What To Do When Feeling Unmotivated & Stuck With Work
Everyone goes through periods of feeling unmotivated and stuck. Unfortunately, life and work aren’t one continuous climb to the top; they’re full of ups and downs.
Having one or two off days when you’re overworked, or when you’re trying to get back into work after a vacation are fairly easy to deal with.
But when your lack of motivation lasts for days or weeks, it can start to take a toll.
Entrepreneurs are especially prone to this type of burnout. Typically, you don’t get to leave problems at work, have others pick up the slack, or take a vacation and completely forget about work.
You may be a sole proprietor and everything lands on your shoulders. Often, there’s no off switch; you’re constantly thinking about your business and spending your free time working on it.
You need downtime. And I believe, if you don’t give your body what it needs, it will find a way to make you give it what it needs. Often, burnout/lack of motivation is your body’s way of telling you to take a break.
First and foremost, listen to your body and give it the rest and repair time it needs.
But when you’ve done that, and are having trouble getting back into the groove of things, there are some steps you can take to spark that motivation again.
These are the questions I ask myself when I’m going through a longer period of feeling stuck and unmotivated.
Why am I so unmotivated?
It’s important to uncover the reason behind your lack of motivation if you want to find the right (and a long-lasting) fix.
Feeling unmotivated can be attributed to a wide range of reasons.
- Stress – stress may be wearing you down and making it hard to complete even the simplest of tasks.
- Fatigue – low energy due to lack of sleep, a poor diet, not enough exercise, or another medical condition can make it hard to muster the motivation.
- Unrealistic expectations – you may have set your expectations too high and missing your goals is leaving you feeling like there’s no point in continuing to try.
- Lack of purpose – not having a bigger purpose or meaning behind goals can make it hard to keep going when the going gets tough.
- Overwhelm – You may be focusing on the wrong things, or on too many things and it’s making you feel overwhelmed.
- Lack of direction – not knowing exactly what to work on or how to complete a task can make you feel unmotivated to work on it.
- Fear of failure – worrying about what others might think or that something you put your heart and soul into might fail can make it hard to get started.
Only you can determine what’s causing your lack of motivation.
The answer may be clear to you. If it’s not, try answering the following question.
Think of one thing you know you should do right now, but just can’t find the motivation to do it.
Now answer the question: why don’t you feel like completing that task?
It’s a simple question, but often, we don’t take the time to stop and think about the answer.
For example, let’s say I needed to make a new product to post to Etsy but I’m procrastinating. I would ask myself: why don’t I feel like making and listing a new product?
My answers may be:
- I’m too tired
- I’m not sure what to create
- I don’t feel like there’s any point since my last few listings haven’t sold
These answers help me come up with a path forward.
For example, based on my answers, I can easily come up with some (fairly) simple solutions:
- To increase my energy, I might try shutting my phone off an hour before bed and heading to bed an hour or two earlier. Or, I may need to incorporate more exercise into my daily routine and healthier foods into my diet.
- If I’m feeling lost when it comes to what to make, I might define the steps of product creation and make them small so I have a clear and easy path forward. If the first step to creating a new product is to choose my fabrics, a trip to the fabric store may spark some motivation. Once I’m excited about my fabric selection, it’ll be easier to draw my new designs.
- To get rid of the fear that my new product won’t sell, I might look at past sales. Which products are my best sellers? Which products sold well this time last year? What is Etsy featuring at the top of the search results in my category?
Step 1 to complete:
Understand the main reason(s) you’re feeling unmotivated and then choose one or two small things you can do to remedy them.
What has gone right?
What you focus on grows.
Have you noticed that bad days tend to get worse as they go on?
If you’re feeling down in the dumps about your work, you’re likely focusing on all the things you think are wrong with it. Not enough sales or social media followers, not as much engagement as a competitor, not as far along as you had hoped, etc.
That is NOT motivational.
Try shifting your focus to things that ARE going right in your business. Or the things you’re grateful for.
It’s often a struggle to get started with this one, but it’s important.
You might start by simply expressing gratitude for the fact you have a business.
There are many people who dream of starting a business but just don’t have the time or money to do so. And there are many others who don’t have the self-discipline to start and run a business.
If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’ve already started your business. Maybe you even have several sales under your belt.
Recognize your wins. They may not seem big to you, especially when you’re comparing your business to someone else’s, but just imagine if you didn’t have them.
Just as you’re looking at others “ahead of you” and wishing you were where they are, there are many looking at you, envious of where you are.
The grass always seems greener on the other side, but you have a lot to be thankful for on your side.
Step 2 to complete:
Focus on your accomplishments and list at least five things you’re thankful for and can give yourself a pat on the back for today.
Remember, what you focus on grows. Try to complete this exercise every day and spend more time focusing on all your accomplishments.
What gets me a little excited?
Think about what motivation really feels like.
It’s excitement for what you’re about to work on.
Just as negative feelings have a tendency to snowball, so do feelings of excitement.
Even if you can’t find a task you’re just a tiny bit excited to work on for business, excitement for a non-work-related task can be just as helpful.
You just need to get the motivation ball rolling.
Think about the work tasks you could work on; not what you think you should work on. Which task gets you just a little excited?
Perhaps sending a thank you card to a valued customer isn’t a top priority, but the idea of it sparks a little joy in you.
Or maybe you enjoy organizing. If the thought of turning on some music, pouring a cup of coffee, and organizing your craft room feels like something you want to do, do it!
Even if going outside and working in your garden, playing with your cat, or cleaning out your fridge are the activities that feel the most motivating to you right now, they’re worth doing.
Anything that makes you feel productive, work-wise or not, will help create some forward momentum.
Once you’re up and moving, or working on something from your to-do list, it will be much easier to keep the train going and switch to something work-related.
If you’re feeling really low or don’t have the energy to do anything, you can still make progress. Simply think about something that sparks joy in you. It might be an image of your sales graph climbing; think about what that day will feel like and hold onto that feeling.
Even thinking about a loved one is beneficial if you can evoke that feeling of love/excitement/joy for several minutes.
When you start feeling better, you’ll gain the motivation and energy needed to begin working on your to-do list.
Step 3 to complete:
Go through your to-do list and choose something you feel even a tiny bit of motivation to complete, or something that will bring you the feeling of joy and excitement.
Once that task is done, choose the next item you feel like completing. As you go down the list, it’s likely you’ll feel motivated to work on bigger projects.
Who inspires me?
Everyone draws motivation and inspiration from other people, places, and things.
Instead of scrolling Instagram and feeling less-than when you see a competitor’s post, get inspired by them.
>> What are they doing that you admire?
>> How can you put your spin on that?
It’s best to find a business that’s not necessarily your direct competitor, but rather, a business in a position you’d like to be in five/ten years down the road.
For example, if I make natural, cruelty and toxin-free soap and I’m struggling with what type of soap to make and sell next, I might look to Rocky Mountain Soap Co. for inspiration.
Better yet, I might look at a business I admire that doesn’t even sell bars of soap, perhaps Vegamour, a vegan haircare company.
I would visit their website and social media accounts to see what inspires me.
>> What type of products are they promoting right now?
>> What do their product photos look like?
>> What type of language do they use to describe their products/business?
>> What are the main benefits they highlight on their website’s homepage?
>> What do I love about their business and products?
Inspiration can give you some direction and lead to motivation.
Step 4 to complete:
Find another business that inspires you and choose one small aspect of their business you’d love to emulate. Maybe you love the colours they use in their Instagram feed, or the creative color/ingredient/pattern combinations they come up with for their products, or the uplifting emails they send to newsletter subscribers.
Choose just one element, as looking at their business as a whole can make you feel overwhelmed and unmotivated.
Then list ways you can start to emulate that aspect of their business.
If you need to, spend some time researching ways to improve that element of your business. For example, Google “how to write interesting newsletter subject lines” or “how to create a modern Instagram feed”, etc.
What do I really want?
When you think about a task you need to do (e.g. post to Etsy), it can be hard to find motivation for it, unless you think about the bigger purpose behind it.
For example, posting to Etsy can feel somewhat meaningless (in the grand scheme of things). But if you break things down to get to the real purpose behind posting to Etsy, it may spark some motivation.
- Why do I need to post to Etsy? To add new content and get a boost in search rankings.
- Why do I need to do that? To reach new people and make a sale.
- Why do I need to do that? My answer might be one of the following:
>> To afford a new _____.
>> To work towards quitting my day job.
>> Because I think my products can really help people.
If you start with the task you’re procrastinating on and lacking motivation for, ask yourself why you think you should complete that task.
Keep asking why until you get to the highest purpose of your business and/or products.
It may be that you started your business to make enough money to be able to eventually quit your full-time job working in an office. If that’s the case, think about why you want to quit your full-time job and what your life will look like when you do. What are you most looking forward to?
On the other hand, perhaps you started making toxin-free products to improve your health. You may feel passionate about living a cleaner/toxin-free lifestyle and want others to experience the benefits it has to offer. Thinking about all the people your products can help is a great motivator.
Or perhaps you started your jewelry business because you’re inspired by fashion. Being creative and sharing your designs with others may be what really drives you.
“Making a sale” is not nearly as motivating as “Building a business that allows me to quit my day job”, or “Making enough money this year to take my family on a dream vacation”, or “Helping reduce waste and encouraging others to be more environmentally friendly”, etc.
Step 5 to complete:
Take some time to think about the greater purpose behind the next step you need to take.
Recall how motivated you were when you started your business. Go back to the reason behind that initial motivation. It’s easy to lose sight of it, but reminding yourself of your bigger purpose should provide some motivation.
I hope these questions and steps spark some motivation for you. Please let me know in the comments if you’re currently struggling with something or any tactics you use when you’re feeling unmotivated.
This was your best article ever! I needed to hear this. Thank you so much!
Wow, thank you so much Deb! I’m so happy to hear it resonated with you. I hope it helps! 🙂
For almost 50 years I’ve been creating scenes inside hens eggs and I’ve loved every one of them. It makes me happy to know they are now in homes in many countries and I feel part of me is there too.
I’ve had slow times with other obligations…family, work, volunteering etc. but since it is mostly a hobby, that has not been a big concern.
However when Covid arrived and out of the house activities mostly stopped, I could see the bright side of having more time to enjoy working on the eggshells. It didn’t happen and I didn’t know why. Thanks for guidance in motivating me. So here I go!
Thank you so much for sharing Lynne! Isn’t it strange how we tend to push aside the things that bring us the most joy? I’m glad my article provided some motivation 🙂
This was a very timely article for me…thank you! I know why I’m not motivated, I just don’t know how and when I’ll get past it enough to run my business again. I lost my husband 6 months ago. We started this business a year ago. Without him I’ve had to learn aspects of our business that he used to take care of. I was just coming through the lack of motivation from his loss when 3 weeks ago my best friend of over 50 years passed away. Both deaths were unexpected. To add insult to injury, in the same time period I lost my cat and then my dog. I’m taking your steps to heart to see if I can at least create again.
I’m so incredibly sorry Vicki. That’s a lot of loss to deal with, especially in such a short period of time. You definitely deserve as much time as it takes to heal. Similar situations forced me to step away from my business this summer. I found it most helpful to listen to my body and heart, and on days I felt I could do a bit of work, I did. But on days I felt like I couldn’t even look at an email, I allowed myself that time away from work, guilt-free. I hope my steps help a little. I’m wishing you all the best <3
Thank you Erin! I really needed this to do an assessment of my purpose in life, and how this business I run fits into the great scheme of things. Perspective is everything! I tend to get overwhelmed and freeze, but i was able to break down the big monster. Thank you again 🙂
That’s so great to hear Erika! I’m glad the steps helped you break things down and assess. I always find, when I get some perspective and change the way I work to align with a bigger purpose, my business seems to grow…even though that perspective tends to direct me towards working less and worrying less (I guess I start working smarter not harder;)
Thanks for reading!