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What to Do When You Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything

Artists and Creatives Dealing with Productivity Fatigue: You're Not Alone

by Joey Phoenix

As I writer I know I’m supposed to be writing things and yet I’ve recently found myself unable to do much of that. I’ve spent more time spacing out and compiling long lists than actually saying anything I actually feel.

“But Joey, you wrote this,” you might be thinking. Well yes, but I felt like I had to. I can sit behind a laptop and hide from the news but I can’t hide from how all of this is making me feel.

And I’m ready to say that all of this sucks. Not knowing when things will go back to normal is having a high impact on my ability to function as I normally would. I’m doing the best I can, but accepting any of this hasn’t been easy.

I don’t know about you, but since I’m not an essential worker, there are some days that getting out of bed in the morning feels relatively pointless. Figuring out how to structure my time and how to be productive when I actually don’t have to do anything on a given day leaves me feeling guilty and conflicted. I’ve started making lists just so that I don’t have to make constant choices.

Choice can be tyranny and what if I choose wrong? The fear is sometimes incapacitating.

And the guilt comes from the fact that people out there are risking their lives, and I sit here in the comfort of my house writing articles about things to do when you’re stuck in your house because even if I can’t find any real meaning in my day, at least I can maybe help someone out with theirs.

Is that enough?

And it’s not that my days don’t objectively have meaning, it’s just sometimes they don’t feel like they do. I think we are all bad at being objective about our own experience.

And today is one of those days. I don’t feel like doing anything.

So instead of making myself do anything, I’m letting myself feel and absorb and think. I tuned into the Penguin Cam on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s FB feed and took deep breaths. Yesterday I was cold so I made bread. It warmed the house.

I’m still getting things done, but the breathing is coming first. It has to. Otherwise, I stare at the wall and hope that if someone pinches me I will wake up from all of this and it will have just been an uncomfortable dream.

I’m learning to recognize that the part of us that is stuck in the place where we don’t want to do anything is a valid part of our inner world, and if we resist what that’s trying to communicate and keep trying to be productive in spite of how we feel, that will just make the issue unavoidable later.

Emotional self-maintenance now can do a lot towards healthy coping later, which is something I’ve learned the hard way.

And I’m not saying that you should always give in to how you feel and always let that dictate how you spend your time. That mindset is an incredibly privileged one and most people – whether they are an essential worker or a mother of young kids or someone who is immunocompromised – don’t just get to let their moods influence them like that.

But what I am saying is that if you don’t want to do anything, maybe for a moment stop and ask yourself WHY you don’t want to do anything.

My therapist* (bless him for the good work he does) is a mindfulness practitioner and he is constantly telling me “Joey, try to let go of all of the ways you’re holding yourself to impossible standards and take a moment to breathe. You, as you are, are enough.'”

It’s not the doing that makes us have meaning, and for one reason or another, it always feels like it does. So instead of resisting, feel the thoughts, acknowledge them, breathe, and then move forward with your day.

When I feel like I don’t want to do anything it’s often due to burnout. It often means that I have been pulling from my inner empty and instead of taking the time to nourish myself properly, I have just been pushing through. And the things I produce from my empty are not things I’m proud of.

So if you’re feeling burnt out and empty, check in with yourself. Ask yourself where some extra attention would be merited. Sometimes small things can make a difference: getting out in the sun for a moment, watching a jellyfish cam, calling a close friend, or even just taking some time to breathe.

At the moment I’m overcoming the urge to drop in some useless platitudes like “you are enough.” But you are. You are not your productivity. You are not what you create. You, yourself are a universe and you are allowed to sometimes just be.

So take five. Eat a snack. Tell yourself how grateful you are that you get to be alive in this bizarre world. And then get back to work.

Or go for a walk. Walks are nice too.

* Mindfulness is one thing, but there is really no substitute for professionals when it comes to mental health things. If you are experiencing depression or other symptoms that are keeping you from feeling like yourself, which is valid and understandable considering our current global environment, reach out to your PCP and let them know.


Joey Phoenix is a non-binary performer, artist, scribbler, and the host of The Chaos Within Podcast.


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