3 min read

A Checklist for When I'm feeling Down, Unproductive, or Unmotivated

The past few weeks I've felt like an unproductive sack of shit. I stare at my to-do list and open reddit instead. I feel bad about it so I check my phone and scroll through Facebook. Now I feel worse. Rinse, repeat.

I assume this happens to everyone on occasion [1]. One thing I've been working on is figuring out how to bounce back from these episodes. I think I'm getting better at it.

What I do is run through a checklist. It's an ear-marked page in my journal. When you're in a funk that last thing you want to do is write a list like this. Write it when you're feeling motivated and make it easily accessible.

Maybe some of this is obvious. But if you're missing on the obvious stuff, what to fix becomes obvious.

Stock image of a checklist from https://unsplash.com/@snapshot_factory


  • Have I been getting 7.5+ hours of sleep every night?
  • Am I staring at a screen right before bed?
  • Ryan Holiday on Sleep

What are the last 3 meals you've had?

I feel like garbage after eating McDonalds. I still eat it because it's engineered to taste good. An hour later I don't want to do anything but watch dumb youtube videos, or mope.

It took me a long time to realize this. I used to think feeling tired and lethargic after a meal was normal. It's not. Figure out your biochemistry. Eat your damn veggies.

Are you burnt out on Caffeine?

Physical Environment

Does your physical environment guide you to get things done, or get distracted? Is your phone sitting face up on your desk with push notifications on? Is the TV on? Does your computer default to a new reddit tab or a reminder to do your work?

People Environment

How do the people around you make you feel? Are you around positive people, or negative people? We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. If you can, choose them wisely.

Sometimes we have to be around negative people (school, work, business). You can fake your environment too. Listen to podcasts and read books about people you admire. The 5 people don't actually have to be physically around you.

Motivation Porn

Sometimes you just need to watch a cheesy motivational video. Arnold. Randy Pausch. Plenty more at /r/getMotivated.

Deride it all you want, if it works, it works. Just don't fall into the trap of thinking watching motivational videos == being productive.

When's the last time you got some solitude?

As an introvert, I need alone time. I suspect even the most extroverted people need some solitude too.

When's the last time you walked or meditated?

A good walk, or a good sit, can be all I need to clear my head.

When's the last time you exercised?

Like it or not your brain is housed in a body that was made to move. Move.

When's the last time you did something for the hell of it?

see: Tinkering

When's the last time you created something?

The modern world is designed to make you consume. You could spend your entire life consuming new toys, new music, new images, new videos. Even if you're learning, nothing is as satisfying as creating.

Here's a painting I made. No this isn't from my 3rd grade art class, this is from last year. Will I be the next Monet? No. But I felt better having spent an hour making something. And that positive feeling bleeds over into the next thing you do.

What else?

What do you check for when you're feeling unproductive? Let me know.

Tynan has a great checklist here.

[1] If you are feeling down all of the time, or having very negative thoughts, there is no shame in seeking a mental health professional.