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Espoir Murhabazi
Espoir Murhabazi

Posted on

How do you handle unproductive days at work?


It's Monday, you feel unmotivated to write any single line of code, it's hard to give a good review to your teammate.

How do you handle those days when you feel like your productivity and motivation are very low?

How you boost motivation and productivity at work?

Discussion (91)

darryldexter profile image
Darryl D.

I deal with this more than often, especially while freelancing. The first obvious choice is to be proactive (ex: sleep, eat right, etc...)

But to actually deal with it WHILE you're in the middle of feeling that way (as in you feel this way at this very second while reading this) is different.

I have 2 tips to deal with this:

First is start with an insanly small task. Fix a typo. Make a single test case. Make an issue for a bug. Something small to get a small win. Then repeat again. And again... Before you know it, you're moving along and working. Those little wins trigger dopemine and doing it repeatedly gives you more enough to crave it, thus working more.

Second tip is just don't work. Seriously. Do more exploring around in the space. Look at some random repos. Browse this site, reddit or Twitter. Just get yourself doing something. Usually what happens to me, I end up relating things back to work and end up working.

Bonus tip: chill. Seriously... Mental health is real, if your mental is too fatigued to work, then just sit on the bench. No use in straining yourself. You brain is a muscle like everything else.

Hope the methods to my madness helps!

shipman profile image

The mental health tip is good to. Having a good therapist/psych is a good solution if you CAN'T do the above. It's possible that there's something splash'n in the ole' noggin that either needs medication or CBT.

espoir profile image
Espoir Murhabazi Author

Yes, I will try to use them...

I like the second tip, stop working and read random stuff at for example.

Back in time, I was doing the first tip by answering a random question on StackOverflow and helped me a lot.

Will try it soon.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I love all this advice. Great stuff!

rachelsoderberg profile image
Rachel Soderberg • Edited on

As someone who has far better energy levels when not addicted to caffeine, I have to caution against the abuse of what is our most commonly used stimulant drug.
Too much caffeine consumption (and then not maintaining or upping your levels) can also cause feelings of fatigue and burnout.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Yeah, coffee’s okay for me but it’s a seriously addictive drug and its benefits wear off over time.

Coffee cleanse can go a long way.

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markwaterous profile image

I quit smoking a few years ago. That was difficult, but definitely not impossible as I had lots of practice having quit multiple times over the years.

Waking up and not putting on the kettle and loading up the press.... is... what kind of morning is that? What is the point? YOU'LL NEVER TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME BEN*.

*Apologies for using your first name like we know each other, but I think it was necessary to drive the point home.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

We have a policy that if you’re not feeling productive and it’s looking pretty hopeless that you’ll be productive in your last few hours of work, you should just say you’re not feeling productive and call it a day. No shame.

If you can bring up the idea to your team, I bet management could be okay with it if you present it the right way: An environment where it’s okay to not try and grind through the day, and instead save up energy for tomorrow.

Before I get to the point of calling it a day, I find switching up my music routine to be a good way to switch gears and become productive. 🙂

6temes profile image

Flex time is the answer.

You feel tired or not productive, go home after lunch.

You feel that you are "in the zone" and you don't want to leave? Continue working until late, and those extra hours will allow you to take afternoons off.

espoir profile image
Espoir Murhabazi Author

Thanks, @ben !

It's actually something all teams should consider.

it helps to work smarter and harder.

it reminds me of the 80-20% rule.

But how to present it in the right way to the management team?

stilldreaming1 profile image
still-dreaming-1 • Edited on

They may be more comfortable with this kind of thing if they start allowing trusted employees to do some of their work remotely. The reason is that, rather than take that time off completely, you can just make up the hours at a time when you are feeling better at home. You could even offer to track your time in a way they can see it. That could also help if the reason you are burning out is because you already put in extra hours somewhere, then you should be able to take off early at some point without having to make it up.

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espoir profile image
Espoir Murhabazi Author

Thanks, @stilldreaming1 ,

The remote option is a fine especially when you have already built trust with your team and the management.

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stilldreaming1 profile image

Trust leads to freedom, freedom leads to flaw exposure, flaw exposure leads to improvement or degression, improvement leads to trust, trust leads to freedom..

twigman08 profile image
Chad Smith

I love that idea but sadly more management groups than you think won't buy it. Would love ideas to present this to management.

I sadly work where they would say back "this is work, sometimes you have to do things you don't like." They will even say during crunch times if we step away from our computer: "back at it Can't be productive not on your computer"

lakendary profile image
Jade Rickerts

I wish I could just tell management that I'm not feeling productive and call it a day. Here it's hard to get away from work without having a valid excuse like you're sick or you have an emergency at home.

One day I'll either work for a company like yours or be the boss of a company like yours. Hopefully the latter.

foresthoffman profile image
Forest Hoffman

That sounds like a healthy and realistic policy. 👏

clsource profile image

If this is hapenning more often that you can count. You need some rest. Take one or two weeks off (or more if you can).

Some day to day tips.

1 - Try to use productive procastination (work on things not related to your current task).

2 - Take a walk.

3 - Take a small nap.

4 - Talk to someone.

5 - Eat fruits and drink water.

austinstanding profile image
Austin Standing

+1 to everything that's been said about getting enough sleep. I'm also not a coffee guy, I get into work early and the first thing I drink is cold water. I intentionally keep a small mug at my desk, so whenever I feel the need I drain my mug and walk to the water cooler on the other side of the office. I also run the stairs to the bathrooms on the top floor, two at a time. Besides having a standing desk this is the most activity I get during the day. When I get back I refocus by alternating through different music genres/playlists.

espoir profile image
Espoir Murhabazi Author • Edited on

Thanks, @austinstanding for the cold water tips, I was doing back during my productive days.
Especially the idea of sitting far from the water cooler.
I should try the stair thing because I working on the 5th floor of a building without an elevator.

dularish profile image

This is something that keeps me productive too, but never clearly noticed if it turns on my productivity when I'm not in my productive mode.

I would leave desk, to drink water, run to the bathrooms, far from my seat, and I would feel most productive in the time when I had just returned to my seat. So, I try to sort of maximize/optimize the benefit by doing every hour.

espoir profile image
Espoir Murhabazi Author

Those are nice advice, but what can someone use if he is not a coffee fan?

qm3ster profile image
Mihail Malo

It's sugar free.

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adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett

I'm a fan!

clsource profile image

You could also drink Yerba Mate. :)

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nicoan profile image
Nicolas Antinori

Mate ftw! :D

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heshamaboelmagd profile image
Hesham Abo El-Magd

Yerba Mate is very high in caffeine. Very good alternative to coffee

david_j_eddy profile image
David J Eddy

I find Spiced Chi to be absolutely amazing.

stilldreaming1 profile image
still-dreaming-1 • Edited on

Some people like neutropics. I have not tried them yet, and I used to feel like this was just a way of self medicating, and not in a good way, but I recently heard a podcast that changed my mind about it, and I followed that up with research that even more convinced me it can be good. One good one is Aplpha Brain. They have a free trial. The podcast said it is either a hit or miss and this is why it only has about a 3 star rating, it either does wonders for you or basically does nothing. So you have to try it to find out since everyone's body is different. There are others you can try if that one doesn't work for you. The research I did suggested they are more natural and good for you and less of an experimental drug then drinking coffee. Although you should always be careful who you buy stuff like this from and I can't guarantee it is not somehow bad for you personally. Both of the people on this podcast now drink/need a lot less coffee now that they take these regularly.

rdazvd profile image
Rafael de Azevedo

I go with green tea. Very lightly flavored and easily available (not to mention affordable) in most parts of the world AFAIK. The caffeine on green tea is also easier on your body ─ unlike coffee, it takes a while to kick in.

dantehemerson profile image
Dante Calderón

I only drink water, almost all day.

intercoder profile image

Unproductive days come and go, if your rate of productive days is > day productive days, better to sit down and really check why and how that is.

With that said, everyone defines "productivity" slightly different. Sometimes "being productive" doesn't necessarily mean doing tons of things and finishing everything in one go, but rather doing one thing and see in it through the end.

*Scenario: * "I will implement this feature today..."

*Reality: * your 1st implementation failed, your 2nd one did too and your 3rd is not looking any better. Now it's the end of the day, and the time to go home. 😢 😔

Where you "unproductive" that day? 🤔

Personally, I would say if you managed to learn something by the end of the day and try different ideas, then no. But always take an honest look at the end of the day to see what work, what didn't, and what you learnt, both in work as in life.

If in a company and you find yourself not being productive:

  1. Take a break, go for a walk or just help someone else.
  2. Try to do the bare minimum for that day cause your team also counts on you. This bare minimum could be to try an idea of what you are trying to do or explain it to someone else.
  3. Stop working as soon as you can and let your brain breath by doing something else
  4. When at home do a postmortem, where you unproductive because of tiredness, lack of motivation, difficulty of what yo are trying to do, hunger, etc.
david_j_eddy profile image
David J Eddy

Change of mood. I have found my motivation, willingness, and ability to problem solve are all directly related to my mood.

Take a nap, walk around outside, have some food. Watch a funny / uplifting show.

For me; music always puts me in a better mood.

espoir profile image
Espoir Murhabazi Author • Edited on

Plus one for the nap idea.
It's something I should try out.

kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman

I've had some success in talking myself into writing just a few lines of code, something simple. It usually happens that I think of something I missed in those few lines and I write a few more lines. Then the cycle keeps repeating until the code has grown into a full implementation.

mdhesari profile image
Mohammad Fazel

That's so trueeeeee

nickhristov profile image
Nick Hristov

Why are you unmotivated at work? Are you in the middle of taking one for the team, i.e. doing programming chores? Do you need to do mindless side processes to support the release of your code? Are you writing tests, documentation?

Some side work is always not pleasant. However, if you have a constant work set which is boring and uninspiring then a change needs to be made.

Either way, you need to discuss things with your manager as this is a problem. If your manager is any good, they will listen and try to identify the RC of your boredom and appropriate steps will be taken.

espoir profile image
Espoir Murhabazi Author • Edited on

@nickhristov , I end up finding that those feeling always happens on Monday when you didn't rest enough over the weekend.

Sometimes it also happens when I'm doing some boring work or unpleasant stuff.

Any tips on how to discuss it with the manager if it happens again?

jasonstanley profile image
Jason Stanley

What do you do at the weekend? I know a bunch of people who program as a hobby and burn themselves out. If this sounds like you the I would suggest finding some other interests, preferably something outside. It will help reset yourself at the weekend and come back to work motivated.

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espoir profile image
Espoir Murhabazi Author

I will go for a weekend without an electronic device and try to evaluate the results on next Monday.

sirjessthebrave profile image
Jessica Bell

Every once and a while: do simple small tasks, take a bunch of breaks, focus on chatting with co workers/team bonding type stuff and don't stress - sometimes it's OK to have an off day

Happening multiple times a week: Evaluate my daily routine and state of mental health. Cut out daily routine stuff that is not healthy, prioritize sleep, food that makes my body feel good, exercise that doesn't stress me out (walking, yoga, swimming, biking). Checking in on my mental health can be asking myself what items I may be dealing with in and out of work and making a real place to deal with those (for example doing life chores I have been putting off, having that awkward convo you have been avoiding, finding a counselor/therapist, reducing time spent on anything that drains vs. fills you up). Say no, and REST.

gene profile image

As someone who always experience this way too much before (seldom now).... here's my advice:

  1. Don't sleep too much. Just sleep enough.

  2. Exercise/warm up every morning. In order for us to function well, our brain needs our body to be in good condition.

  3. Don't take too much sweets! It boosts you yeah. But it drains you a lot when it wears off.

  4. Eat enough and healthy - if you eat a lot. Most of your energy are focused in digesting that food. Making you feel tired/restless. Hence the unproductive attitude.

  5. Just start. You can't do things if you don't try to start. Be flexible in case of changes on your plans.

iannoyes profile image

In the moment I find a couple things help me get my focus back.

  1. Take some time to do a quick meditation, 5-10 minutes. 90% of the time this gets me out of whatever rut I was in. I'm a big fan of the Headspace app for guided meditations, but other apps will work just as well.

  2. Go on a walk. If time is scarce I'll just do a couple laps around the office. If it's around lunch time I'll try and hop over to a greenway or park and walk around for most of my lunch break.

  3. Chat with a coworker/friend about what they're working on. Being in the presence of someone who is focused tends to make me feel a bit more attentive myself.

cunninghamp profile image
Paul Cunningham • Edited on

We're really only wired for 4-5 hours of deep, productive work each day. A lot of people try to push that to 7-8 hours and add more hours on top of that for other work-related tasks, not realizing the toll it takes on your energy and creativity in the long term. A crash is inevitable, and can appear in subtle ways (burnout is not always an explosive event).

Recognize those times when you're just not going to get it done, and either stop completely so you can go and rest and refresh. Or, if you are required to still be "on the clock" for some more hours, do low effort, reactive work as much as possible.

Example - Part of my work is producing video training courses. My workflow fits into the limitations I've identified in myself. If I need 10-12 hours to write the script (what I'm going to say) for a module and create the slide deck (diagrams etc you'll see on screen), I'll break that up over 2-3 days. When my creative energy to write the material is drained each day, I switch to another task like recording audio for previously written modules (physically draining), then switch again to a low energy task like editing (boring but not mentally or physically taxing).

espoir profile image
Espoir Murhabazi Author

You are right @Cunningham, people fail to realize that we only do deep work for 4-5 hours.

If this happens after your deep work time, it's better to call it a day or to do low effort work as you said.


wes profile image
Wes Souza

Personally, if my brain is struggling with something, nothing I do can change its “mind”. I usually allow for this kind of thing to happen, some days will be better than others.

Some things that help me:

  • Spend enough time on a task so that you get tired, then pause. Come back either hours later, or the next day. It’s incredible how much sleep helps on solving problems.
  • Talk about your task with someone else, you might involuntarily find out a better approach to solve it and your brain may even get interested in working on that immediately.
  • Go “grab a coffee”, even if you won’t grab a coffee. Walking around, taking some daylight in, usually helps clear the mind a bit.
  • Try working at another place, bring your laptop to a common area at your workplace, or a coffee shop nearby.
tammalee profile image
Tammy Lee

I usually can tell I'm having one of those days early on in the day so I adjust expectations. My todo list is halved and what remains gets broken down as small as I can manage. Every checked off item is a little boost!

I also make sure to leave the office at lunch and walk. Sometimes that bit of exercise and being away from my computer helps change my mood.

If I'm really really reaaaaally unmotivated, I take the rest of the day off. It's probably a better use of my time and the company's money if I go home and nap, cook a good supper and take care of myself. The next day I'm usually ready to rumble!

espoir profile image
Espoir Murhabazi Author

Thanks, @tammalee .

I like the second advice, Being away from my computer or any electronic device, it really helps sometimes.

livanjimenez profile image
Livan Jimenez • Edited on

As a "Cuban-American"(The term always makes me chuckle) I personally always drank cuban-coffee(espresso). I highly recommend anybody who loves/likes coffee to drink a shot or two, of straight cuban coffee with sugar. It really lights the fuels for first-timers. I recommend la lleve or bustelo.

sherribooher profile image
Sherri Booher

The first time I drank Cuban coffee, I felt like I had snorted a line of cocaine. LOL. Seriously. However, if you continue drinking it, you get used to it. It's really good stuff.

skryking profile image
Jason Ormes

I always find getting some exercise clears my head and gets me going again.

niorad profile image
Antonio Radovcic

Go home earlier, walk, sit through it.

gerreth profile image
Gerret Halberstadt

Besides the other coffee, sleep and water tips, going home earlier is my favorite. Better work an hour more the next days, chances are good that you are more productive. Though I almost never do it, getting up at the weekend the same time like within the week helps too.

nicholascloud profile image
Nicholas Cloud

I do a couple of things.

  • I carve out an hour or so to work on a coding project I want to work on. I'm trusted to get my assigned tasks done, so if I'm being unproductive with those, working for an hour on something else isn't likely to affect my overall productivity.
  • I exercise over lunch. Getting outside, or to the gym, energizes the body and mind.
  • Sometimes I read something instead of "working" for about an hour. It's usually tangentially related to work, or maybe just a few general articles on programming, but things I've bookmarked along the way and never got around to reading.
  • I write a short technical blog post and share it with the team. Or document a part of our code by writing a nice README. Usually with memes.
  • Sometimes I run errands or do chores, and make up work time later, in the evening. I am fortunate to have this latitude, though. Getting away from the desk and getting those pesky things off the todo list can be motivating.
  • Occasionally the only solution is heavy metal.

In general: do something else that makes you productive. Neal Stephenson wrote: "boredom is a mask that frustration wears". When you're productive you get that jolt of energy that helps you push through whatever motivation killers are in your way.

ashleemboyer profile image
Ashlee (she/her)

I usually try to find a topic I'm interested in and then read about it. If it's something related to coding, I might also try to play around with it on or something. If I'm really struggling, and I am super lucky to have so many places around my office where I can do this, I might grab a treat like a coffee or donut and try to take a mental break.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

If I read about something that makes me excited I tend to have a hard time reading because I want to get back to coding 😄

So this one really works for me too

jdsteinbach profile image
James Steinbach

I'd echo all the advice about good nutrition & rest, and about being careful with caffeine dependence.

Another thing that I've found helpful is starting the day with tasks that make it "easy" to find a groove. For example, I might stop a task partially completed the night before and leave myself some good WIP/TODO comments: that lets me begin the next day in a clear starting place. Or I might begin a day with really clearly defined tasks: code reviews, or a ticket/task that's short and clear, whatever task is an "easy win" for you. Starting the day with an immediate sense of accomplishment helps me avoid stalling out before I get into the day's work.

One other idea is, not everyone's prime productivity hours are the same. Some people feel stuck/unmotivated from 8-noon, but find it really easy to focus between 2-10pm; others can work hard at 6am but lose energy by 2pm. If your job lets you match your working hours to the times when you're personally at your best, that can be a huge help.

stilldreaming1 profile image
still-dreaming-1 • Edited on

The multivitamin is a good idea, but make sure it has your basic minerals and stuff to because most people are low in some of those. I used to get/be sick all the time because of that. Also the research I have done has lead me to believe most vitamins out there are not as effective as they could be because they are not in the form your body knows how to really make use of them. MegaFoods is supposed to be some of the best. They put the vitamins and minerals in the plant soil. Then the plants absorb the nutrients and change them into a form we can use. The company makes the vitamins and minerals from the plants. Theirs are non GMO and they use a lot of organic (not enough to be classified as such), and they use a lot of local farmers. The cheapest place I have found to buy them is our local Sprouts store.

Another thing might be good to take in addition to this is vitamin D. Many doctors tend to not be proponents of taking a multivitamin because many of them are not convinced the evidence supports that they are helpful. That is kind of a typical western doctor thing and shouldn't really be taken as strong evidence they can't be effective. However, even for many of those same doctors, the evidence is strong enough for them to recommend taking vitamin D. It is hard to get enough of it safely from sun exposure, although that may be possible if you have enough antioxidants in your diet.

baukereg profile image
Bauke Regnerus • Edited on

Don't bother too much about it. It happens, we're all human. Especially in tech, since humans aren't supposed by nature to sit behind a desk starring at a monitor all day long. We're the only animal species at this planet that does that!

nitya profile image
Nitya Narasimhan

There's always a combination of things that impact your motivation and productivity - including context. So it will vary with days and times.

I have begun to see a lot of this through the lens of self-care and burnout. So the thing I do is ask myself three questions:

  1. What am I LEARNING from whatever task I am doing right now = even if I fail, even if people don't appreciate what I did, even if no one notices - as long as I gained knowledge, I already won. And there is always something to learn from every situation.

  2. What is the OPPORTUNITY COST of the time I spend doing this task = is there something else that would bring me higher value (where value can be impact, happiness, health .. whatever you need) in that time time frame.

  3. How much CONTROL do I have over the situation = if I don't have control then I need to shift to either a coping strategy (find ways to get through this till the next time slot of happy work comes along) or a comfort strategy (find ways to add things to the task that make me happy, so that it becomes less stressful)

From the self-care perspective = good sleep, healthy eating etc. are all good places to start. But I also recommend you read "When" (Daniel Pink) to see if you are an early bird or a night own. In other words, every human apparently works on a cycle of productivity (some being better in early mornings, other at late night) and knowing your behaviors can help you adjust the kinds of tasks you give yourself for each part of the day. Decision fatigue is real - as the day goes on your brain tires and you make worse decisions and have less resistance to stress triggers. Being aware of these goes a long way to blocking or overcoming them.

My strategies for coping are currently in three buckets:

= CONTROL = use #30Days habits to train myself to do things differently so I control triggers like eating bad food or not sleeping enough. Do one tiny thing consistently (e.g. sleep 8 hrs) and see if it helps. I am doing this with food (see my #30Days #SelfCare series on Twitter)

= COPING = find ways to block stressors I cannot control. Toxic people and situations are high on that list. I cope by sketching. I love to sketch and it keeps me focused and happy. So I doodle. And now I am trying to incorporate that meaningfully into my work so I can find ways to be creative within constraints.

= COMFORT = find people and situations that bring you joy and always always take a minute to remember them and be grateful for those things in your life. I've found that oftentimes when I feel really demotivated or frustrated, it helps to sit with my 10yo and talk about various topics. And I always feel recharged after. It's remembering what makes us all unique and why, given a chance, none of us would trade who we are for anyone else.

Hope that helped - and wish you all the best!

mikengarrett profile image
Mike 🤘

I like to switch to an important task that's not directly related to what I usually do. For example, if you usually write code, what about looking at the tools you're using, cleaning up your email, tidying your office, or even connecting with other people to see if they need help.

For me, being unproductive is usually related to having an large, daunting task, not getting enough sleep, or being burnt out. Changing the context can get you moving which is the first step in getting back into it.

afsharm profile image
Afshar Mohebi

Drinking a lot of coffee is the first solution that comes to mind! My second work-around is to clean up my computer's files, and doing any trivial task like that. If possible, taking a walk can give you a good feeling.

jwp profile image
John Peters • Edited on

Excellent question... I've worked in the industry for 30 years. For "real" engineers, those who want to be game changers, love their work (maybe too much), work really hard to take it all in, been around for 10 years they too have difficulties.

Here's a few things I've learned...

1) Our physically undemanding jobs are major contributors to bad physical side effects. The best thing to do here is exercise 45 minutes a day, cut out sugar and carbs as much as you can, keep regular sleeping hours with around 8 hours per day.
2) Our industry changes so often, so rapidly and requires so much ramp up time, that we must be become believers in our learning skills, not how much we know. Look at all the changes just in the frontend.

We must stay persistent in our studies and believe that, we eventually will get there. Be a believer in yourself on learning. How many of these current trends, do you know? and how long do you think they'll take to really know?
3) Try to realize that the customer's expectations has risen exponentially; over the last 10 years to unsupportable levels. There is a shortage of developers worldwide, due to too many reasons.
4) For some reason, many developers who are good are also arrogant and lack patience. In a study 25 years ago, on leaders, (Fred Pryor Seminars) taught that only 2 in 10 people can effectively lead and or mange a group of people. They were saying a whopping 80% of our leaders are not effective.
5) Project Managers were originally trained in the old SDLC styles of project managment rejected Agile at first. People like Dean Leffingwell, the creator of SAFE deemed SDLC as "It never fit Software development, never worked, and never will". The reason: "To many spec. changes, too often, 1 year long cycles are doomed to fail"
6) Realize that Sotware problems take weeks (or even years) to solve , even when your debugging skills are excellent. One problem I'm working on now is already two years old. I study and try to find solution until I can't take it any longer and put it away for another day.
7) Software Delivery Dates almost never work. This is the reason we must adopt Continuous delivery where we deliver new features in small batches to the customer. Customers love being included in software engineering teams and should be a part of all work from the beginning.
8) Know when to reach out for help. I've found that the stress of delivering things is greatly reduced when problematic issues are brought before the team. Even when the collective whole cannot figure it out, it leads to an alternate workflow. In some cases the entire feature is nixed because nobody knew the difficulty and no customer wanted to pay for that problem.
9) I learned a long time ago, that it's always best to literally sleep on your major issues. For some reason unbeknownst to us, starting afresh the next day can very often allow us to come up with new ideas, see the issue in a different light and get that solution.
10) Realize that Software Engineering (while rewarding to our careers) is not full of Victory laps. In fact the victories that we crave are few and far between. When was the last time you had an intense feel good event, with your work? Often we are trying to "work the New York Times Crossword puzzles" and come up woefully short. The only solution for that is to vow to continue onward until you can solve the "New York Times Sunday Edition Crossword Puzzle, every day"...

kathryngrayson profile image
Kathryn Grayson Nanz • Edited on

I pick the thing on my to-do list that sounds most appealing to work on and work on that, even if it's not the most urgent or highly needed thing. If writing a single line of code seems intolerable, then I do non-code work, like writing documentation or filling out my expense report. If I can't find the motivation to write tests, I'll bang on that cool new feature for a while – etc, etc. Ideally, you can pick something small and (relatively) fun or interesting while still doing work that needs to happen eventually.

I timebox this stuff at 1 or 2 hours max (so I don't lose the whole day to a thing that's not top priority), but I usually find that once I break the mental block on "working" and can feel like I've accomplished something, tackling the other stuff doesn't seem so daunting anymore.

ameliagapin profile image
Amelia Gapin

As someone with bad ADHD, I know this feeling super well. I have a lot of these days. Drinking coffee helps me focus a bit, but it's not always enough. Sometimes, I just have to accept that the day isn't going to be productive in the way that I had hoped and find other ways to be productive. That could mean something like just reading more about coding or tinkering around with my .vimrc. I try to find ways that I can at least set myself up for success the next day.

I also have to remind myself that it's not my fault I have ADHD and it doesn't mean I'm not a skilled engineer. And I have to remember that on a good hyper focus day, I can get done 3-4 days' worth of work.

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Kshitij Aggarwal • Edited on

Some steps that I follow and somewhere down the line I generally feel better:

  1. Close everything (browsers, IDE, etc.) on my laptop. The idea is to clear my mind from busy thoughts and triggers.
  2. Get up and walk around a little.
  3. Get a beverage of my choice. It depends on the weather if it's hot or cold.
  4. Put on some bass heavy pumping music.
  5. Talk to my colleagues if they are available about work or non-work related stuff. But definitely let them know that you are not feeling yourself right now. this acknowledgment and sharing alone put's me on a positive mindset.
  6. Play some games
  7. Brainstorm on some engineering problem you/your team/your company is facing. This way I'll get some work done even when you are not actually working.
  8. And if all fails, take a proper break. Read a book. Have family time. Take a nap.
  9. And most importantly, go easy on yourself. Don't prosecute yourself. Accept that its not a good day and relax.
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hkly • Edited on

Typically, if I can't resolve my unmotivation with the other tips (like taking a break, getting some exercise, starting with a small task, etc.) it's because I feel stuck on something, so I'll ask a coworker if they have a moment to help me.* Sometimes I'll just end up using them as a rubber-duck, and sometimes we'll pair for a while. But it usually gets things going again for me. Or at least makes me feel like I tried! haha I also try to remember that sometimes we'll just have off days, and that's ok.

* I work on a distributed team, so this means hopping on a call, but I'm sure it works pretty similarly to in-person offices.

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Evan Derby

I've certainly had a few days where I sat down and realized I wasn't going to get anything done. I could feel it in my skull.

I realized that not getting more stressed about it is really helpful. Everyone has their days. Programming is hard. Just let yourself be non-productive, allow yourself to relax, grab a snack or a bite to eat.

For me, non-productive days coincide with not eating well. Do something that will make you feel good. When you feel good, it's much easier to wade back into whatever you were working on.

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Alex Takitani

I was feeling tired all the time a few months ago, an I tough it was because I was getting old.

Well, I'm getting old, for sure, but it was not only that.

That's what worked for me:

  • Taking vitamins - You probably don't have the most balanced diet and even if you do, you can absorb all those needed little letters, it helped A LOT. I've noticed that I have a lot of energy now than I had before. Some friends tried it and have the same result.

  • Sleep - Maintaining rigid and regular sleep. This one brings a level of wellness that I didn't had for a LONG TIME. Try it, is free sleep and wake you on the same hours every day. Yes, every day even on weekends.

  • Water - Keep yourself hydrated and you'll feel much better

  • Food - Avoid carbohydrates in excess, a low carb diet brings a lot of benefits.

  • Exercises - My dr asked me to do at least 30 min of exercises per day. That made me worried. When I'll do it? I have no time to go to the gym, oh I'm doomed. Then I looked into my house. I have plenty of space to walk there. So I do it. I track my steps on my phone, maintain a regular pace and fulfill more than the dr prescribed. Walking is walking.

That's it :)

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Chase Whiteside

[when working from home] Sometimes I'll take a nice shower, dress in some fresh clothes, make myself look presentable (even if noone may see me), and get back to work.

Hit the reset button and start the day fresh.

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Gualtiero Frigerio

It only seldom happens to me, but if I get the feeling I'm not really productive I usually offer to help a team mate.
Another trick is to work on something really quick, like fixing a low priority bug that has been there for months just because I didn't have time to deal with it. That gives me a sense of accomplishment that helps being more productive for the rest of the day.

stilldreaming1 profile image

At one point I was addicted to caffeine from soda and stuff without realizing it. Once I started drinking a cup or two of coffee every day, this helped a lot, because it made sure I was getting my fix regularly instead of irregularly but often enough to stay addicted.

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Edward Fernández

Hi Neil!

When I don't have enough sleep I list all the tasks that I have to do and next to each one I write the "why I have to do this specific task?". Then I take a cup of coffe and tacke one by one listening game soundtrack on Youtube or Spotify.

This work for me in the hardest day that the only thing that I want to do is sleep haha.

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Theres lots of good advice. IMHO, a balanced routine is no.1 then stepping back and asking for help.

  • all work and no play... a good routine includes enough sleep/rest, balanced diet/multivitamins and excercise/play/social contact. caffeine and alcohol can help, but too much is never a good plan - moderation in all things is sage advice.

  • break up problem into small easily achievable units of work.

  • take a step back, do some housekeeping tasks, change tunes or have a refreshment.

  • perhaps you cant see the wood for the trees? ask for help or discuss with mentors/friends, even pair up or admit defeat and swap tasks.

  • go for lunch or call it a day, hopefully when you will come back energised. sanity is more important than a crappy stressful job.

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Adriel Werlich

I chant and hear mantras. Hare Krishna, Om Namah Shivaya. Make some yoga postures (
For me, sometimes it helps. Do some concentration exercise (
Just some ideas

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Kody James Ague

I recently picked up some inexpensive noise cancelling headphones. Cowin on Amazon for about $75. They are Bluetooth and work well when connected to my phone. Not great for phonecalls but great for music. Anyways, they help me push out distrsctions.

I also find going for a 5 min walk helps me. I am not working as a Dev yet but I am at a desk all day so I know the feeling.

Some days I do go home early because I know it's one of "those" days.

Personally I love energy drinks, more for the enjoyment of drinking them than the energy received. Bang is my current vice. So some days I will walk to a store and buy one. Just treating myself to something I enjoy makes a difference for me.

I have a list of 20+ things that I enjoy outside of work. I do two every day. I am planning on doing something like this for work as well. Focus on the enjoyment of the task which can be simple.

Hope those give you some ideas!

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Azeem Abbas

Listen to Ambient music. It really helps me concentrate and enjoy my work:

oleksandr profile image

I usually go to gym during my launch time. Helps a lot.
Or writing articles)

holleringsuk profile image

We think writing a list or having a whiteboard is a great way to see were you are up to

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Florin Pop

I’d change coffee with pure water... it’s much healthier and the brain needs it ☺️

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Victor Inojosa

This is a tricky article, hehe... The answers are awesome! Thank you all!

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Kevin Cameron

Blame the bad documentation.

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{} • Edited on

Lots of advice here if you want to add on your list

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Jariullah Safi

I either leave (which is a freedom I understand most people might not have) or turn to mentoring/helping colleagues.

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Jennifer Bradford

I start out with 4 shots of espresso and a 20 min walk. If that's not enough I have a cup of matcha.