When you work alone, you often get to choose what you work on and when. You get to set your priorities, and create your own to-do list. You are large and in charge. (Some of us larger after the Holidays, but I digress.) Other times we know people need output from us by a certain time, and we’re guided by that.

But what if we have things we should be doing but just…can’t…make…ourselves…do them?

We all have days where we are motivated and get stuff checked off our lists in a hurry. There are other days when motivation is hard to come by, and we stare blankly at our calendars, hoping for inspiration to do something. Anything.

Here are some simple ways to get motivated. Their success will depend on your work style and general sense of organization, but when you’re truly stuck, people will try almost anything.

Don’t be afraid to check assumptions and priorities with your manager.

Often our paralysis stems from not knowing which of several tasks to tackle next. It’s funny how when our boss says, ”Do this,” we snap out of our funk and do that thing without another doubt. Often, we are afraid if we check in like this we’ll look unprofessional, or like we can’t be left to our own devices. You can avoid that by the way you phrase the question. Try putting it in terms of helping the boss: “I know there are a couple of things I’m working on for you. Which would you prefer I tackle first?”

Search for clues from your teammates.

What are they working on? Is there something you owe a teammate that you can work on and get off your list? If your work style requires frequent human contact, this is a good time to reach out and ask Bob what he needs from you, or what he’s working on. Sometimes a colleague will be working on something you’ve forgotten about. Nothing like a little shot of adrenaline to get you working on a task you’d let slip.

Set a timer and bang out the little things that clog your list.

Sometimes I look at my list and just think, “There’s no way I can do all this.” But if you remember the 80/20 rule (80% of your productivity comes from 20% of your tasks) then let’s get rid of the clutter. When I set a timer for say 60 minutes, and start tackling all those administrative tasks and random email requests, I am surprised how many of them I can delete from my list, leaving me the important tasks and making the mountain look easier to climb.

Take a break.

One of the most counter-intuitive things you can do is stop working for a moment. First, people who work from home frequently don’t take breaks as often as those in the office, and our brains need that rest. When it feels like you’re bereft of ideas, that your mental wheels are spinning but you’re not making any forward movement, it helps to just stop and give your neurons a break. Take a walk, do the dishes, or run that errand that is mindless but needs doing. It’s amazing how often we get that idea, or a burst of energy that helps us tackle that chore the minute we get back.

Talk to someone. About anything.

Again, this depends on your individual work style, but this feeling of being stuck often is a matter of our energy being low. Talk (not email, talk… and preferably on webcam) to a colleague. It can be mostly social, but when you start feeling pepped up, or get a piece of good news, or even just see a smiling face, that energy burst might be enough to get our engines revving again. After all, you’re not just working for yourself, you are helping your teammates too.

We all have days when we’re “just not feeling it.” The trick is to recognize when it’s happening, and find ways to get back in the saddle.

All of this works together to make you a better remote teammate. Find out more about our new learning program dedicated to helping remote workers be the best they can be.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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