How to Get Things Done When You’re Depressed

woman looking distracted on bed
** DISCLAIMER: I am not a nutritionist, physical trainer, or fitness nor mental health professional of any kind. All thoughts expressed in this content come from my personal opinions and experiences only. **

The past few weeks have not been very productive for me. Okay, so basically all of February hasn’t been very productive for me.

I’ve been in a slump, I’ve been exhausted, I’ve been fighting the raging ebb and flow of hormones that come each month on top of my normal problems with depression.

Some days, our emotions just get the best of us. Depression, I find, is one of the strongest culprits in this regard, and it can prevent us from getting things done. 

However, after having lived with depression for over half my life, I’ve been able to develop a few ways to go easy on myself during a depressive episode, while also managing to keep my life and daily routines afloat. 

It isn’t easy, but you can get things done and keep your life moving forward while you’re depressed. In this post, I want to share with you how I do this in the hopes that it can help you, too, keep your life going while experiencing depression. 

As we jump into this, and as is ALWAYS included in my website disclaimer, please note that I am not a doctor, mental health professional, or medical professional of any kind. I simply want to share with you my experiences with depression and give you some tips to help you keep getting things done during an episode. 

If that all sounds good to you, just keep reading. 

Why It’s Hard to Get Things Done When Depressed

Depression makes it hard to get things done because depression literally causes physical changes in the brain. 

On a “normal” day, or for a mentally healthy person, it’s relatively easy to move through a routine and get things done. Whether that means cleaning your house, running errands, practicing good hygiene, or knocking out that big project at work, a “normally” functioning brain will not impede your ability to complete tasks. 

However, the depressed brain is much different. Research shows that the depressed brain tends to have less gray matter volume (also called GMV) in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus areas. 

This is important because this essentially means that these areas of the brain, which control important functions like your ability to plan, think critically, and control emotions, are weaker than they are in a healthy person. 

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As a result, many people with depression experience:

  • Loss of motivation
  • Guilt
  • A sense of hopelessness
  • Difficulty in thinking clearly
  • Trouble sleeping (either sleeping too much or not enough)

As you can imagine, such disruptions to your mood and physical health make it incredibly challenging to care about most things, let alone doing the laundry or being chipper at work. 

Since I’m not a scientist, I won’t spend too much time discussing the specific ways that depression impacts the brain, but if you’d like to learn more about this facet of depression, I highly recommend watching this TED Talk by Dr. Helen Mayberg:

Now that you understand a little bit about why being depressed makes it so difficult to get things done, let’s discuss some ways that you can work through tasks, even when you’re in the midst of a depressive episode.

5 Tips to Get Things Done, Even When You’re Depressed

The key to getting things done when depressed is to try not to focus on the emotion (or, often, the lack of emotion) you’re feeling during a depressive episode. 

This is much easier said than done, but with some practice, you can get to a place where you can more or less autopilot yourself through the days in your life when your depression is inhibiting your ability to feel motivated. 

Here are some tips that help me, personally, continue to get things done when I’m depressed:

1. Remember: “This too shall pass” 

One thought that brings me great comfort during a depressive episode, sometimes just long enough to get myself out of bed, is the quote, “This too shall pass.” 

This phrase has been attributed to different sources throughout history, and I’m not exactly sure where it originates from, but it’s one of those quotes that, simple and vague as it may be, seems to express one of the great-but-few truths of life that we can all relate to at one time or another. 

Remind yourself that, even though you may feel terrible and like nothing will ever be okay again, this feeling will pass, and you will feel better eventually, even if you can’t see that horizon yet. 

Just knowing that your depression will eventually subside can help you keep going in your daily routine. For me at least, when I come out of my depression I want my life to be running as normally as possible. I can achieve this by doing some of the normal things I do when I’m not depressed, even if I don’t feel like it. 

This brings me to my next tip…

2. Work through one thing at a time

You don’t have to feel motivated, you don’t have to enjoy doing it. Just try to get yourself to work through one task each day. Maybe it’s just making the bed. Maybe it’s running one load of dishes through the dishwasher. 

Just make it a goal to get one thing done on this day, so that there will be one less thing for you to do tomorrow, or whenever your depression subsides. 

Oftentimes, I find that making myself do one simple thing makes me feel a little bit better, which will give me the tiny bit of motivation I need to do something else, and then maybe something else. It doesn’t always spark this chain of motivation, but it doesn’t’ hurt to try. 

3. No negative self-talk allowed

I feel like many of us often try to push ourselves out of a depressive episode and into a productive day by practicing tough-love on ourselves. 

I know it’s not uncommon for me to say things to myself like, “Stop being a baby,” “Don’t be a little bitch,” “Shut up and stop whining,” etc. etc. 

Now, maybe that’s just me, but I highly doubt it. 

When you’re going through a depressive episode, set a strict no-negative-self-talk rule for yourself. You already feel terrible, making yourself feel worse is not going to help you get anything done. 

Take this time to give yourself a break and accept that maybe you are feeling a little weak, and sad, and helpless. It’s okay to feel that way, but remind yourself that these are just feelings. And, as terrible as they may feel, you can feel them and not feel bad about feeling them. 

Try to focus on positive self-talk. Say things in your head or to yourself out loud like, “I’m having a rough day but I can make it through this,” “I’m feeling down but it’s okay to ride it out,” or “I don’t have to feel amazing all the time. It’s okay to feel bad sometimes.” Whatever will help you feel better.

4. Practice being kind to yourself

I’ve written a whole post on this topic alone, so I’ll include a link to that here if you’d like to read more about self-kindness

Just remember that you deserve the same kindness and understanding that you show to your friends and family when they’re going through a rough time. Don’t treat yourself any differently.

5. Go outside

I know everyone says this, but seriously: go outside! Getting outdoors not only helps you get the Vitamin D that your body needs, but research also suggests that spending just 20 minutes outside can help lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and stress, while also improving your mental health. 

If possible, try to get outside somewhere where you can see a lot of greenery, as studies suggest this is the most beneficial way to use the outdoors to improve mental health. 

I’m lucky enough to live in a place that is sunny and has mild weather the majority of the year. However, if you live somewhere that often gets a lot of rain and/or cloud cover, you could try an alternative option to getting outdoors such as using a light therapy lamp

These lamps act as man-made alternatives to getting natural sunlight, and can help lessen the mood-based symptoms common in depression. 

What kind of help can you get for depression?

Being depressed often or over extended periods of time can significantly impact your ability to get things done in your daily life. While these tips can help you be somewhat productive during a depressive episode, it’s important that you speak with a professional healthcare provider if you experience regular, intense, or ongoing depression. 

In addition to the tips I’ve mentioned here, seeking professional mental health treatment can help get you into therapy and possibly on medication, if that is an option your doctor feels is right for you. Combined, these treatments and tips can help you live with and work through your depression. Trust me, the effort is absolutely worth it. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with severe depression and you are worried for their safety, please contact the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s national helpline at 1-800-622-HELP (4357).