How to Get Stuff Done When You Really Don’t Feel Like It

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We all have those days when our to-do list seems long and overwhelming, while our motivation seems nonexistent. Whether it’s not knowing where to start, thinking of a few things we’d rather be doing, or just wanting to toss the list and take a nap, we know that at some point we will have to start somewhere. So, what do you do?

As a mother of three young children, I can testify that sometimes it seems like my work is never done! As I clean up they seem to go right behind me and mess it back up. Just as I get all the laundry done they change their clothes, creating yet another load. As soon as I finish cleaning, wiping, sweeping, and mopping the kitchen, here they come wanting a snack. Oftentimes I want to throw my hands up and say, “Why bother?” So, here are a few things I do when I start feeling this way:

Take it One Thing at a Time
If I’m really not motivated in the least, I give myself mini goals. For example, when cleaning the house, I take it one room at a time. I completely focus on just that room and then take a mini break when it’s finished. For the living room, I keep an empty basket. I start at the end furthest from the kids’ rooms and fill up the basket with anything and everything that doesn’t belong there. If you don’t have a basket or container, don’t run out and buy one. Just use your arms (hands, legs, feet, head, and shoulders work, too, if necessary) as the “basket”. Sometimes it can be like a game to see just how much stuff you can pick up and carry. Then I work from top to bottom, starting with straighten or cleaning off the shelves and ending with vacuuming the carpet.

Do it to Music
Whenever I hit that low energy period, turning on one of my favorite CDs always gets me moving again. I can sing and dance around as I dust, vacuum, clean a room, or do laundry. The music adds fun to mundane chores, and helps me get things done faster. Not to mention, all that dancing around is great exercise, too. How about that for multitasking? If I’m running a bunch of errands, playing my favorite music makes being in the car that much more bearable. It’s especially great when sitting in traffic; I turn it up and sing it loud!

Enlist Some Assistance
My kids love to “help” me, and I love letting them help, when appropriate. So, if there are things on my list that they can help with, I gladly delegate. Sorting laundry is one way the kids love to help me, which earns bonus points for double duty by reinforcing colors and sorting. They also like helping to load and unload the nonbreakable, non sharp items in the dishwasher. They are more apt to pick up or put away almost anything if I precede the request with, “Will you do me a favor?” or “I could really use your help for a sec.” Warning — this does not work on stuff I tell them to do all the time, like cleaning their room.

The kids are also great for helping me remember things. When picking up a few items from the store, I give each of them something off the list to remember. When running errands with multiple stops, I give them each a stop to remember. I may not always need their help, but it makes them feel important and keeps them out of trouble.

Just Cross it Off
It can be motivating just to cross things off the list. As I see the “done” items stacking up and the “to do” items dwindling down, the list doesn’t seem so daunting anymore. I even start to think, “Hey, this isn’t so bad after all.” Other times, I make it a game to see just how many things I can get done in a certain period of time. For example, I might set a timer for 30 minutes and go, go, go until the buzzer goes off. I’ll take a break, and then for the next 30 minutes I see if I can beat my record.

Take a Commercial Break
What about when I have a bunch of little things to do, and one of my favorite TV shows is on? I do both. Commercial breaks are generally between two and three minutes in length. This is perfect to wipe off the counters, put away a few clothes, or make a quick phone call. Speaking of watching TV, there are some things that I can get done while watching my favorite show(s). Folding laundry, cleaning out and organizing files or pictures, or even exercising are all things that can be done while watching the tube.

This is probably one of the most motivating things there is. I try to reward myself when I’ve finished a large task, several small ones, or the whole to-do list. Every person is different, and therefore each person should determine their own rewards. Personally, my rewards range from sitting down with a cup of tea, eating a sweet treat, taking a short nap, doing a little “yea me” dance, or soaking in the tub. I like the sweet treat reward the best, but I try to save it for when I’ve completed a large or very time-consuming task, such as running several errands or reorganizing my files. Rewards also work well with the kids, like letting them watch a movie after their room is clean, or allowing the one that finishes their task first to help me with something special.

Whether you use some of my ideas or come up with some of your own, the most important thing is figuring out what is going to work best to motivate you. Sometimes it takes creativity, as in a reward system. Other times you might need to just dive right in and see what happens.

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