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Feeling unproductive? Try these unconventional tips

What to do when you're feeling unproductive

People usually react in 2 main ways when they’re feeling unproductive: they either entirely blame themselves or blame everything but themselves. Today, we’re going to focus on a third (not-so-secret) option: not playing the blame game and approaching the problem from a different perspective. 

There are layers to feeling unproductive and monotony can easily derail your entire day, week, month, or even year. A touch of the unconventional might just be what you need to help you out.

What does it mean to ‘feel unproductive’?

Let’s dissect this first. Feeling unproductive means you sense that you’re not accomplishing as much as you’d like or need to. Essentially, it means experiencing a sense of dissatisfaction or disappointment with your level of accomplishment or output. It’s a subjective perception that you’re not progressing or achieving the goals you desire or expect. 

This feeling can manifest as frustration, self-criticism, or a general sense of not using your time and abilities effectively. It’s more about how you perceive your own performance or achievements rather than an objective measure of productivity.

If you’re actually not being productive, there are objective ways to measure it, like if you’re consistently not completing tasks or not meeting goals. (We’ll put a pin in this for now. Don’t jump to the self-blame just yet.)

To distinguish between the two, start by reflecting on whether your feeling of being unproductive is a momentary emotional state or a consistent pattern. Look at your goals and tasks objectively. Are you completing them, or is there a recurrent issue? If there’s a consistent pattern of not achieving what you set out to do, it suggests a more concrete issue with productivity.

Consider if your mindset or emotions are influencing your perception. Sometimes a small setback can make us feel unproductive when, in reality, it’s just a temporary challenge. But there could be a much larger issue that’s leading to you feeling like you’re simply not doing your best.

Unconventional tips for productivity

Yes, everyone has heard the same old “set your goals, plan your day, take some breaks” bits of advice. They definitely do work but they may not be the most enticing solutions to your problem. If you’re looking to switch things up a bit, why not try these unconventional approaches to tackling your productivity issues? 

Artsy mind map

Add visual elements to your planning to keep you motivated and keep that creative energy going. Instead of a traditional to-do list, create an artistic mind map for your tasks. Use doodles, colours, and non-linear connections. This visual representation can stimulate creativity and make your tasks feel more approachable.

Assign different colours to your tasks and categorise them by energy levels. Which tasks are high, medium and low energy? This way you can reprioritise and get the low-energy tasks out of the way.

Imagine what you’d like to be doing

Close your eyes and picture a version of yourself in a parallel universe that’s incredibly productive. What are they doing? What activities would they do in a day and how would they go about it? How does it make you feel imagining this parallel version of you going about your day? 

Jot down those actions and try to integrate some of them into your current reality. It’s a creative way to envision a more productive you.


Micro-tasking is when you break down challenging tasks into tiny, manageable parts. Celebrate a bit for completing these micro-tasks and before you know it, the bigger/overall task will be accomplished.

This can be done with pretty much any task.

  1. ​​Identify the smallest units of work within a task. For writing a report, you can approach it in two ways. First, you can break it into sections, then into subsections, and finally into individual points. On the other hand, instead of thinking about writing a whole report, you can start with a single paragraph or even a sentence and really get into the groove of how you want things to sound and flow.
  2. Visualise progress: Create a checklist for these micro-tasks. As you complete each one, you’ll visually see progress and hit many milestones, thus keeping you motivated.
  3. Tackle one micro-task at a time–and don’t switch until it’s done. By focusing on small, manageable steps, you make progress without feeling overwhelmed.

Your life is a musical

Yes, you are the main character. This is your excuse to throw on your favourite music, preferably something upbeat, and turn your work session into a (non-disruptive if you’re in public) musical scene.

Move, do a little dance, lipsync and just enjoy the rhythm while you work. It might sound quirky, but it can lift your mood and make tasks more enjoyable. You’ll notice as the curtains come down, that you’re already done with your tasks and feeling very good about yourself.

Debate your task

Have you ever thought about debating your task? No, not arguing about whether or not to do the task but actually anthropomorphising your task (turning it into a person) and debating it. Give it a shot!

Imagine your tasks as if they were people with distinct personalities. For example, a challenging report might be a stern, logical academic. Engage in a mental dialogue, negotiating and interacting with these “characters” to make the tasks more engaging. 

Play with time

Challenge yourself by setting time constraints for tasks. If you estimate a task will take an hour, give yourself only 30 minutes to complete it. This adds an element of urgency and ‘gamifies’ the process. It can be surprising how much focus and efficiency can result from the pressure of a tight deadline.

Here’s how you can turn an annoying task into a fun game by playing with time. Set a timer for 5 minutes. During this time, fully engage with the task at hand. Knowing it’s a short time commitment can make the task feel less daunting—even if you know you won’t be able to finish it.

Tell yourself you can stop after the 5 minutes is up if needed. But what’s more likely is that it’ll kick your brain into gear and you’ll find the task becoming less of a burden as you continue. 

Object association

Choose a random object around you, and associate it with your current task or project. For example, if you see a plant, think about how your project can grow and flourish. It’s a creative way to bring fresh perspectives.

Take this example: Your end-of-the-year fashion project is a wilting plant in a pot. 

You have one goal: give it what it needs to rejuvenate it. Here’s an example of how you can approach it.

  1. Assessment: Examine your fashion project as if it were a wilting plant. What are the visible signs of distress or stagnation? Is it lacking vibrancy, creativity, or progress? Identify specific areas that need attention.
  2. Start at the foundation: Consider the roots of the wilting plant as the foundational aspects of your project. Are your research, design fundamentals, or project concepts strong and well-established? If not, dedicating time to strengthen these foundational elements is a priority.
  3. Nourishment: In this case, creativity would be the nourishment. Just as a wilting plant needs water and nourishment, your project might need an infusion of creativity and fresh ideas. Seek inspiration from various sources, explore new trends, and immerse yourself in fashion elements or places that spark your imagination.
  4. Pruning: This step is basically all about refinement. Pruning involves removing unnecessary or dead parts of a plant to promote growth. Similarly, evaluate your project for elements that aren’t contributing positively. Consider refining your ideas, eliminating clutter, and focusing on the essential aspects to enhance the overall aesthetic.
  5. Sunlight: You need your project to see the light of day—just like that dying plant. Your project might benefit from a fresh set of eyes. Consider showcasing your work to your family and friends for feedback.
  6. Repotting: Repotting a plant allows it to grow in a larger, more suitable environment. Similarly, consider restructuring your project. It could be stagnating because the current ‘format’ it’s in isn’t conducive. You’ll need something more suitable. Explore different formats, mediums, or approaches to your research and writing.

It’s Backwards Day!

Ever thought about flipping your daily routine? Well, you’re lucky it’s Backwards Day. You can eat your dessert before your dinner and submit the report before you’ve finished it—right, that one might be a little too far out (and certainly not what we meant).

If you have routine activities in your day, get flexible with it. Flip things with your evening activities in the morning and vice versa. It disrupts the usual flow, making the day feel different and potentially breaking the cycle of unproductivity.

“I’m still feeling unproductive”

Feeling unproductive is pretty common, so don’t worry—it happens to the best of us. If you’ve tried the traditional methods and the unconventional ones and nothing is working, it might just be that you need to take a break and simply do nothing at all.

According to Forbes, doing nothing can make you more productive. We live in a world where our brains are constantly overstimulated. From endless scrolling through unattainable levels of “being present”, thanks to social media and a dozen different apps and platforms to keep us connected. You’re always “on” and what you need to do is to “turn off”. 

Empty spaces, empty screens, empty rooms—whatever it is, give yourself some blank space to just do nothing, view nothing, listen to nothing. Be in the moment and you’ll find your energy levels replenishing.

Of course, there may be several other factors at play.

Sometimes, pushing too hard without breaks can wear you down, making everything seem more challenging than it is. Additionally, a lack of clarity can make everything feel overwhelming. 

A thing we should absolutely consider is your work environment. External distractions can be sneaky productivity killers. A noisy space or constant interruptions can throw you off your game. Maybe take a look around and see if there’s something in your environment affecting your focus.

If you’re overloaded with tasks, you may not get much done at all. Having too much on your plate can be counterproductive because it makes a mountain out of a molehill—even the little tasks start looking stressful. 

In this situation, it might be worthwhile to prioritise and, if possible, delegate some tasks. Remember, it’s okay to say no if you’re already stretched thin. Stress, anxiety, or other mental health aspects can also seriously impact your ability to concentrate. If you’re consistently struggling, it could be worth reaching out to a professional for some guidance.

Routine fatigue is a real thing, too. Doing the same thing every day can get monotonous. Maybe try introducing some variety into your schedule or experimenting with different approaches to see if that helps.

And there’s always good ol’ perfectionism—sound familiar? Striving for perfection can be paralysing. Remember, not every task needs to be flawless. Sometimes, getting it done is more important than getting it perfect.

Last but not least, let’s not forget motivation. Sometimes, we lose motivation when we can’t see the immediate rewards of our efforts. Reflecting on the significance of your work and connecting it to your broader goals might inject some fresh motivation.

You might just be burnt out

Being unproductive and experiencing burnout are related but different. Being unproductive is focused more on a lack of efficiency or output, while burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, often caused by prolonged stress or overwork. 

Burnout goes beyond feeling unproductive; it can make you feel mentally and physically drained and can lead to a lack of productivity. It’s a far more serious and long-term condition.

People experience these feelings differently because everyone has unique circumstances, pressures, and coping mechanisms. Factors like workload, personal life, and individual resilience contribute to how someone feels about their productivity. Some may feel unproductive due to a lack of motivation, while others might be overwhelmed by excessive demands, leading to burnout.

Understanding the difference between feeling unproductive and burnout is essential because the strategies to address each can vary. Feeling unproductive might benefit from short-term fixes like breaking tasks into smaller steps, while burnout may require more significant changes, like reassessing work-life balance and even seeking medical support.

It’s crucial to pay attention to your feelings, identify the root causes, and take steps to address them in a way that suits your unique situation. (You can check out our helpful guide with a template for recovering from burnout for more information.)

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Kahless is a writer with a special interest in sociology. He spends much of his free time travelling, reading, writing, and stopping his cats from ripping apart everything he owns. It’s advised to bring along a strong cup of coffee (3 espresso shots minimum) when approaching him.

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