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Do this when you’re feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated

Can you think of a day when you felt utterly overwhelmed with blogging and content creation and the million tasks to do?

A day when overwhelm gobbled up every tiny crumb of your motivation.

I can think of a few. Many, actually.

Cozy up as you read this. Let me take you back to three days ago.

It’s one o’clock in the afternoon and I’m staring out of my window.

It’s wintertime, and right now I’m in England.

A thick coat of dense gray is blanketing the rooftops, the brick house next door, the sidewalk, everything.

Or perhaps it’s all a reflection of my mood.

I close the curtain.

Then my laptop.

I crawl into bed.

Curling up under the covers —my Tablet in hand—I know what’s coming next. Netflix or Facebook. Or maybe I’ll bounce around Medium and tell myself I’m doing research.

There’s so much to do my brain decides to just….well…tune out. Diagnosis: paralysis by to-do list. Is that a condition? It should be.

Facing what seems to be too much to do, my mind raises a white flag and walks off the battlefield, surrendering in defeat.

What’s the point?

I don’t know where to start.

I’ll never finish everything.

I don’t feel inspired to write or practice or market or anything.

I might as well do nothing.

A lazy day in bed almost won. Almost. But not quite.

I fold my to-do list in two and tuck it into the sleeve of my notebook.

Out of sight.

Then, I decide to do one thing.

Just. One. Simple. Thing.

In my journal, I have a page at the back with a list of simple things I can do on days when I’m feeling uninspired. They’re tasks I can do quickly, without much thought or inspiration.

Each of the ‘things’ isn’t even necessarily on my to-do list, but they’re still tasks that need to get done….eventually. I turned to the list and picked one that didn’t seem painful: delete a bunch of unnecessary emails.

I opened my email and start clearing my inbox.

Simple, effortless. You don’t need creativity or inspiration to clear emails. The emails that require more time (or brainpower), I just skip. Everything else hit the chopping block: Open. Skip. Delete. Next.


After about 35 minutes, I’m on a roll, not quite at full steam, but definitely not tempted back to bed.

I open my notebook, unfold my to-do list. Ah, my old friend, Mr to-do. You don’t look so evil now.

I make a random selection and start….working.

The rest of the day unraveled as usual: no mid-day Netflix or Facebook scroll-a-thon. (It’s okay to have days like that, but it’s better to actively choose them, instead of being defeated by overwhelm.)

Why this works

When you feel like zoning out, giving in to those feelings makes it worse and makes it harder to start working again once you stop.

Taking action (even if it’s simple, uninspired action) fuels motivation.

It sounds like a riddle, but it’s not.

Think of the concept of momentum. An object at rest tends to remain at rest. This is a basic concept of physics. But it’s universal for a reason.

Now, it’s your turn.

I challenge you to do just one thing.

Don’t complicate this. If your to-do list is making you nauseous, remove it from sight. Do something that’s simple, yet productive. We’ve all got things that aren’t on our to-do list, but still need to be done.

Need ideas:

*Spend a few minutes clearing your inbox (but only tackle emails that you can spend less than 5 minutes on, leave the rest for scheduled email tasks another time).

*Organize your Evernote or Dropbox or Documents.

*Move (stretch, walk, jog in place, whatever).

*Write a letter to someone you’ve been meaning to write to forever (we all have that person).

*Or something else

Decide what one thing you’re going to do that feels simple. Something that doesn’t need creative inspiration. Don’t take too long with this. Just decide.

And start.

Then, do one more simple thing and another and another….until you’re back on track. Afterward, if you’re still struggling with feeling overwhelmed with your work, here’s a reminder of why you should keep going.

But first, try doing just one thing. When thoughts of overwhelm sneak back into your mind, remember: do just one thing.

Drown out the other thoughts. Focus on what you’re doing right at that moment.

This takes practice. But it works.

Just one thing. It’s become my mantra.

What one thing will you do? Leave a comment below.

Filed under: breaking the code, creative living, writing encouragement inspiration


  1. Oh ! Its simply beautiful reading your thoughts !! Thanks for your challenge!! I will pick dropbox cleaning one !! Happy days

  2. I totally need to just get up and make a to do list on the mornings when motivation seems to be nowhere in sight. The days always feel better when I get a lot done!

  3. Thanks for your transparency. It’s always a blessing hearing from women like you. This post totally inspired me. I will not be feeling any guild on days when I am feeling overwhelmed, I’ll just fold away my to do list (wink).


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