When You Can’t Get Anything Done… Do One Thing.

Sometimes you don’t feel like doing anything.

When you find yourself not in the zone… what do you do?

How do you get things done when you don’t feel like doing anything?

Not Getting Anything Done

The other night I found myself unable to get anything done.

I was tired. Energy levels were low.

My mind just wanted to shut down for the day.

Yet, I had 2 hours of free time on my hands and a todo list a mile long.

I was having trouble getting motivated to do anything.

“When you least ‘want’ to do something, is often when you most ‘need’ to take action.”

Determined to get something done… (anything really)…  I picked up one small task.

I figured if I couldn’t get anything else done, I would do just this one task.

Just One Task

I forced myself into doing that one task.

It was a low effort task. It could be done in a few minutes.

It involved scanning a 1-page receipt and emailing it to a colleague.

Within a few minutes it was done. Scanned, emailed, and finished.

It felt good to cross even one item off my todo list.

Glancing at my list, I soon found a few other items that I was interested in addressing.

I was soon doing some related tasks. An expense report. Answering several emails. And more.

You could say that once I got myself in motion, I stayed in motion.

One Thing Done, What’s Next? 

When you find yourself unable to get anything done, try focusing on getting just one thing done.

Sometimes you can’t get it all done, but you can get one thing done.

One-at-a-time. That is how progress is made.

Question: What one thing can you get done today?

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Forrest Snyder

    in physics, we call it friction. It takes more force to get an object moving than to keep it moving. One small task breaks the friction to start you moving. After that, you tend to keep moving.

  • http://twitter.com/lclmrktdominanc Joe Mills

    I immediately thought “inertia”…What a great post…I unfortunately have found myself in that position (no desire but plenty that needs to be done) too many times. As I look back, the times that I went ahead and did something, anything it got me moving. Thanks for the reminder!

  • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

    Thanks for the super advice, Craig. The holidays really beg for this wisdom. It’s easy to sit around do nothing productive.

  • Guest

    I still said you somehow read my mind. I’ve been sitting at my desk for the last hour (at home) playing Bejeweled. My desk is a mess and it’s overwhelming me. I pick up a piece of paper and move it to another spot. I do the same a couple of times. Then I pick up my phone and play the game for 10 minutes. I feel guilty so I stop the game and move paper around again. Then it’s back to the game. I think my problem is similar to yours – low energy right now, overwhelmed, unmotivated because I’ve worked so hard recently on the holiday stuff. I just don’t want to do anything but I really need to. And I know I’ll feel better once I start checking some stuff off my list. So your post was exactly what I needed. Gonna go do one thing. We’ll see what happens after that. Knowing myself, I’m guessing that one thing will lead to two, and then three. . . your strategy really does work.

  • http://twitter.com/HomemakersDaily HomemakersDaily

    I still say you somehow read my mind. I’ve been sitting at my desk for the last hour (at home) playing Bejeweled. My desk is a mess and it’s overwhelming me. I pick up a piece of paper and move it to another spot. I do the same a couple of times. Then I pick up my phone and play the game for 10 minutes. I feel guilty so I stop the game and move paper around again. Then it’s back to the game. I think my problem is similar to yours – low energy right now, overwhelmed, unmotivated because I’ve worked so hard recently on the holiday stuff. I just don’t want to do anything but I really need to. And I know I’ll feel better once I start checking some stuff off my list. So your post was exactly what I needed. Gonna go do one thing. We’ll see what happens after that. Knowing myself, I’m guessing that one thing will lead to two, and then three. . . your strategy really does work.

  • http://www.jonstallings.com/ Jon Stallings

    I often think that the big picture is overrated. (The big picture can be a huge to do list, or grand vision for the future) It becomes overwhelming and scary. Thanks for the reminder that sometimes we need to focus on just one task.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Jon, interesting point.

      I often see too much emphasis on the “big picture” in corporate environments. So much time and effort spent “trying” to map the big landscape… when none of the day-to-day is getting done.

  • http://bunny-trails.blogspot.com Dianne – Bunny Trails

    Wow. This is exactly where I’ve been this week – vacillating between accomplishing things and having zero motivation. Thank you for this – I sure need it right now! :-)

  • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

    That doesn’t take into account interruptions from 5 and 2 1/2 year olds as the reason for not getting things done ;)

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      I have a six month year old in the house. Does wonders for altering routines. ;)

      • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

        That’s for sure! I keep telling myself when they are both in school on the same schedule, I’ll be able to manage my time better ;)

  • http://www.kellycombs.com/ Kelly Combs

    When I used to work for the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I had to process a crate of mail a day. When I started it seemed too overwhelming, but someone said, “just do one piece at a time.” With that mindset, I was soon finishing the crate load of mail “one-at-a-time,” and a lot of other stuff every day. This philosophy really works.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Thx, Kelly! ;)

  • http://twitter.com/ProsperityWrite Lisa Hardin

    Reminds me of the old saying about how you eat an elephant–one bite at a time. I really needed this one today. Great advice for those of us trying to get going again after takng the holidays off.

  • http://www.mondayisgood.com/ Tom Dixon

    There is nothing like checking something off of a to-do list to get you motivated! Appreciate the reminder – I probably put too much effort in identifying the most important thing to do next, but sometimes you should do something (even if it’s wrong).

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Absolutely! Checking things off just feels good. That’s why we sometimes add things to our list that we just did… so we can check them off! :)

  • hipmamamedia

    What a timely post! Home for Christmas break with all the kids (I work at a school) and so frustrated that I can’t seem to get anything done with everyone being home and needing one thing or another. So, just getting one thing, anything, done is a great feeling!

  • http://www.lifewhack.com/ Peter Ewin Hall

    I was thinking about doing some more work on a writing project I’ve started but it feels a bit big today so I’ve started on a smaller scale by putting a few comments out.
    Craig what you said about starting by doing one thing is backed up by science. In Richard Wiseman’s book 59 Seconds he mentions the very thing. It’s important to complete something – not necessarily the most important item. The next step is to build on that sucess. It could be applied to debts. Paying off a small low interest debt might not make financial sense if there are bigger more costly debts but it will give a taste of what paying something off is like. That gives momentum for the next one.

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  • http://1389blog.com/ 1389AD

    Sometimes when you feel that way, it’s your body telling you that you haven’t had enough sleep. That could be a matter of scheduling/priorities or it could be a medical issue. Get more sleep and you’ll get more done during your waking hours.

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  • http://twitter.com/GoalsOnTrack Harry Che

    Great tip. This is similar to what I usually do to get moving forward on my goals, that is, the 5-minute task: Just promise yourself to work on your goal for only 5 minutes, then you can rest guilt-free. In reality, after 5 minutes, I usually gain more motivation and momentum.

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  • http://twitter.com/audaciouslady Nathasha Alvarez

    This is so true. Today I am going to meet a friend for lunch at a place literally 5 minutes away but the process of getting ready and finding disabled parking makes me not want to go. However, I took my shower, got ready and now I have two hours until the lunch. So what do I do? I want to do nothing so I went on Twitter. Saw your tweet about this post and here I am! I’ve already taken care of three things that needed to get done. :) Thanks for the reminder.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Natasha, awesome! Glad you got going. :)

  • Forrest Snyder

    Newton’s second law. A body at rest tends to remain at rest until acted upon by an outside unbalanced force. Doing the first simple thing provides that force after which a body in motion tends to remain in motion until acted upon by an unbalanced outside force.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Very true. :)

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