How To Be Productive When You Are Depressed

Depression is a strange state where everything seems dark and negative. It’s as if doom itself pulls you into despair and the dark cloud of negativity treats you with an uncomfortable closeness that you would only expect from a loved one.
 
The worst thing about depression is the inability to live the way you want to live and the difficulty in moving and thinking the way you want to.
 
In dealing with depression, I have identified two major hacks that can help you to be active and manage your condition to some degree, every day. The two major areas of productivity are what you do and what you think
 
 

What You Think – Mirror Everything, Then Dispose of It

 
For some reason, everything you can think about while being depressed is the negative side of things. You see only the bad outcomes of your current situation but never the positive aspects. I think that trying to force yourself to be positive is often a chore and uses a lot of willpower which could be put to better use for physical activities and exercise.
 
Instead of trying to “drown out the negative with the positive”, just do the following:
 
  1. Notice that you are seeing only the negative in a given situation
  2. Take a blank piece of paper and write the name of your situation in the middle (can also be a drawing)
  3. Make a map or list which illustrates the positive progression from where you are now to a better point. E.g., instead of thinking about losing your job, you make a concrete list of steps which allow you to keep your job. Make sure that the steps are simple, minimalistic and feasible. The finished “map” should look like the life you want to live.
  4. Forget about both the positive and the negative.
  5. Whenever the negative comes up: Blend it out, knowing with perfect confidence that you have taken care of the core issues. You do not need to worry anymore because you now have the map. Instead of trying to be positive, you just ignore the negative. Treat it like an annoying neighbor who you are ignoring entirely no matter how loud he screams.
 

What You Do – Batch Everything, Then Forget About It

 
As we all know, acting when depressed is the hardest thing to do. We are on autopilot to hell and any action which could prevent this seems impossible to uphold. Exercise and lifestyle changes are the most effective depression treatments but its the one thing that is too hard to do because it requires action and motivation.
 
The “map” you have created above will be important in this section because if you do not act, nothing will change. Here is a technique that I frequently use: Batch Everything
 
  1. Choose a task that needs to be done (can be from the “map” above)
  2. Allocate a certain time for a “work session”. This does not need to fully complete the task but can be a reasonable fragment. E.g., the complete task takes 5 hours but a single “work session” is only 30 min.
  3. Start a timer and work for 30 min on that project. During the 30 min, you have the timer in your visual field so you know that it will end soon. You also do not commit to doing another 30 min afterward. You just commit to the current 30 min. No distractions and no excuses.
  4. Once you are done, you can do whatever! You can slump on the couch, watch TV, etc. If you feel ready, do another 30 min. The more “work sessions” you can do in a day, the better your life will become.
 
This technique is much more valuable then it seems. The problem with depression is that you do not see the value in doing anything. “I could, but I don’t want to.” You are unable to see the bigger picture or rather the value in it.
 
With batching, you take away the “why you do it” and only think about the “how you do it”. The bigger picture becomes irrelevant because you are focused on the next work session with no regard as to what it’s for. 
 
You can batch exercise as well. If the goal is 40 sit-ups then you batch them as 10-each. If the goal is to wash the dishes then you can pick 10 items per session.
 
The key is that the single batch (30 min or 10 sit-ups or 10 dishes) stands on its own and the completion of the whole task is irrelevant. You only need to commit to the batch even if you never complete the task. The complete task is irrelevant.
 
And don’t forget: You have all the time in the world if you start with the first batch in the morning. Maybe you can even manage to complete 7 or 8 work sessions in one day!
 
 
 

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