Making Progress when You Lack Energy

Sometimes I joke I am solar powered. Cold or warm weather doesn’t really matter much, I just want sunshine! But it’s been cloudy here lately. By lately, I mean the last 4 months. I’ve just been feeling…I don’t know…blah. This certain kind of blah is something that has been an ongoing part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve tried dozens of different ways to mitigate it. At the end of the day, I’ve created systems so even when I lack energy, I can still make progress.

Make progress on money goals with depression

How do we keeping making progress

when we just want a nap or take out for dinner?

I think there are points when we are really stoked. Stoked about saving, investing, karate chopping out expenses. Stoked about creating, building, growing things. But we all face times when our enthusiasm is less like surprise party and more like a shoulder shrug.

Here are the tools I recommend to make progress when you aren’t super jazzed about progress.

1. Automate

I make as many good things in my life automatic as possible. That way I don’t have to decide if I “feel” like doing that good thing or not each and every time. It just happens. Maybe while I am laying down. For years we automated our investing. We automate our bill pay. We automate our giving. For years we kept a multitude of checking accounts as our budgeting system. 100% automated.

2. Habits

We track all our spending. It’s just a habit at this point. It was really hard to remember at first, but after a while it just comes naturally. Make a purchase, input the expense.

We have found LOTS of fun and low cost hobbies. Now it’s just our habit to go out and do those. They are an easy fall back when I don’t feel up for trying new things. We have a long list of tried and true free activities we enjoy. So the free/affordable choice is the easy choice because it’s our habit. It would be more work and effort to go out and find some new, expensive thing to do.

3. Optimize

When I’m feeling up for the hassle of certain things, I find ways to reduce our fixed monthly expenses. It might be testing life without a cell phone, shopping life insurance, or learning new low cost food recipes. When I feel up to it, I dive in. All those things just keep paying off even when the blah is strong enough for me to not care. I don’t have to care about my car insurance cost each month, I just needed to care about it once, 2 years ago. Now it serves me well each and every month.

The reality is that we aren’t robots with exactly the same amount of energy, enthusiasm, and focus every single day or month. When we are bursting with excitement and energy we can channel that energy into getting our money in order. Finding affordable meals. Mastering free hobbies. Getting quotes to reduce our fixed expenses. Then at those times we are struck down by the flu, or the sunshine has gone MIA for months… we can sip some coco and know that we are still making progress on our biggest goals.

For conversation:

Anything you do to keep making progress when you lack hustle?

Is it Spring yet???

Any tips on things that have worked for you?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

36 thoughts on “Making Progress when You Lack Energy

  1. In these scenarios I tend to primarily set things on auto pilot. Then I can divert myself to something currently more interesting, My enthusiasm for specific things ebbs and wains, but inevitably it comes back right about the time an action is needed.

    • That’s a good point! I think if all our attention is focused on one area for too long, we can get burnt out. It’s good to automate so we can pursue other things before looping back around.

  2. Great to hear that I’m not only person who struggles with “blah”! Automating and creating habits through systems of one kind or another are the ways that work best.

    Additionally, whenever you’re doing something with someone else, it’s harder for “blah” to overcome, as it involves standing up someone else. So connecting what it is I want to be doing, even when blah, to my social ties works well. For instance, instead of doing all my exercise alone, I run with a group of great people certain days of the week. That way, even if I’m not really feeling like running, I go because of the social contract I’ve entered. It’s not mandatory or anything, I just want to be there when I’ve implied that I’m going to, plus I enjoy the meeting other people part as well 🙂

    • Group stuff is amazing! Even when I’m totally not feeling up to something, a group commitment will pull me from the house. One of my mentees is creating personal finance groups, which are so cool. It will be a great way to combine the social, group dynamic to personal finance issues.

  3. A little preparation when I’ve got energy, like cooking a whole lasagna and freezing dinner-size portions, can do a world of good for when I’m feeling lazy and don’t want to cook. I like to give my future self easy ways to do the right thing. Basically plan ahead for those low energy times.

    • I have got to start doing that! I love the idea of freezer meals, even for when we get really busy with renovations or kid stuff. Right now our go to is Costco pizza. =) It’s yummy, but it takes a toll on our waist line. =/ Giving your future self and easy, good option is so smart. Because it will happen. There will be a night when no one is feeling it. =)

      • I like to cook double and then freeze extras in two person servings, I do lasagna and many other items. We have horses and usually have outside chores later so I can stick an extra meatloaf or casserole in the oven with the timer and it’s ready when we get in the house. Has really helped us not eat out when I’m too tired to cook! Love your posts, and real estate tips! thats what we are saving for next!

        • I need to figure out some good freezer meals! =) And congrats on wanting to get into real estate. If there are any specific questions, feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll try to put out a post about it. =)

  4. It’s been a long winter for us too. The weather is getting a lot better so I’m feeling more upbeat. I read that getting some exercise helps a lot. Get your blood pumping and you’ll be more enthusiastic about other stuff too.

    • I was loving the winter here until about 5 weeks ago. Then I was like, “I hate this, burn it all down!” Winter was just much longer than normal. Often we will get a warm fall, but it got cold fast, and stayed cold. 6 solid months the temps didn’t hit 60. But this last week or two have had some bright spots. It’s warmer this week too. =)

  5. I needed to read this am I’m dealing with serious lack of motivation right now. I live in Edmonton and we usually get a ton of sunshine so even a few gloomy days really brings me down, and we had to deal with a snowstorm most of the weekend.
    It’s so easy just to fall into a routine of sleeping in and being lazy but I find that if I can get my butt out of bed and do yoga in the morning, even just 20 minutes, I feel way better throughout the day. I also don’t let myself come home and go straight to the couch. I have to do at least a few chores before settling in for the night.

    • My morning routine is so important! Just a little reading, little bit of refection, little exercise and some tea. Sets me up for a much more productive day. Especially when I roll out of bed feeling like a zombie. =) That is what is great about automating so many of the good choices. If we are off our game for a week or two, good things keep happening. =)

  6. Oh, I hear ya on the sunshine. We had a few weeks with no sunshine. At. All. None. Nada. Zilch. I felt so much better when it made an appearance a couple of weeks ago and brought with it warmer temps.

    It’s the habits that are the key for me. When something isn’t a habit and I’m lacking motivation, it’s really, really hard to do. So, these are the things I do first thing in the morning (even if I don’t feel like it). That makes the rest of the day feel better. Also sleep – this is huge for me. When I get more sleep, I feel much more motivated and productive overall.

    • Oh man, the “not a habit and lacking motivation”! Let’s just call that what it is…damn near impossible! Finding productive habits and routines is so important. Because there is just no way I’m going to be tacking some new thing when my focus is elsewhere or I feel drained.

  7. I can relate to this SO much. I really need my sunshine….(and we had a bout of the flu go through our house recently, argh).
    One thing that helps me immensely is to have set morning and evening routines. My mornings are my most productive time of day and sometimes the only time that I really get anything done at all, so I prioritize my most important tasks then when I can. I definitely take advantage of times when I have bursts of energy in doing bigger projects for our financial plan like getting updated quotes, running credit reports or taking a detailed look at our investments. It always works out overall, but I constantly wish I had more energy and time. Springtime is coming!

    • I think really taking advantage of those burst of motivation is so critical, for everyone really. Especially people who don’t love all things personal finance. Over the years, when I have coached people with their finances, I try to catch that “wave” of excitement and just get as much set up and automated as possible, because it might be weeks or months before it crosses their mind again!

    • Exercise is a big boost to me as well. Mr. Mt is amazing about getting to the gym. 5 days a week 90 minutes, never an exception. Me….well….I shoot for twice a week. =) But it helps. It was sunny here yesterday and I did 60 minutes at the gym, and it really helped.

    • This week has been a bit more hopeful in the sunshine department. For years I used a blue light, but I lost the power cord this year. It really helped keep my day/night cycles more consistent. As in I was more sleepy at night, and more awake during the day. =)

  8. What a perfectly timed article for me! I had a trial that went late last night and had to get up early to come in to the office. I am dragging.

    In addition to your recommendations, I like to keep a running list of low-focus and administrative tasks that need to be done. Then on days like this when I have no energy I can pull that list up and start knocking those off.

    • That’s a really cool idea! Sometimes the big, complex tasks just seem overwhelming. Thankfully there is never a shortage of small mundane tasks to do around here! =) The nice thing about the list is you can see you are making some progress. =)

  9. Girl, I hear ya! Like the chicken and the egg…which comes first? How do I motivate if I am too tired to make myself motivate?? The constant loop is exhausting. This year I have tried to build habits that push me to keep going ( mot recently my daily mini workout and step goals) but I recently had a slip up and missed 2 days and am now having trouble rebuilding the momentum. What worked up until now is seeing that long chain of progress not having been broke. I went from 80 days in a row to having to start over. 🙁 I am 2 days in and just pushing through…maybe when I see double digits I’ll feel better again. Until then all I can do is pray for sunshine! It truly does make the day much better. 🙂

    • I like those long hanging fruit goals. =) I have a 8 minute workout routine that I do in the mornings. It’s enough to feel like exercise, but small enough that I don’t have much excuse to skip it.

  10. I call it “going back to basics” when I’m lacking energy. I re-check commitments to make sure it’s something I really want to do, or don’t. Plan some healthy meals. Take some downtime to re-charge, read, nap, or take a bath. De-clutter because sometimes that (about to sound hippie here) block my energy. Do some yoga, etc. Unless I absolutely have to, I never try to power through. It just leads to more burnout and feeling like crap.

    • I forget what author said it, but how she “broke her power through button.” And refuses to fix it. Might have been Brene Brown. I think that is what we have been often taught. To just power through. And yes on the clutter! If things around me are visually messy, Mr Mt both have a hard time relaxing. It was a big reason we went all minimalism with the kids toys. =)

      • I’d love to see a post about how you minimized the toys! We’re doing our best to downsize our 3yo’s toys, but gifts make it so hard! I had a lightbulb moment when I realized I had only chosen about 10% of my daughter’s playthings, and that a lot of the things she has aren’t in line with our ideals. It’s making it easier to pass them along, but I still struggle.

        • I have a half written post about it! Maybe I need to finish that up. =)Toys are such an ongoing project. But we have made a lot of progress in the last few years.

  11. I love this! I’m sorry you’re feeling the blahs so hard right now, but your points are so right. When you put in the right efforts when you’re energized about something, the payoffs can be long lasting. I love that I have frugal habits that are just ingrained when I’m not feeling it because of the effort I put in when I was.

    Hopefully some sunshine heads your way soon!!

    • It’s great when the easy fall back plan is also the affordable, good for the budget option. And it’s nice to know if I lose focus for a few weeks on the money stuff, 90% of the progress keeps chugging along with me micromanaging it. =)

  12. I am quite familiar with the blahs, and their close cousin, the blues. A couple of things sometimes work:

    1. Easy socialization. A low key evening hanging out with close friends, some wine, laughter, a board game maybe. The next morning I typically feel a lot more energized.

    2. Allowing fun to come before duty. When I’m stuck in the doldrums, if I briefly actually feel like doing something (like lets say writing), I’ll allow myself to give in to the urge instead of trying to redirect the burst of energy to dishes or laundry or whatever. If I try to do what I should, the energy ebbs. If I try to do what I want, I normally have some left over to tackle some shoulds.

    • I love the fun before duty. =) I definitely try to go with whatever works. Especially when I am sick. If I feel well enough to read, I do that. Well enough to watch an interview, then I do that. It’s not always all or nothing. Sometimes you just gotta do what you can do. Sometimes I don’t feel up for a super challenging project, but I can unload the dishwasher. I try to give myself enough margin so I don’t have to perform like a super human robot all the time. Like things can go off the rails, and there is a little allowance for that. =) Having so many kids has helped me learn that lesson. Stuff goes wrong ALL. The. Time. It’s like their hidden talent is throwing wrenches. =)

  13. Automation is surely a big driver to make sue things happen, no matter what.
    My end goal is to have my monthly investment 100pct automated so that it happens, no matter what. Almost there…

  14. Yes! I just found you through a comment you made on Millennial Money Man. I saw the Ms. Montana and wondered how close you where to our new home–turns out we share the same valley! We just moved here from Western Washington and I could have sworn I was getting away from the rain. No luck! Sorry for bringing it with me! As least I can be encouraged that we broke records for the amount of rain in March and that next year will be a little sunnier!?

    All of our normal routines and habits are out of waco due to our move here in Feb, new jobs, just bought our first house–with an eye to make it a rental later 😉 I’m taking solace in the fact that we are meeting baseline adult responsibilities like showing up for work and paying the bills. We also got back to eating at home 90% of the time which we were super slacking on since the move. Now I’m just slowly working on getting new 401ks set up, sorting through all the move/mortgage/new job paperwork and getting everything organized again. We had about 3 weeks straight of focusing 100% on fixing up our new house. Now it’s nice to sit down a bit and enjoy it.

    Now I’m trying to get the motivation (while looking out the window at the rain) to get some stuff planted in the garden and trying to decide how many berry bushes and dwarf fruit trees a person should plant if they think they might rent out the place in a few years. Any thoughts?

    Looking forward to seeing more of your content and maybe running into each other in person. It seems like that’s par for the course here. Every time we skied at Big Mountain this winter we met someone we had some connection to, even though we moved to that valley literally knowing only two people! Cheers!

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