Living with depression can drain your motivation. But with a few simple strategies in place, it’s possible to be productive and get more done.
Perhaps you see your to-do list and want to tackle it. But, lately, it feels like you’re missing the drive to get started.
This isn’t a personal choice, and you’re not lazy. You want to get things done, but it’s so challenging to get started.
Depression can affect your energy levels, concentration, motivation, and interest in everyday activities. Even so, there are ways to navigate through your tasks to get things done.
There are many ways to be productive when you live with depression, even when you feel unmotivated and fatigued.
A word about these tips
Depression is a complex mental health condition and there’s no one best way to cope. Everyone is different, and what may work for you might not work for someone else.
While some of these strategies may help you with everyday tasks, it’s still highly advisable to find a depression treatment plan tailored to your needs with the help of a trusted professional.
If you don’t currently have a mental health professional, you can try our search tool.
Depression can take a toll on your ability to concentrate, making it feel more difficult to get things done.
Here’s the gist of how it works:
- Select a task you want to complete.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Work uninterrupted until the timer goes off.
- Take a 5-minute break.
- Complete this cycle 3 more times.
- After 4 cycles, take a 20- to 30-minute break.
If 25 minutes sounds too intimidating, consider modifying this method as needed. It’s important to find a method that works for you.
There’s no wrong way to do it.
You could start with 20 minutes working and a 10-minute break. Sometimes, the hardest part is just starting — but soon you’ll get into the flow.
To help you concentrate, you might find ambient noise or Coffitivity (a library of café sounds) helpful to have on in the background while you work. You could also block out distracting apps with something like Flora.
When you’ve completed the task, don’t forget to congratulate yourself. Every little accomplishment counts.
Step by step, you’ll get there. You’ve already taken the first step.
Next, consider going over a list of people in your life. You can write down the best person for each job or the individual with the most experience in each area.
Now you can take a deep breath and reach out to them.
If you’re in need of ongoing support — say for paying bills on time — you may want to ask a friend to help keep you accountable regularly. Consider asking them to check up on you, and try to keep them updated on your progress.
How to ask for help
You could start with, “Can I tell you something that’s kind of hard for me to admit?”
When they give you the green light, you can say:
“I feel like we’re close enough that I can let you know that I’m living with depression, and I could really use some help. I’d like to learn how to make a budget and stick to it. I thought of you because I know you’re great at it. Do you think you could come over for an hour and help me start one?”
Overwhelm is no joke. By strategically organizing your tasks, it may breathe new life into your to-do list and help you feel more motivated to get things done.
To make things easier on yourself, try:
- Task batching: Doing similar things at the same time, like going to the post office if it’s right next to the grocery store.
- Habit stacking: When you focus only on one habit until it becomes intuitive, then layering on another one until that feels solid, and so on.
- Microtasking: Breaking down your to-do list into bite-size chunks.
You may find it useful to steal this author’s “box method,” a system that helps with microtasking.
Here’s why it may work:
- each micro task creates a win
- each win builds confidence
- confidence leads to new habits
- habits lead to lifestyle changes
- lifestyle changes lead to success
To try it, divide a sheet of paper in half or draw a line down the center of a whiteboard.
On the right side, you can do a brain dump and write out everything you want to get done that day. Try to circle the three most important things on that list.
On the left side, you draw a box. This will serve as a visual reminder of what you need to laser-focus on.
Picking one task from the right side, jot down the next three steps for that task in the box — and only three. No more are allowed.
For example, if laundry is a priority, you could write:
- sort clothes by colors
- turn clothes inside out
- count the quarters
Once you knock out those 3 things, you can set a timer for 10 minutes and go do something you enjoy. When the timer goes off, you may erase the list in the box and write out the next three things:
- grab detergent and dryer sheets
- load up the car with laundry
- drive to the laundromat
When you break things down into small tasks, it may help you feel more in control of everything. Every little step gets you closer to the finish line.
When you think about exercising, the effort required to get going may seem off-putting. But
Not only that, but hormones produced when you sweat can significantly impact your mood. Thanks endorphins!
Exercising, in general, may be helpful — but it doesn’t have to be a full routine.
Instead, consider taking a break from the task you’re doing and trying something lighter. For example, you can:
- dance for 5 minutes to your favorite song
- do 30 jumping jacks in the break room
- go for a gentle swim
- take a walk around the block
- do a quick yoga sequence
- go up and down a flight of stairs
As you incorporate these active pauses, you may notice you become more alert and can get more things done.
Depression can make you believe that you lack willpower, energy, or are incapable — but that’s just not the case.
Living with depression is not a personal choice. It’s not your fault it can often lead to feeling distracted, fatigued, and unmotivated.
Try to treat yourself with compassion. There are many factors that can make it difficult to complete tasks when you have depression.
Working with a therapist can help you manage your depression and lack of motivation. Untreated depression may lead to more unpleasant or intense symptoms.
It may not be easy to get stuff done when you’re low on motivation, but it’s possible. You can take it one minute at a time. You’ll get there.
For more ideas on how to be productive when living with depression, you may want to:
- watch the TedTalk “How to get stuff done when you’re depressed“
- read the book “Get it Done When You’re Depressed: 50 Strategies for Keeping Your Life on Track“