Feeling unproductive? Read this.

Like you, many people have been feeling unmotivated lately. Whatever the cause, whether it is work-from-home distractions or poor sleep, know that you are not alone. A 2020 survey by Thrive Global noted that approximately 75% of employees feel overwhelmed and less productive due to work-from-home distractions. 

However, lack or decrease in productivity does not always correlate to the distractions that are around. Simply feeling overwhelmed by the tasks that you have to accomplish can also affect your productivity. 

Feeling unproductive can lead to frustration and lack of motivation, which can subsequently make you more unproductive. Thus, creating a vicious cycle.  If you’ve been feeling unproductive, here are a few things that can change your perspective and hopefully boost productivity. 

  • Take a break

 Sometimes, all you need is a break. Feeling unproductive can be a result have gone through a particularly tough and busy week. If you feel low on energy, do not push yourself too much. Regardless of how busy your week is, carve out some time to relax (Yes, you deserve it. Don’t feel guilty about it).  

I know it may seem counterintuitive to take a break when you are busy, but a break will help you see things mood and overall well-being. 2017 research noted that break time is beneficial as it increases motivation to perform a task (Rees, 2017). 

Taking a break could allow you time to reflect inward or organize your space. However you decide to spend your break, it will motivate and revitalize you. 

  • Cut yourself some slack.

Lack of productivity could be a symptom of feeling overwhelmed with the demands you have to face. If you feel daunted by the innumerable pending chores that fill up your to-do list, try not to beat yourself up about it. I know that you may want to get everything done (and eventually you will), but don’t beat yourself up if you are unable to finish all of your tasks.  

In a Forbes article, Dr. Amy Arnsten states that prolonged stress can cause your prefrontal cortex to shut down. Literally. Your prefrontal cortex is the region that handles focus, critical thinking, and decision-making. 

Unfortunately, feeling or being unproductive can make you view yourself negatively. You may start to listen and believe your inner critic. Listening to your inner critic can create a vicious cycle that keeps you in unproductivity and further weakens your prefrontal cortex and productivity. But, your lack of productivity is not a character flaw. It does not mean that you’re lazy or incompetent. It just means you need a break. 

Instead of beating yourself up about the things you did not finish, speak to yourself with compassion and kindness. You, as a human being, are more than what you do or achieve. Do as BTS says and love yourself. 

  • Redefine your concept of productivity.

Now that you’ve decided to slow down, think about what productivity means to you because there is a difference between being busy and being productive. Being busy is frantic energy that is all over the place, whereas productivity is focused energy. 

When you are feeling unproductive, you may not have that much energy. So, try to focus on one or two achievable tasks. Set boundaries for yourself for how many chores you allow yourself to tackle. Divide your tasks into urgent and non-urgent ones and tackle the urgent ones first. Lastly, treat your time like a rare commodity because it kind of is. 

  • Two-minute rule. 

To help you get through tasks, break them into smaller two-minute tasks. Breaking larger tasks down into bite-size tasks may feel tedious and cumbersome, it will help them seem more achievable. It will also help you not get overwhelmed. 

  • Recruit help.

Recruit help to get you through periods of low productivity–whether you need someone to hold you accountable, to vent to, or to help you out. Having someone walk beside you during difficult moments, no matter how trivial they may seem, is always nice. That person can help you get through them. 

  • Celebrate your progress.

One last tip that can help you get through moments of low productivity is to track and celebrate your progress. Humans have a hormone that helps us achieve our goals– dopamine. I’m sure you are familiar with dopamine. Dopamine has many functions, and one of them is to nudge us to do things.  

In the context of productivity, dopamine works whenever you anticipate or receive pleasure for doing something. Once you get a dose of dopamine, you continue to do whatever action delivered the first dose.  

While many things can provide you with a dopamine hit, try to use dopamine to your advantage. Train yourself to find joy or pleasure in getting through a mundane task by visibly tracking your progress and rewarding yourself when you finish it. 

In the end, you will feel more motivated to finish your tasks. 

In life, you will stumble into moments where progress seems slower than usual. Don’t break down or feel bad about it. Feeling unproductive is something many people have experienced. Instead of clouding your mind with doubt and negative thoughts, do your best to move forward at your own pace. 

I hope these tips were helpful. If you feel down about your slow progress, reach out to a therapist to manage those feelings. Remember that some progress, no matter how slowly it is happening, is good. 

Take care!


Arnsten A. F. (2009). Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nature reviews. Neuroscience10(6), 410–422. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2648

Blaschka, A. (2020, May 18). Here’s what to do when you’re feeling unproductive. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyblaschka/2020/05/18/heres-what-to-do-when-youre-feeling-unproductive/?sh=4f1d934671a9. 

Bruneau, M. (2020, October 19). 6 tips to get motivated when you’re feeling depressed. mindbodygreen. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-13042/6-tips-to-get-motivated-when-youre-feeling-depressed.html. 

Clarke, J., & Susman, D. (2021, April 28). How to stop feeling unproductive. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-stop-being-lazy-4164781. 

Konnect Agency. (2020, January 31). Increasing dopamine to boost productivity. Konnect Agency. https://www.konnectagency.com/2020/01/31/increasing-dopamine-to-boost-productivity/. 

Rees, A., Wiggins, M. W., Helton, W. S., Loveday, T., & O’Hare, D. (2017, June 7). The impact of breaks on sustained attention in a simulated, semi‐automated train control task. Wiley Online Library. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/acp.3334. 

Santi, J. (2020, October 16). 10 things to do when you’re feeling low & unproductive. The Everygirl. https://theeverygirl.com/things-to-do-when-youre-feeling-unproductive/. 

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