How to Stay Productive Even When You’re Depressed

how to stay productive even when you're depressed

A friend recently asked me how she could be productive even when she’s depressed. These are the 14 tips I gave her.

Baby steps

Break tasks down into the tiniest possible steps, so you can’t help but succeed. For example, to write the document where I’m going to answer this question, I could break it down like this: 

  • Open computer

  • Open Chrome

  • Open a Google Doc

  • Write a sentence

  • Write a sentence

  • Write a sentence

However small you need them to be, completing each item on the list is a win, and to paraphrase one of my favorite quotes, a win after a win after a win is power.

Prioritize your tasks

Basic adulting comes first. Then self-care. Then advanced adulting like working and taking care of your kids. Use the Pomodoro method for getting shit done: set a timer and work for 25 minutes, then take a five minute break. Do that 3 more times, then take a 15 minute break. Do that again, and take a 30-45 minute break. Again, and a 15 minute break. And again, and that’s an 8 hour workday. 

You could also get an accountability partner or group. Someone you can tell, “Hey, I’m going to write up a list of tips to be productive even when you’re depressed this morning,” who will follow up if they haven’t heard you’re done writing it. 

You might also set up a system of rewards, either intrinsic or extrinsic (internal or external). Things like pride of accomplishment, satisfaction at a job well done, and relief that you did the thing are intrinsic rewards. Things like watching an episode of Queer Eye, eating a bowl of ice cream, taking a nap, or snuggling with your pet are examples of extrinsic rewards. Don’t trust your depressed self to act without a stable system by which to do so. 

Make out a calendar of events

Line out a time frame for when everything has to be done by. Making this product has to be done by X/XX, writing that report has to be done by Y/YY, the website has to be updated on Z/ZZ, etc. Put doctor’s appointments, household bill due dates, and other obligations on there, too. This will help you make sure no balls are getting dropped. 

A man in a gladiator costume, holding flaming swords in each hand
Unless you’re juggling flaming swords of death instead of balls. Always drop flaming swords of death.

Schedule self-care

When you’re having a bad day, you need your self-care more than ever. Same goes double when you’re trying to be productive when you’re depressed. Seriously, put it on your calendar as an appointment with yourself. And make sure you keep that appointment, no matter what. One of my Messages from the Wall says, “Every time you say you will do something and end up not doing it, you are committing a sin to yourself.” 

Whatever self-care is for you (I’ve got a list of 537 ideas if you need help), do it, and do it often. But make sure you’re actually doing self-care, and not doing self-indulgence because your depression says it’s safe over there. Remember, depression is a lying liar whose pants are most assuredly on fire.

Ask for help

Spouse, kids, friends, kids’ friends parents, if you ask for help, they will come. (You’ve already built it, so…) Even if it’s something as simple as putting stickers on the jars or packing boxes of orders or walking your dog, people want to help people. Allow your friends the opportunity to help you. 

Avoid perfectionism

Depending on your religious beliefs, only Deity can be perfect, and to attempt to be perfect yourself is the height of hubris. Or you could simply subscribe to the belief that perfection is impossible – because it is. Besides, if a worth doing, it’s worth sucking at. Let yourself suck.

Take care of the basics

Shower. Put on clean clothes. Eat. Pay the bills. Do all the most basic adulty things so you have a solid bed of adultiness to stand on.

Take breaks

The Pomodoro method has breaks built in, lots of them. Take every fucking one of them. Every single second of them. Taking breaks reduces stress hormones and increases feel-good hormones. Depressed brains need all the hormone adjustments they can get.

ID negative thoughts

Identify the negative and feelings that are feeding your depression. Thoughts are not facts. Feelings are not facts. And because they’re not facts, you can change them. It’s simple, but it’s not easy and will likely take some practice. Just keep in mind, as a Message from the Wall says, don’t believe everything you think. There’s another that says, it is only a thought, and a thought can be changed.

A woman with a cartoon thought bubble above her head
“A thought, even a possibility, can shatter and transform us.” ― Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Be mindful

With everything you do, be mindful of doing it. When you’re taking a shower, notice how the water feels when it hits your skin. The smell of your shampoo. The texture of your body polish. Be present and in the moment. When you focus on the “outside world,” you’re teaching your mind to ignore the tornado of depressive thoughts.


When you’re trying to stay productive when you’re depressed, every task feels so much harder. Anything on earth you can possibly delegate, delegate it. Fixing meals, cleaning the house, taking care of the kids, everything that doesn’t absolutely have to be done by you, let someone else take care of it. Order takeout every night for a while. Send out your laundry. Hire a housekeeper, dog walker, and personal chef.

Practice calming techniques

Maybe it’s listening to a favorite playlist. Maybe it’s some guided meditation. Maybe it’s closing your eyes and taking some slow, deep breaths while you first clench, then unclench groups of muscles. Whatever it is that helps you relax, practice doing it. A lot. 

Surround yourself with happy, productive people

You become like the five people you spend the most time with. You’ve got me, so that’s one! You’re on the right track! Look at your circle of friends. Who are the most positive people you know? Hang out with them. Dinner in, dinner out, pizza and chick flicks, sportsball in the man cave, however you can get them in your space more often, do it.

Have your talking people in place

Well, they’re not talking, you’re talking. Have your listening people in place. People you can talk to day or night who can help you keep you calm. Or help you keep you productive. Or help you keep you whatever you need to be kept. (My Facebook Messenger is always open. I can’t promise it’ll wake me up, but it’s always open. And if you’re a friend who wants my phone number, all you have to do is ask.)

Want to know more about how to stay productive under adverse circumstances? Book a discovery call with me to find out how I can help!






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