Productive Things to Do When You’re Unmotivated

For the days when you don't feel like doing anything, here are some productive things to do anyway.

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Today, even deciding between my grey or black sweatpants felt like an immense challenge. But I didn’t want to let the day become a total write-off because that would make me feel like an even bigger sack of crap tomorrow.

So I pulled up my weekly to-do list and searched for the easiest and most mindless item there.

The winner:

  • Find some topics to possibly write about for The Zag.

To start this task as effortlessly and mindlessly as possible, I opened my preexisting list of topic ideas. Lo and behold, what happened to be eighth on that list?

“Productive things to do”!

Irony? Or destiny?

Either way, I suddenly got just enough motivation to start brainstorming. And that motivation snowballed into this post on productive things to do when you feel as unmotivated as I just was.

Make a to-do list.

That way, you too will have something to refer to next time you’re unmotivated and looking for something productive to do.

Lots of people are doo-doo at to-do lists because they’re doing them wrong. So you may find reviewing my five unheralded to-do list management tips to be a not-too-unproductive use of your time:

  1. Disregard every single productivity guru’s system.
  2. Don’t give yourself dreadful to-dos.
  3. Focus more on done than to-do.
  4. Don’t let your to-do list become your boss.
  5. Work toward doing away with to-do lists entirely.

Do something dull.

This one’s my top recommendation.

As author Derek Sivers put it, “The next time you’re feeling extremely unmotivated, do those things you never want to do anyway.”

For me, examples include:

  • Cleaning my external hard drive or photo library.
  • Cutting up and roasting veggies or toasting nuts to eat later.
  • A yoga video. (I’m a fan of Breathe and Flow‘s stuff on YouTube.)
  • Fixing broken links on this site.
  • Trimming my armpit hair1I find that shorter armpit hair stinks less..

Compose a love poem.

Or if you’re too lazy to rhyme, make it a love letter.

For the first eight years of my relationship with Kim, I don’t think I had ever written her anything more romantic than a text message saying, “Thanks.” But then came my “Show-‘er” month challenge, where I pushed myself to do something different every day to show my appreciation to her.

Around the middle of the month, we were flying home to conclude a long day of travel, and I was running low on time, energy, and ideas, so I resorted to writing her a cheesy ten-line love rhyme when she wasn’t looking. Then I slipped it to her when we finally got home.

Her reaction?

Let’s just say it won’t be the last time I write her a poem.

Taking notes from book onto computer.

Take notes on a book, article, or podcast.

Some say reading or listening to books, articles, or podcasts is productive. I’d say it’s passive. To make it productive, you’ve got to start digesting what you’re consuming.

So take notes on some piece of information you thought had interesting ideas. Then figure out how to turn what you’ve digested into action by asking yourself, “What will I do differently based on this information?”

And put it on your to-do list for later, when you’re less unmotivated.

Read the manual of one of your appliances.

If you refuse to try my previous suggestion to take notes, this one’s for you. User manuals are free to read and you can immediately put them into action.

And if you think this is a stupid idea, I don’t blame you. I would’ve thought so too, until last November. Then we moved into our new apartment in Cape Town whose kitchen was full of strange German appliances with knobs and buttons we didn’t understand.

I had no choice but to crack open the manuals.

But then I truly couldn’t put them down!

I learned all sorts of tricks for using a microwave/oven combo more efficiently, and that metal is microwaveable as long as it’s not too close to the wall. Same for our fridge, which had a handy guide to what to put on which shelf for maximum freshness.

Empty pocket walks were extra productive when I strapped baby Zac to my back.

Go for an empty pocket walk.

Leave everything but your keys at home and go wander around your nearest park, beach, or quiet street.

I did this every day for a month back in April 2021. It ended up being my favorite monthly challenge of the year.

How to write a letter to your future self cover image.
In my experience, the best word vomit is for you to consume later.

Word vomit.

The best part about this one is that the less you think, the better.

All you have to do is grab your nearest writing device and blank paper, then unload whatever words bubble up to your brain.

A reader named Brian inspired me to give it a shot in August. He said he got the idea from an artist named Julia Cameron. She calls the practice “morning pages,” but Brian’s term, “word vomit,” appealed to my childish mind more.

I began word vomiting with zero expectations. And I ended up feeling much fresher than after physically vomiting. It defrosted my brain like starting a car engine in Canada on a January morning and released a handful of intriguing ideas.

Since then, I’ve kept doing this exercise so often that an un-PC person might call me a “mental bulimic.”

Extra Productivity:

Write a letter for your future self to read a month or longer from now. In it, unload all your worries, questions, hopes, predictions, and expectations for the time between now and when you read it. I guarantee you’ll look forward to reading the letter and find surprises in what you wrote.

See How to Write a Letter to Your Future Self: 6 Crucial Steps for some tips.

taco dinner party
Nobody (except my wife) enjoys preparing for a dinner party with friends, but everyone (except people with crappy friends) enjoys having the party.

Stick it to your unmotivated future self.

Put Future You in a healthy pickle they’ll have a hard time backing out:

  • Send out invites to a group of friends for a dinner party.
  • Pay upfront for some course or classes you know you want to have done but don’t want to do. Then commit to people you don’t want to let down.
  • Book non-refundable flights to somewhere you’ve been meaning to visit.
  • If you can’t afford flights, book a call with a personal finance consultant.
  • Donate all the junk food in your house to a friend you secretly dislike.

Your future self, the one who actually has to perform this action you committed to, will wish they could travel back in time and slap you. But your future self’s future self will be grateful to your current self for being an instigator.

Alexander Technique review cover image of Chris lying on the ground as instructed by his teacher.

Try to do absolutely nothing.

It’s tougher than it sounds. More productive, too.

Constructively criticize a blogger.

Comment below to let me know which of my suggestions you think are especially stupid and to share your better ideas on productive things to do when you’re unmotivated.


This post worked for me!

I’ve enjoyed a surprisingly productive couple of hours drafting this post. And I hope it helps you find some inspiration to do something productive, too.

For more ideas on how to live a more exciting life, click here to consider subscribing to my newsletter that over 5,000 people have yet to unsubscribe for or check these out:

About the author

👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on TheZag.com is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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