Lately I’ve been overwhelmed with life in general.
Sometimes I wake up in the morning and my head is just swimming with things I need to do, stuff that has to be taken care of, and ways I need to start taking control. All that ruckus can be too much to process sometimes, and as a result my day can turn out to be unproductive, mostly because I don’t know where to start.
Maybe you’re like me, and day after day your to-do list keeps growing but you feel like a stick in the mud because you’re too overwhelmed to start.
I decided to help us get un-stuck, by creating this list of eleven ways to beat the brain overload and find motivation in the unlikeliest of places.
1. seek out a piece of good news
I’m guilty of checking my phone first thing in the morning, and since I’m subscribed to a lot of news publications (I’m into politics), overnight I’ll get several notifications about what’s going on in the political world. I didn’t realize it before, but checking my phone first thing in the morning often means waking up to bad news, which only puts me in a crappy mood (at best) and is definitely not a good way to ramp up for a busy day.
I’ve found that if I seek out a piece of good news, or read one positive affirmation, it tends to do wonders for my attitude, putting me in a happier mood- one where I feel like I can do anything. Instead of reading Trump’s daily dose of BS, I’ve instead subscribed to an email list from tut.com that’s called “letters from the universe” and I receive from them a daily reminder of my power and the magic of life. If that doesn’t do the trick, I try to look places I know I’ll find good news. Some ideas: OptimistWorld, Good News Network, Gimundo, or OdeWire. (note: this does not mean that I don’t pay attention at all to the negative current events happening in the world, it just means that I don’t start my day with negative stories anymore)
2. go for a walk
Sometimes the best thing to do for yourself to get your mindset in the right place is to go for a walk. Maybe you need to clear your head. Maybe you need some space. Maybe you need a break, or some fresh air. Maybe you need to wake up a bit. Maybe you need to get your blood circulating. All of these things can result from stepping outside for a quick walk.
In the mornings when I’m feeling sluggish I’ll take the dog out (if you don’t have a dog, take the trash out or shovel your porch) and usually the cool air or occasional slice of winter sunshine helps me feel fresh at the start of the day.
3. make the bed
There is some research out there that suggests that making the bed in the morning can lead to higher productivity. According to an article by Elite, which sites sources from Psychology Today, a survey by Hunch.com, and Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, people who make their bed in the morning are happier and more productive, and doing such a trivial task prepares one to do things they don’t want to do: if you don’t want to make your bed, by doing so, you are mentally preparing yourself and getting in the habit of doing tasks you may not want to do but have to do.
This could really help when looking for someplace to start on a long list of things you probably would prefer not to do. Sometimes we don’t start our to do list because every task on it feels to large. By picking a task that requires little effort like making the bed, we can start small and gain some momentum, which can be useful in propelling us toward other (larger) unappealing tasks.
4. tidy up
I once (twice actually) read a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. In it, she talks about a method she uses at night where she takes five minutes to tidy up before bed. I’ve found this to be extremely beneficial if I do it first thing in the morning. Anything that’s been left out, or can be quickly put away, I spend five minutes doing so. (I usually pick up Kinsley’s toys, hang up my jacket in the coat closet downstairs, and fix the throw pillows on the couch.)
The idea is to take care of little things that might distract you from productivity, and (if you’re like me) by tidying up your work/living space you may feel more at ease, and able to focus on the tasks at hand because the dishwasher isn’t begging to be loaded and you won’t keep staring at your cluttered coffee table.
5. make a list
This one never fails for me, as long as I follow this rule: brain dump onto paper, use that to make a list, and commit to a specific number of tasks- not the whole list. If I wake up and my head is full of stuff I should probably do, it doesn’t help me to continue on with that beehive swarming all day long. Instead, I like to brain dump onto paper and then make one or more lists.
Depending on how productive I’m feeling, I’ll make a list based on my highest priorities, or tasks I can knock out quickly. If I’m feeling super ambitious, I’ll take care of the worst to-do’s first, and if I’m having a slow start, I’ll start with small tasks and build momentum to try and accomplish bigger things later in the day after I’m ‘warmed up’ so-to-speak. The most important thing is that you acknowledge a goal, and that goal doesn’t have to be completing everything on the list- that way you don’t accidentally bite off more than you can chew, and quit before you start.
6. take a shower/get ready
If you’re not a mom, this one might sound dumb. However, if you are a mom, (especially a stay at home mom) you understand that sometimes taking a shower/putting on actual clothes (not just sweats and a tshirt) isn’t always your first priority and might not happen unless you have to leave the house (even then, still isn’t always a priority). Making time for a 10 minute shower and actually putting pants on can sometimes help you feel more prepared to take on a busy day; this is also true for a busy day off- it might be counter intuitive to stay in your PJ’s all day when you’ve got errands to run.
If you’re anything like me, hanging out in leggings and a sweater all day can make you feel like a bum, where all you want to do, or feel like you can do, is sit on the couch (and cuddle with the baby)- not super productive. If I take a shower and actually get dressed, I usually feel better and get a boost of confidence, which is like a secret weapon when it comes to finding motivation to get shit done.
7. listen to music
A lot of people say that listening to music helps them get a boost of motivation when they’re running low. I find this to be true most of the time. My personal faves are Taylor Swift (Red), Shawn Mendes (Illuminate), Charlie Puth (9 Track Mind), Maroon 5 (Hands All Over), Jack Johnson (In Between Dreams) and John Mayer (Battle Studies).
8. work out
Still too stressed to tackle your to-do list? Go to the gym. Fun fact: Exercise reduces stress because it creates a production boost of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters in your brain that act as natural anti-depressants.
A more obvious reason to work out is that exercise can make you more alert and provide energy. When you exercise, you are increasing blood flow to the brain, which can help sharpen your awareness and increase your energy to make you more awake and prepared to tackle your next big project. If you don’t have time for a full workout, try some stretches, they’ll achieve the same results.
9. take some time for yourself
I know a few successful women who light an intention candle every morning and start their day by spending a chunk of uninterrupted time just on reflection/meditation/centering themselves before starting their most important tasks.
If spending a half hour alone in the dark at 5:30am doesn’t sound like it would help you, try reading something interesting to get those neurons firing, or find some scripture or a daily affirmation to get your gears turning. You could also try writing a few things you’re grateful for, start a 5 minute journal, look up your horoscope, or watch an inspiring ted talk or educational video. For some people this is too much stimulation too early in the morning, in which case, these would be good ways to take a break or regroup when you’ve been going for a long time and need to find some extra motivation to keep going.
10. have a cup
or three of coffee
A typical 8oz cup of coffee has about 95mg of caffeine in it. Quick science lesson for you- basically, caffeine increases the release of catecholamines (like adrenaline) through the sympathetic nervous system, which can make your heart beat faster, send more blood to your muscles and tell your liver to release sugar into the bloodstream thus providing you with energy!
FYI: according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, it takes about 30 to 60 minutes for caffeine to reach its peak level in the blood (one study found increased alertness can begin in as few as 10 minutes). So, if you need a boost of energy and motivation, down a cup of coffee and in 10 minutes you’ll be ready to go (or if coffee isn’t your thing, try black tea, which has the highest caffeine content).
11. make and eat breakfast
So, maybe caffeine isn’t your thing. That’s okay, because breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and if you choose not to skip it, you can probably get as much or more energy than you would from those cups of coffee. Here’s why: when you wake up, the blood sugar your body needs to make your muscles and brain work their best is usually low, and eating breakfast helps replenish it.
Plus, remember when we talked about trivial tasks like making your bed? Well making yourself breakfast can be considered one of those, and now that you’ve read some good news, taken the trash out, made your bed, tidied up, written a list, showered and dressed, listened to some music while you stretched out, took a few minutes to yourself with a cup of coffee AND handled breakfast, you’ve got some momentum going and might be ready to tackle that list.