is to take it as a rest time. Don’t try to do any work or stress yourself out. You’re not going to be able to be productive by working during that time anyway. You can take advantage of it in a different way: rest so that you can regain your energy for the next high-motivation time. It’s all about applying your energy and motivation at the right time to the right things.
How to apply it
- Write down a list of the things you have to do
- Schedule each task in the time slot that matches the required level of motivation. Usually, save your hardest and most important tasks for your highest-motivation times. The opposite for less demanding tasks
- If there are any leftover time slots, use them to rest and recharge for future productivity, especially if the time slot is small (60 minutes or less)
(2) Switch gears
A lot of people fail at staying motivated because they’re not flexible. They make a schedule and then stick to it no matter what.
But that lack of flexibility kills their motivation because they end up forcing themselves to do something they aren’t up to doing. This is life people! You won’t always have Superman motivation or perfect consistency. As such, it’s important to consider the alternatives.
You don’t HAVE to stay stuck on the same thing even if you made a schedule for it before. The best thing to do is to change things up and switch gears. You can always work on something else that’s also valuable. There is evidence behind this: research shows that task switching is a great way to shake your brain out of tunnel vision and bring back motivation and creativity.
For example, as I mentioned I’m usually most motivated to finish my important tasks in the morning. But that’s not the case 100% of the time. When I’m feeling tired, I plan my future articles and write some outlines for them. The planning of articles requires a lot less motivation and creativity for me since I’m just writing down ideas in point form. At the same time, that work is still valuable since in the future those outlines help me write my articles faster and better.
Your day-to-day life is dynamic, always changing, so it’s okay if on some days you feel tired, you don’t have to force it. All you have to do is adapt by maintaining your motivation in a different way: switching gears.
If you ever feel like you’re hitting a wall while you’re working, don’t keep trying to go through it. Go around it. Do something else that’s different but also valuable. Think of any other thing you could work on that would move you forward while still being low energy. In the long-term, you’re going to be far more productive by changing things up than if you were to stay stuck trying to do the same thing.
How to apply it
- Begin your scheduled tasks as normal
- If you feel tired, like you really can’t work on it today, switch to a different and lower energy task that’s also valuable. A lower energy task is simply one that requires less motivation to get done
- Your first place to look for lower energy tasks is the list of other things you have to do for that day. If not, you can also take it as a rest time to recharge your motivation for the next time
(3) Change your environment
Every once in a while there will be times when none of your work feels productive at all. You may already have the optimal schedule (method 1) but still felt tired after you started. Then you tried to switch tasks (method 2) but still weren’t really up to doing it. You’re just feeling stuck.
The reason that you feel stuck is that you’ve been in the same environment for too long. You’re seeing the same thing, in the same place, and in the same conditions every single day. There’s no stimulation, no variety. You need to freshen things up, something new to spark your motivation. The best way to do that is to change your environment.
For example, I usually do my work in the home office. But every once in a while, I’m just not feeling it. So I go to my local book store, or a Starbucks, or just change rooms in the house. Anything to change up the space or manner in which I work.
Changing your environment gets the juices flowing. The fresh look and feel of everything is energizing and gets you back in the flow. The simple fact that it’s new and different will reignite your motivation to work. Psychology studies back this, that change is what sparks creativity.
You can also do this with your breaks and rest time. Albert Einstein used to play the Violin to get away from his scientific research when he needed a boost. J.R.R Tolkien (author of The Lord of the Rings) used to take long multi-mile walks for his breaks.
You can do the same. Going for a walk, checking out a new event in town, reading, playing music, or chatting with a friend. Just different. You’ll find that the newness of it gives you a new spark of motivation and energy.
How to apply it
- Start your work in your regular spot
- If you ever feel tired or lacking in energy, move to a different room or location entirely for that session
- Even better, you can follow in the footsteps of Einstein and Tolkien, doing a different activity regularly
All You Need to Know
Staying productive even when you feel tired is about planning smart, being adaptable, and mixing things up when needed. Do that by:
- Optimizing for energy when making your schedule
- Switching gears if you’re not being productive with your current task
- Changing your environment to spark your energy when you don’t feel like working
Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
Atomic Habits by James Clear