The other night I sat at my desk, cup brimming with coffee—a.k.a. writing fuel—and stared at my to-do list like I was waiting for it to resolve itself.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t get motivated to write.
Nothing feels worse than having a long list of things you need to do… and zero motivation to do ’em. Maybe you can relate?
This kind of rut happens to everyone at some point. The cause can be anything from a messy room to IRL problems, but it’s hard to know how to snap out of it.
I’ve tried pretty much everything to bust out of ruts during my seven years as a freelance writer.
I also try to make a note when something works. This week I noticed that my list of fixes has gotten pretty big, so in light of my own recent rut, I decided it would be a good time to share.
Below you’ll find some unique ways to overcome that stubborn, don’t-want-to-do-anything feeling. If you’ve tried all the standard fixes, these might help.
From Clorox wipes to shifts in perspective, here are some ways to get motivated, harness your productivity, and feel good about working again.
Clean your keyboard
This sounds silly until you do it. When your newly-cleaned keyboard is gleaming before you, you’ll wonder how you ever worked without an alcohol-soaked cotton ball.
Do you remember how it felt when you took your laptop out of the box for the first time?
I do. The keyboard was pristine, screen glossy and spotless…
If you’re anything like me, you’re aesthetically sensitive. That’s a fancy way of saying things that look messy will mess with your mojo.
Aesthetically sensitive people can’t can’t do their best work with shabby tools. Sometimes we have to, but given the option, it’s best to keep your tools of the trade clean.
That’s one simple way to set yourself up for success.
And hey—even if you don’t do graphic design or something traditionally creative that might suggest you’re an aesthetically sensitive person, a layer of grime might be impacting you.
A quick dusting, wipe-down, and polishing can remove the coffee splatters, dust bunnies, and scuffs while offering a wave of inspiration. Just be sure to do it properly.
Upgrade your tech
On the other hand, that feeling you felt upon opening your laptop for the first time may not be recaptured so easily.
If you’re plagued with a cracked screen or seriously outdated hardware, it’s time to upgrade.
Try sites like Newegg, Micro Center and Tech Bargains for good deals. I’ve had a lot of success purchasing refurbished cameras and laptops from eBay.
On a budget? No sweat. There’s no need to upgrade everything at the same time.
If you work more on your phone managing social posts or delivering shorter copy, prioritize that. If you need a new tablet to showcase work during client meetings, purchase that first. If you know you need a new laptop to get your sh*t done, get one!
It doesn’t have to break the bank. For example, if you work on Google docs, you can grab a Chromebook and get to work for less than $200.
A tech upgrade can be a great way to reinvigorate your writing mojo and get back into the zone.
Get out of the house
If you can’t keep your head straight, it’s possible that your workspace is bogging you down.
You might have a case of cabin fever, and that stir-crazy feeling is a sure fire way to ruin a productive day.
You can pinpoint this motivation-drainer by standing up and leaving your apartment—or wherever you’re set up to work. Easy, right?
A change of scenery can provide a much-needed burst of motivation.
As cliché as it sounds, my favorite spot to escape to is the local coffee shop. A chai latte, some ambient music, and seeing other sitting around on laptops is usually enough to get me in the mood to work.
Take your bike out for a spin. Browse a favorite bookstore. Take a weekend trip to the mountains. Hang out with an uplifting friend who exudes positive vibes.
Sometimes even a simple walk around the block can get you feeling like yourself again.
Stop reading success stories
Look, I get it. We all do this.
It’s tempting to vicariously indulge in someone else’s success through social media posts or online content. It feels good to know that peers—and random people you follow on Instagram—are winning.
In fact, reading someone else’s success story can be a potent kick in the pants to get going on your own goals!
However… If you’re constantly taking hits off other people’s success rather than focusing on your own, that’s an issue. You’re likely setting yourself up for comparison fatigue, frustration, and self-doubt.
And yeah, it’s pretty hard to feel motivated when you’re dealing with that triple-threat of bad vibes.
Try focusing on yourself. Unsubscribe and unfollow! Those distracting sources of “inspiration” won’t actually be missed and you’ll be able to recenter yourself around your own story.
As writers, it’s important that we get (and stay) interested in our own process and success.
This is especially important if you’re lacking motivation at the moment. You don’t want to compare your current feeling of “blah”-ness to someone’s “I just hit six figures!” story.
All you really need to do to break that pattern is stop looking.
When you feel tempted to focus on the success of others, ask yourself what small thing you could be doing on your own project instead.
Envision your success.
Focus on you.
Spend time with inspiring people
As we just covered, obsessing over the success of others can be a motivation-killer. But spending IRL time with people who support and inspire you can reignite your motivation.
What’s the difference? Let’s break this down:
When you hang with someone in real life, you spend time with a person, unedited.
You have two-way conversations rather than double-tapping a screen or just seeing highlights.
When I get my friends together for dinner or drinks, hearing about their projects, struggles, and careers is wildly uplifting. It ignites a fire in me that can’t be achieved when I read success stories online.
Vibing with like-minded women reminds us that our goals are achievable. It’s an instant hit of motivation.
Tap into the power of spending time with inspiring people by hosting a meetup, mastermind, or group dinner. You won’t regret it.
Go call your girls!
Detach from your inbox
Okay, this one has been a big challenge for me. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t master it right away.
I spent a week in Costa Rica struggling with not being on the grid (and in my inbox) 24/7. Not checking my email every five minutes felt absolutely wrong!
I had no idea how badly I needed to separate myself from my inbox until I was literally stressing about a lack of Wi-Fi while laying under palm trees in paradise.
I mean, wtf was I thinking?
So basically, I will never judge you on this. It’s an ongoing challenge.
Just try to ask yourself: How much of our inspiration and motivation is zapped out because we’re always reacting to incoming mail?
Your time (and your motivation) is valuable, and you shouldn’t let your inbox run the show.
Treating email like a series of emergency notifications that must be addressed immediately is a huge mistake.
It’s also not sustainable.
Turn off push notifications and browser alerts. Unsubscribe from all unnecessary newsletters. Train the people in your circle not to email you for every little thing by not emailing them for every little thing.
With practice, you can break (or at least ease up on) the cycle of inbox addiction.
This might just help you reclaim some motivation in the process.
Separate productivity from emotion
This is the tip I wish someone had explained to me when I was in my early twenties and getting my first writing career opportunities.
Here’s the deal:
Feeling 100% confident and emotionally balanced can create ideal circumstances for writing. However, not feeling that way is not a good excuse to procrastinate doing work for a client, a boss, or your own business.
If you wait until you feel “emotionally ready” to work on something, you’ll take yourself out of the race before you even have a chance to compete.
For one thing, once we identify a reason not to work, our brain will brandish it whenever we sit down to accomplish something.
Second, let’s get real: life is a complex, ever-shifting swirl of good and bad.
Some days are simply better than others. I truly believe the people who get work done despite the imperfections of life are the successful ones.
Get in the habit of committing to something and getting it done, no matter how you feel.
Then you’ll never be at the mercy of a temperamental roommate, your latest breakup, or the winter blues.
This is easier said than done, and you do have to take care of yourself, but sometimes motivation can follow action. Overcoming tough circumstances (or just a “blah” day) can inspire us to reach even further.
Become a hermit (for now)
Push notifications at all hours are definitely a distraction, but they may not be the only scapegoat for lack of motivation.
Are you, perhaps, a little too social?
We get it, no shame. K and I were both notorious for lower Manhattan dance parties ’til dawn before we got serious about our writing careers. I remember a time when the only creative thing I did between parties was sewing a dress for the next party! #FashionSchoolMemories
These days, however, our typical Friday night is a bottle of wine and the soothing glow of our laptop screens.
Enjoying life is our whole mission, but eventually, you must balance your social life with #lifegoals.
Are you thinking ahead and planning for deadlines? Leaving yourself enough energy to finish up that important project? We recommend that you designate “hermit times” and let your friends know you will not be accepting invitations.
No going out for “just one drink” or anything similar during this time.
It might be every other weekend or evenings for half the month—whatever you require to carve out space for your writing hustle. Commit to powering through sans-FOMO.
The parties (or craft fairs, or whatever you love to do) will still be raging when you reach your deadline… and then you’ll really have something to celebrate.
Do something small
Overwhelm is one of the biggest killers of motivation—check out this post on overcoming overwhelm—but you can avoid it by tackling small tasks, one at a time.
Put the “think big” mentality aside and take the first small step. It’s so easy to get hyped up about huge goals and forget that each goal you’ve set is made up of smaller steps.
With that in mind, take a breath. You can always handle one small step.
It might be contacting a potential client, pitching a new series, installing WordPress for your new writing portfolio site…
Think about it!
What’s one small step you could take tonight? The road to any outcome is made up of single steps—and those aren’t so scary.
Finally, I want to leave you with a quote that has always inspired me: “A year from now you’ll wish you started today.”
So just do something—anything—today, and you’ll start to discover your motivation again.
Did you try these ways to get motivated? If any of these ways to get motivated worked for you, we want to hear about it!
Drop us a comment below!