04 Nov How to be More Productive + Get Stuff Done when Depressed
*disclaimer: this post may contain affiliate links and mental health triggers… and it will definitely contain curse words, hard truths, hope, inspiration, and love
Oye. So, I’m not gonna lie to you… this one is a doozy. Buckle up! How to be more productive and get stuff done when you’re depressed AF is basically like asking how to change a tire without a car jack. Can you do it? Sure. Are the odds stacked against you? Pretty much.
When we are super depressed, we are not equipped to do seemingly normal things. Like household chores, exercise, work, shower, etc. And like don’t get me wrong, I know EVERYONE struggles with being productive at one time or another but it’s a whole different beast when you are depressed or really struggling with your mental health.
Depression naturally diminishes our interest in life, it makes us lethargic, it impacts our appetite, and so much more. And so like… when we have no interest in anything, when we are so lethargic that it feels like life is moving so slow that it’s going backwards, and we either haven’t eaten in days or have eaten our feelings so much so, that we feel physically on top of mentally sick, it makes it kinda hard to be productive. Ya know?
If you’ve read this, you know I’ve spent pretty much my entire adult life in a state of major clinical depression. I have very few memories from before I was 24 (and those few a just glimpes and are not complete), but I think it’s safe to assume things weren’t always rainbows and sunshine before then, so I was probs pretty depressed as a kid too. This is basically my disclaimer that I am NOT the poster child for productivity, but I can maybe be the poster child for maintaining a semblance of it and actually getting some shit done while being super super depressed.
I haven’t spoken to my mom for 12 years and my dad for 7, so in the words of the great Taylor Swift, “You’re on your own, kid.. You always have been”.
I had NO CHOICE but to learn how to balance my depression with some form of productivity because I needed to provide means for food and shelter. I did not have the luxury of letting my life go to complete shit, which is a common side effect when you don’t maintain certain levels of productivity throughout your depression.
And don’t get me wrong. I’m not always good at this. My life sometimes goes to shit. Not complete shit as I’ve always been able to pick up the pieces, but like, nothing you’d wanna write home about (if you had a home to write to). I’ve ended up in involuntary mental facilities, I’ve had to take leave of absences from work, and I’ve even had to quit jobs out of respect for knowing I could not perform to the standard that was expected of me. And then scramble to figure out how I’d pay my rent or feed myself.
So like, I’m not here to spew false hope at you or pretend I’m gonna be the end all be all to pulling your shit together, being productive, and getting shit done. I’m no expert and there will NEVER be a concrete solution for learning how to be more productive when you’re depressed. All you can do is try, learn, and try again. Which is what I’ve done, and which is what I am going to share with you.
How to Be More Productive + Get Shit Done
Below are my go-to’s for maintaining productivity while in the thick of depression. The thing about depression though, is that we all struggle and feel things differently. And there are different severities of depression. So some of the things below might be like ‘no duuuhhhh’ to you… or some of the things might be like ‘ummm what the fuck, you really think I can do that while I’m in this state of depression?’.
So keep in mind, you might have to get weird and build on or take away from some of my tips below. But these are things that have basically helped me stay alive over the years, just remember you may need more or less – so you do you! Mmmkay, here we go.
Use a visual calendar for ALL. THE. THINGS.
I’m a VERY visual person so a visual calendar is a BIG game changer for me. I also have Goldfish Brain from my PTSD so if things aren’t in front of me, they basically don’t exist. Saylahvee.
I’m also someone who likes to actually write things to help them soak in my brain so I am a BIG fan of a dry erase wall calendar or a desk calendar… However, our tiny shoebox apartment does not allow space for either of those, so I currently live my life by Asana. Though I do prefer a calendar I can actually write on and keep focal in my home, Asana definitely does get the job done. At the end of the day, I think it’s all about having something to visually and easily reference.
Most people are more likely to complete a task when they see it right in front of them which is why having a calendar is at the top of my list. I do just want to call out that this can be a double edge sword if you over commit (which I’ll talk about in the next section). But for the most part, being able to see upcoming tasks organically without having to pull out your planner or your phone is super helpful when it comes to being productive. Having the calendar easily accessible and in plain sight is also helpful to remind you to add to it when more things come up that you will need to accomplish.
Grab the goods:
Set Manageable Goals + Don’t Overcommit
When we are in the thick of depression, it can be REALLY hard to see any kind of light. Being depressed is pretty much just a non-stop doom and gloom fest hosted by Negative Nancy, Mean Mary, Lying Lisa, and Debbie the Downer. PSA: They do not throw good parties.
Being depressed makes it SO easy to be discouraged and turned off by anything, which can make it really hard to get shit done. Which is why you CANNOT set yourself up for failure. Those gals I mentioned in the paragraph above are just waiting for their opportunity to drag you down… and setting unrealistic goals or over committing is bound to get you a VIP ticket to the doom and gloom fest.
Set Manageable Goals
When trying to figure out how to be more productive when you’re depressed, it’s super important to look at the way you are setting goals. And let me clarify, when I say goals when talking about depression, I’m talking about getting life shit done. Like bare minimum life shit.
I’m not talking about setting goals for productivity so you can start a side hustle and then take over the world – which yes, is goals for sure… but not the goals we are talking about in this post.. I’m talking about like.. depressed people goals; doing dishes and buying groceries and getting exercise and maybe reading your mail and like, idk… the kind of things that keep you alive and a somewhat functioning member of society, but are nearly impossible to do when you’re depressed AF.
When you are setting your goals to increase your productivity while depressed, be honest with yourself. Is this pushing you the right amount to challenge you as well as accomplish things, or is it pushing you so much that you are going to throw your calendar out the window and say ‘fuck it’?
Now that you know the kinds of goals that are manageable for you while learning how to be more productive when struggling with depression, you need to assess how much you can actually handle at a time.
If you are struggling to find the motivation to do dishes, what do you think will happen if you see 7 more tasks lined up after the dishes? Welp, if it were me, I’d say ‘NOT TODAY DISHES!’ and go back to bed. Be intentional about what you are trying to achieve with your productivity and how much is too much to the point where it will have a negative impact.
Don’t sweat the small stuff! Personally, perfectionism hits me hard two-fold and I needed to understand where it was holding me up to figure out how to not let perfectionism impact me. Do a little digging to see if and why perfectionism is holding back your productivity.
For me… sometimes I won’t actually start things because I get so hung up on a perfect execution (aka fear of failure), not having the perfect tools/supplies, not being at the perfect time, etc. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. Just get the ball rolling or you’ll never get shit done.
Second, I sometimes won’t complete a task or goals because it’s not perfect. I’ll just leave it hanging out all willy-nilly in LaLaLand and then I’m just stuck in some weird limbo and unable to move forward.
Related: Feeling Stuck? Try These 6 Tips
Perfectionism can be an excuse to some, just as much as a means of motivation to others. Don’t get them confused and don’t let perfectionism hold you back from learning how to be more productive.
Create Good Habits + Routines
Don’t overthink this one. You don’t need to have some over the top morning ritual where you have a tea ceremony followed by a yoga flow and meditation and a gourmet smoothie all before 6am to increase your productivity. We’re depressed AF. Fuck that shit. Don’t get me wrong, if you have it in you to do all of that, by all means go for it. But that’s really not what I mean when I say ‘habits and routines’.
Having something that you commit to daily or do repetitively trains your brain to know that it’s capable of accomplishing things which can subconsciously give you the motivation you need to be more productive throughout the day. And yes, the morning routine example I gave above does help train your brain for productivity as well as provides you with great benefits in general, but those things are SO unattainable to commit to for someone who is severely depressed. Which is why I said not to overthink this one.
I really just wanted to call out the routine thing because there seems to be some big trend around routines and rituals and I don’t want that to hold you back. My habits and routines are nothing groundbreaking but they are structured to help me achieve productivity that I would not achieve without them. It’s what works for my depression and mental health.
- I have the same wind down routine and get in bed at the same time each night. Whether or not I am tired.
- I simultaneously clean my bathroom, fold my clothes from the day before, and get ready at the same time each morning.
- I break doing/folding my laundry into 3 different chunks to make it more manageable and ensure they actually make it to my drawers and not the floor.
- I traded my Keurig for a regular coffee pot and I do the dishes while I wait for my coffee to brew in the morning because I am usually too mentally depleted by the time dinner rolls around to do them after we eat.
Batch Tasks + Make a Cleaning Schedule
When you are trying to figure out how to be more productive when you’re depressed, batching tasks and having a cleaning schedule are both great places to start.
Errands are the most common thing I batch and it’s a HUGE game changer for me. On Sunday’s I look at all of my plans and errands for the week and then I group everything together accordingly. Not only does this cut down unproductive time from driving all over the place, but it also cuts down the amount of times I need to motivate myself to do something that’s productive, important, and much needed, but I don’t actually want to do it.
In addition to batching tasks, I live by a cleaning schedule to hold me accountable on that front which ensures I don’t live in a complete shitshow all the time. In the post, I break down my top tips for setting a cleaning schedule that works for your own life and schedule, as well as provide you with your own cleaning schedule template to get the ball rolling.
Be Honest with Yourself + Don’t Feed Into Your Depression
It is VERY easy to become a victim of our own depression if we don’t keep ourselves in check. Which I know is the last thing we wanna do when we’re fighting to stay alive, but we need to look at ourselves really hard and be really honest with ourselves.
If you are trying to figure out how to be more productive while working through depression, you might need to ask yourself if you are getting in your own way? Do you keep telling yourself you CAN’T do the task? Or you’re not WORTHY? Or what’s the POINT? Things like that let you feed into your depression. Things like that will hinder your productivity. Take a peek at how you are talking to yourself and if there is room for healthy adjustment.
A few questions you can ask yourself:
- Why don’t you want to do X?
- What happens if you don’t do X? (and like, I know when you are super depressed you don’t give a shit what actually happens, but humor me here… What’s the consequence? Would you want not-depressed-you to live with those consequences?)
- What’s the worst that happens if you do X?
- How will you feel about yourself if you don’t do X?
Increase Your Energy Levels
As I said in the beginning of this post, depression results in lethargy and fatigue so it’s hard to find motivation for productivity when you’re in the thick of the ick. Trying to find ways to increase your energy can be the umph you need to start making moves towards getting things done. Something I talked about in this post is that it can be hard to move your body when you’re depressed AF. Even something as seemingly simple as going for a walk was sometimes too much for me when I was in deep depression so I want to give a couple not-the-norm alternatives for quick and mindless ways to get an energy boost.
- Take your pup to the dog park or borrow a friend’s dog if you don’t have one. Lap the dog park while you watch the pups play.
- Buy a hula-hoop or a mini trampoline. Hula hoop or jump for the entirety of your favorite song (too depressed to have a favorite song? Try one of my favorite go to energy boosting/happy vibes songs!)
Anti-Hero by Taylor Swift
Walking on Sunshine by Katrina & The Waves
Aftergold by Big Wild, Tove Styke
Have a Reward System
When all else fails, we resort to bribes. Sometimes, ya just need a little somethin’, somethin’ to convince you to clean out your junk drawer. Or wash your clothes. Or pay your bills. Or take out the trash, Find some ways to reward yourself when you are learning how to be more productive.
I know rewards can be tough when you are super super depressed, because you can get to a point where nothing matters and rewards don’t mean shit. If you are here, reach out to loved ones who know you well enough to help you curate some kind of reward system.
- Put $$ in a jar to work towards something bigger. Personally, when I was deep in clinical depression, I found comfort on the Beauty + Wellness and Gift pages over at the Free People website. Their products have just the right amount of woo-woo and magic vibes to hold a bit of my interest when I was interested in pretty much nothing.
- Have a favorite snack? Save it for rewards
And that’ll do it! Those are my best tips on how to be more productive and actually get things done when depressed AF.
Have any tips for me? Pop in the comments and LMK what works for you!
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HannahPosted at 13:33h, 06 November
Wow! These are great tips and thank you for being so vulnerable in sharing your journey. I love your blog!
DebbiePosted at 07:33h, 07 November
Great ideas and tips! I always enjoy your suggestions and learn something new. Also – I love “Walking on Sunshine,” too!
Michelle LatinovichPosted at 08:48h, 07 November
Thanks for the great tips on being productive. I actually think these are good when depressed or not! With that being said, I so appreciate you being so open and honest about depression and ways to combat it! Your idea of having a reward system is such a good tip…one I plan to incorporate! Thanks again!
Kara BrittonPosted at 10:09h, 29 November
These are great tips!! I have had anxiety ever since I can remember and dealing with that is so discouraging sometimes. I recently started showing signs of depression. I definitely will keep these tips in mind. They are great to utilize in managing my anxiety & depression. Thank you for sharing!
TiannaPosted at 14:10h, 06 December
These are great tips and thank you for this post.