So, it’s Saturday night and your body is feeling a lot of vibes; the presentation you have for long worked on will be presented on Wednesday the next week. You have been enthusing about it for weeks now – everybody in your circle knows about your multi-million dollar presentation. Exhilarating is the word!

But then, a call suddenly comes in. A broken voice on the other end announces Mr. Y has passed away. Your world caves in, shock and disbelieve take over, demotivation kicks in. Unfortunately, the demise of Mr. Y won’t stop investors from coming over to listen to your presentation, and no one but you can deliver. Plenty more work still needs to be done before the D-day. How do you stay productive in the face of this demotivating times?

True, the scenario painted above is purely fictional, but it touches base with reality. One thing we know for sure is this: motivation is flighty thing – it comes and goes as it pleases. Even something as simple as losing a pen can open the doors of our life to demotivation.

The big question for the day is this: how do you stay productive when nothing in you wants to work? When there is no single grain of motivation left.

Well, I wouldn’t want to start throwing off “12 ways to….” kind of strategies right off the bat. Of course, I will later, but it makes sense to first understand the concept of motivation, how it works and how we can make the most of life with or without it.

The Science of Motivation

Without a single doubt, our feelings, in more ways than one, influences the way we act. Remember the last time you woke feeling lethargic? You probably acted in a sloppy manner the most of that day. In the same vein, there is a good chance you worked at your prime the other time you got promoted because, well, you were motivated.

Since our feelings affect our level of productivity, it’d be wise to understand the science of motivation – particularly how our brain behaves during high and low times.

Scientists tell us that Dopamine, a chemical secreted by our brain and transmitted via the nerve cells, is what makes us feel “high” or “low”. High in this context means being motivated/excited and low passes for being demotivated.

Naturally, our motivation level sours when dopamine production spikes – vice-versa. While we can’t in our power stimulate our brain to produce more dopamine, certain actions can stimulate the brain to produce more dopamine.

Say, for instance, you were offered a million bucks to complete a difficult task like say stacking up hundreds of bags of rice. You will most likely work as a leafcutter ant would, finishing up the task in an hour or so. Reason? There is a reward!

Reward is what motivates us to work more, persevere longer, and try harder. In fact, reward and motivation are scientifically intertwined. And hey, reward doesn’t have to be monetary – even something as minuscule as an extra credit point is enough to give us a big kick in the back.

Let me illustrate. In this research, a group of researchers brought together students interested in taking classes in a human management course. The students were divided into two groups. One group was offered reward in the form of extra credit for turning in their assignments, and the other group wasn’t. Here’s how things panned out:

  • The number of student in the reward group that turned in their assignment was 4 times that of the no-reward group.
  • During the test, more questions were answered correctly by students in the reward group than those in no-reward group.
  • The reward group students showed more enthusiasm to their coursework than their counterparts.

What has this got to do with anything? Rewards, even in its minutest form, stimulates the secretion of dopamine by the brain, and the result is an elevated level of motivation.

So, the secret –if at all any – to working productively when you are running low on motivation is to find reward where there apparently seems to be none.

Okay, that may seem like a tall order, but it is actually doable. What I will like to share with you now are simple actionable steps to being more productive.

But first, let’s study strategies for staying productive during trying times.

Tips to Staying Productive during Difficult Times

1. First, Prepare your Mind Ahead of Time

An athlete who prepares for a marathon does so differently as would an athlete who prepares for a 100-meter dash. The former, knowing fully well he is in for the long haul, will have to prepare mentally and physically for the hurdles that lay ahead.

The same holds true when working on long term projects. Unless you prepare way ahead of time, detours and contours – which are inevitable – will knock you off course easily.

The rule: anticipate the worse, hope for the best.

2. Accept you won’t work as productively as you used to

If a tragic event knocks you down to your feet, expecting top notch productivity of yourself is self-sabotaging. Instead of pretending or trying to act up as though all is fine, cut yourself some slack.

If you worked for 8 hours when the days were all sunny and dry, cut your work hours to, well, as much as you can take. Don’t even think about locking up your emotions and throwing away the keys to the bottom of the ocean; it’s a waste of time

Strip down your daily routine to the basics, delegate or cut out the rest altogether.

3. Keep in mind those little things you are grateful for 


A story is told about a man who had been locked away in the prisons for 18 years. During those years, he forgot how it felt to watch late night comedy shows, so his sense of humor had left him. Suddenly one day inside his cell, he caught sight of a spider trying frantically to pull herself up but kept slipping back to the ground on every attempt. This got the man laughing hard – something he hadn’t experienced in years. He got so fond of the story that he talked about it till he left the prisons

When life knocks us down to our feet, we, more often than not, throw memories of the little things we are grateful for – the things that make us smile into the ocean. The best way to counter this self-defeating feeling is to take stock of things we are grateful to life for. It could be your kids, your nice home or just being able to stand on your legs

4. Get as much help as you can

This might be a hard one, but you just have to do it. Your colleagues will most likely rally around you in tough times – give them to lighten your burden. Cut yourself some slack. Don’t try being a super hero, because you’re not.

Tips to Staying Productive when Emotions get in the Way

Yeah. Emotions are such a fleeting thing that it is beyond our ability to accurately tell which direction they will go. You could find yourself angry all of a sudden without any apparent reason. You could find yourself excited, but can’t exactly explain why. Emotions at work. Your job is to rein them in.

Okay, enough of the rambling; time to put my money where my mouth is.

1. Set Daily Goals

Successful people have all mastered the art of setting goals and going out of their way to accomplishing it. Goals – and I don’t mean to-dos – are there to serve as a guiding beacon when the ocean of life appears to be too dark to sail.

What is that one thing that would give you fulfillment if you could achieve it at the end of the day? Find it, write it down, and slap it on the back of your mind. That way, you will have a reason to keep pushing when the voice of defeat starts whispering.

2. Apply the Goldilocks’ Principle

Consider this scenario. Your boss approaches you with two tasks: one, you are all too familiar with it and have done it over and again. The other, somewhat novel and a little bit challenging, but well within your capabilities. Which would you go for? The latter most likely.

Well, that’s Goldilocks principle at work. Goldilocks, actually, is a children fairy tale character who realized, after being served porridge, she preferred porridge that is neither too hot nor cold.

Naturally, our brain gets stimulated when it is given a new challenge well within its capabilities, leading to the secretion of more dopamine. You can harness this phenomenon to get more out of your day when running low on motivation.

At work, ask to switch places with a colleague. Only ensure the person you are making switches with does something different.

If that won’t be possible, look for something to do on the side. Even if it offers little or no monetary reward, still do it provided you find it stimulating. That way, your brain will have something fun to look forwards to.

If you run a business, work to develop a new skill. Even better, look to expand your business even if it is just by some micro inches. Your brain just needs something a little bit challenging – find it, and let your brain feed on it.

3. Have a Good Personal View of Yourself

If you were to describe yourself in a few sentences, how would your bio look like? Truth is; our actions are heavily influenced by the perceptions we have of ourselves.

If you constantly beat yourself up for being a slacker, you will eventually become one. Remind yourself of all your shortcomings all the time, and all you would see is a person too weak to lead a fulfilled life.

A good self-image is vital to your success. Create an image of being a non-quitter, and you will find reasons to stay productive no matter how demotivated you might feel.

Of course, building a good self-image takes a lot of work. It’s more like building a business brand, and building a reputable brand takes time and a truck load of efforts.

4. Check How Far You Have Gone

Discouragement can easily derail us from reaching our life goals. When discouragement kicks in, motivation instantly flies out of the window, and everything grinds to a halt. Since discouragement is part and parcel of life, how do we ride above it to stay productive?

Simple; learn to be grateful for the little achievements you have accomplished. Your original plan might be to reach Alaska from San Diego in three days, but three weeks later you have barely made it past California. Well, such is life.

Instead of dwelling on what you should have achieved but haven’t, take account of the little milestone you have crossed and be grateful for them. This is by no means a ticket to settle for average performance. Rather, gratefulness should serve as the fuel to keep the journey going smoothly.

5. Get into the Habit of Setting Deadlines on Tasks

A deadline creates a sense of urgency in us. When we set deadlines, the reptilian part of our brain is forced to believe that some sort of punishment will follow should the deadline be missed. That way, we will have no choice but to stay on a task no matter how we feel; motivated or demotivated.

Of course, setting unrealistic deadlines won’t cut it. Intelligently evaluate the time it would take to complete the task at hand, set a tolerance limit –yes you are human not a machine – and set to work.

6. First things, First

This has to do with arranging your priorities right. A well-arranged priority list has the most important task placed first and the least placed at the tail end.

You must understand that every task you take on will cut a chunk of your physical energy, and chances are that you will burn out by the time the day draws to an end.

Better still, start off with tasks you most enjoy and save the boring ones for the later.

Wrapping things up

Emotional intelligence – doing what needs to be done no matter how we feel – is key to success. Working only when you feel motivated is the fastest route to failure. Today, learn to self-motivate yourself – that’s what successful people do.




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