Ask DN: How do you handle mood shifts?

over 6 years ago from , Design Lead @ PrimeTek.com.tr / Co-founder @ Orkestra.co

As a creative human-being, the hardest thing in my life is sudden mood shifts. I sometimes feel really good and can be super productive and fast. On the other hand, it's really hard to concentrate on anything sometimes. It's like a sine curve.

My question is, if you experience something similar, how do you handle these situations? What's your strategy?


  • fsdgerh wrheherfsdgerh wrheher, over 6 years ago

    As someone who recently went through a super long bout with unmotivation I can offer some possibly helpful advice, no promises made though. As Mikus stated, before you do anything you need to learn about yourself and your process. Are you most productive early in the morning, at night etc? I noticed I would get VERY lazy after lunch time. Here is my situation and how I kinda fixed it.

    What I did to combat unmotivation was three things:

    1. Get to bed earlier than normal.
    2. Wake up earlier than normal.
    3. Drink lots of coffee/tea and water.

    I noticed that I was staying up super late to get "caught up" on work I felt like I should've done hours earlier. This was causing me to wake up later the next day, typically around lunchtime so it was just this feedback loop of demotivation and unneeded stress from missing deadlines. Also, waking up early gave me more hours before lunch, so even if I did hit a demotivational time; I had hours of work already done previously.

    It was a couple of weeks of waking up early before I could really find a schedule and "settle" into work mode. It wasn't instantly a motivational bump. A few things helped, mainly setting up a routine and follow it to the second. Mine is typically, wake up - get coffee - shower - dress - sit down and email/reddit for 15 mins while I drink coffee/eat - check out my work tasks for the day and put everything into a To-Do app. I use Things.

    Once I start work, I throw on Focus in "Hardcore" mode where I cannot turn it off even by restarting my computer so I am actually forced to do nothing BUT work. Also, spotify playlist are awesome, I use my own "Morning Productive Mix" but there are tons on Spotify.

    I think demotivation comes from depression, for me at least. From this moment on, forward can be your only motion. Even if you're only doing one small thing a day, you're chipping away at stuff. No more zero days!

    I'm not sure of your financial situation obviously but for me, it's all about putting bread on the table and the way I do that is from Design. I should be thankful I even have a position in the first place that allows me to be lazy sometimes. Of course, all this is easier said or erm..typed than actually putting anything into practice. It's going to take hard work to move past this time in your life but just remember humans are ever in flux and if you can be unmotivated, you can be motivated. Another added plus is that when you do work in a timely manner and you make deadlines that you follow through on, your clients or boss take notice. This will in turn make you feel better and will give you a bump of motivation and even possibly be making more money...maybe. Also, this might be a nice watch "Motivation is a Myth".

    The hardest step is from 0 to 1 and it's what takes 99% of the effort.

    18 points
  • Art VandelayArt Vandelay, over 6 years ago

    Take a dump. It helps.

    11 points
  • Robin RaszkaRobin Raszka, over 6 years ago

    This happens to me quite often, especially because I spent 100% time working on my startup and it's extremely mentally and physically exhausting. I work from my apartment and I have a dedicated room for my home office and I fight this using 2 hacks:

    1. I take a long shower. we have an open shower so it's big and there's a bench so I can stay there for a while) to come up with new, fresh ideas which I just dump into Memex as they come to my mind (I have iPhone in waterproof case).

    2. I take long walk. We live in the PH floor so I have direct access to the rooftop of our building (important—without taking the elevator—makes it quick) and there's a decent park where I just walk and think about ideas and when I feel I'm refreshed I can just run back to my office and get back to work.

    Both features we're crucial when we we're choosing the apt. Quite a challenge in NYC to find both :)

    P.S. Small things like changing wallpaper, buying little things like a new mousepad sometimes also help.

    8 points
    • Onur Senture, over 6 years ago

      You're so lucky Robin. :) I wish I had these opportunities. For the small suggestions, I gently want to thank to you.

      0 points
    • Scott ThomasScott Thomas, over 6 years ago

      I agree, taking a long walk even at lunch helps a lot. Taking a 10 min break will help you save 30+ mins of pixel pushing or FB surfing cause your brain is tired. I do my best thinking away from the screen and distractions.

      For very dull sprints, I tend to fiddle around with a person project or researching hobbies just so I can survive the two weeks. At least for myself, nothing was worse then feeling unaccomplished at the end of the day.

      1 point
    • Judah GuttmannJudah Guttmann, over 6 years ago

      +1 for the buying new office goodies haha

      1 point
  • Daniel De LaneyDaniel De Laney, over 6 years ago

    I highly recommend being bored more often.

    With smart phones and internet, people don’t get bored enough these days. Waiting for an oil change, sitting at the bus stop, or on a trip to the bathroom, I all too often whip out my phone to stay entertained. Although mindlessly scrolling through feeds can be satisfying, it robs us of those really important moments of boredom.

    Try sitting at Jiffy Lube for 40 minutes, staring at the tree outside or the dirty, off-white wall, and see if a moment of genius doesn’t strike. The lack of input allows your brain to do all kinds of things, like boost creativity, problem solve, and self-reflect. All of which are pretty awesome.

    Michael Shea of argodesign

    7 points
  • Mikus RiekstinsMikus Riekstins, over 6 years ago

    I would say, get to know yourself. For me, I know I am not very productive around lunch time, so I work around that.

    Fitting music can get me in the direction I want most of the time, so I cherish my Spotify library.

    Sometimes just working through it helps. Just move things around, do anything related to the project. Pushing your self when you don't want to is hardest part of any job I guess, but the best work I have done, has gone through one or more phases of "I hate you, design".

    Good luck, and have lots of walks.

    6 points
  • Aaron Wears Many HatsAaron Wears Many Hats, over 6 years ago

    Some good suggestions in here, but a lot that just don't work in a commercial environment. I.e. only certain employers will happily let you go take a nap, read a book, etc.

    I know a lot of "trendy" startups like to push the idea of siestas for employees and personal time out and stuff... Which is really cool. But get into a big firm or agency, and it might not be the case. So what do you do when you're chained to your desk, expected to be a codemonkey from 8-5, and still stay on track?

    • List making. It's been mentioned before, and works well. List out your tasks, start off completing a trivial one, and then you can find a bit of momentum I find.

    • Music. Sometimes it's as simple as changing from your chillstep/etc over to some camp 80s stuff and get your mood changed. I find old Kenny Loggins can get you out of the rut pretty well if you're starting to feel like all the electrohouse is blending together.

    • Walk away for a bit. Long walks can sometimes be frowned upon outside of normal lunch/break times, but even if you can only just get up from the desk and do a lap of the office, you'll normally feel better. Go to the toilet and have a piss, or whatever.

    • Coffee. Or tea, you know, if you're into a slow release of not-as-good caffeine. The other good thing is a little bit of chocolate, or some fruit. Bump the blood sugar up and get the endorphins going.

    I know a lot of this is repetition from other members here, but I just felt that all these answers sounded like "how do you get on track at home" instead of at work :)

    5 points
  • Orcun IlbeyliOrcun Ilbeyli, over 6 years ago

    Books are great saver for those kinda times. Especially books that not about design or tech stuff.

    3 points
  • Ryan RushingRyan Rushing, over 6 years ago

    I seek out ways I can gain control, because usually my mood shifts come from feeling overwhelmed and anxiety.

    For example, I'll reorganize my desk. Or clean off the files on my desktop. Or write something super easy on my to-do list (like, "eat lunch"), then I'll do it immediately, and check it off.

    Those little things build up tiny bits of momentum and give me a nice runway for getting back on track.

    2 points
  • erfan aka, over 6 years ago

    I usually just let it pass till I go into the productive mood again.

    2 points
    • Onur Senture, over 6 years ago

      That's the thing I'm currently doing. I want to control and balance these waves somehow. I don't know when it's coming, when it'll go away. It's really annoying.

      0 points
      • Kyle ArbuckleKyle Arbuckle, over 6 years ago

        Sometimes you don't have the option to just wait until you "feel" like it again.

        For me personally, I have been trying to figure out a freelance schedule/workflow that works for me.

        The greatest success I've had is to change my scenery. Today for instance, I was working at home and then suddenly didn't feel like working on what I needed to. I biked and to a coffee shop and was able to focus and get stuff done!

        Journal and take notes on how your routine/process is working (or not working). This has been tremendously helpful for me as well.

        Keep going, you got this! Great question!

        0 points
  • Gracjan ZlotuchaGracjan Zlotucha, over 6 years ago

    Tbh I learned to accepting this. Sometimes you are super creative sometimes not. Important thing it's too accept your emotions/mood and don't fight with them.

    Maybe try Headspace? They in good way explaining this things :)

    2 points
    • Onur Senture, over 6 years ago

      I never tried meditation so I'll give a try Headspace for 10 days. Thanks a lot for the recommendation. :)

      1 point
  • Loui V, over 6 years ago

    Thanks for posting this question. This sparked a lot of good discussion and feedback.

    1 point
  • Nathan ManousosNathan Manousos, over 6 years ago

    For a while, I was tracking my productive time in a spreadsheet. I figured "what gets measured gets improved". It worked, I started optimizing my time without really thinking about it and getting more work done, feeling like I didn't want to break my streak or lose out to yesterday.

    I got tired of filling out a spreadsheet really quickly, so I started writing an app to make it ultra-easy. Then of course I got busy with other things and never finished and now I don't track time anymore :'(

    1 point
  • Connor NorvellConnor Norvell, over 6 years ago

    Meditation for me. I will meditate for 20 minutes, and accept that I may not be my most creative right now. after the break, i generally feel much better and therefor can do better work

    1 point
  • Clarke HyrneClarke Hyrne, over 6 years ago

    Talk to somebody you can trust (like a therapist) about it. Maybe you're within the normal range, but either way, it's good to get a professional perspective, and the act of talking with someone can be cathartic and can help you maintain balance.

    Meditation helps me; YMMV. This meditation is always great.

    1 point
  • Simone Simone , over 6 years ago

    That's just your dose of daily misery. Everything has its ups and downs, there's no such thing as linear progression in life, learn to evaluate things in the medium and long terms and that'll help you not get hung up when the hard times hit you.

    1 point
  • Andrew Michael ToddAndrew Michael Todd, over 6 years ago

    If I'm having difficulty concentrating and staying productive I find the best remedy is taking a long walk and/or changing working locations.

    Or pop a modafinil.

    1 point
  • Umit KayabasUmit Kayabas, over 6 years ago

    Wish I had an answer for that :( All i know is when I'm on the upside, I use it till it's out (this is from a professional perspective. Otherwise I just brood)

    1 point
  • Vinay ChilukuriVinay Chilukuri, over 6 years ago

    I'm going to give you a solution that is rooted in Yoga and is very very effective. The thing with having a peace of mind is to change how you breathe. Breath is directly correlated to your state of mind. So, just altering your breathing pattern can do wonders.

    Just follow this practice for 10mins, whenever you feel overwhelmed.

    Forget improving your mood, this could bliss you out, if you stick to it regularly.

    You can do this anywhere. Just try.

    0 points
  • barry saundersbarry saunders, over 6 years ago

    I switch tools if I'm stuck - go to pen and paper or whiteboard. Otherwise, go for a walk.

    0 points
  • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, over 6 years ago

    On top of my previous comment, which was about understanding the problem, I can also suggest a more tangible solution: I found that the better organised I am, the easier it is to stay motivated throughout a project even when things get difficult. If working on the project is frictionless (i.e. I know where every folder and piece of information is, I have my software setup for maximum efficiency, I communicate as clearly as possible and make sure there are no misunderstandings, etc.), things will go more smoothly.

    I posted a story on DN about organising information a while ago. And I also had a story about optimising PS but that's no longer available for some reason - I can send you my scripts and setup if you're a PS user.

    0 points
  • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, over 6 years ago

    The way I see it you are talking about two slightly different things, and I've spent a good deal of time on trying to understand this problem (being a freelancer for 4 years, I had a lot of time on my hands).

    On one hand, you brought up motivation, which is the series of factors that justify my actions. This means that if I lack the motivation to give 100% to a project or a part of it, there must be a problem there, and the worst part is I may not always be aware of it (it could be something I never thought could affect me or matters).

    Motivation is generally divided in two categories: internal (which covers factors like your need to please people and fear of failure, the degree to which this project is aligned with your views, that is how much good you think it will do, the degree to which you believe in the project, that is if you think it will succeed and make you feel good about yourself, etc.), and external (which covers factors like the possibility of getting fired or penalised if you fuck things up or the possibility of getting promoted, goals you set, that is I do this project then I get access to better opportunities, etc.)

    Try reading the wikipedia article on motivation and you'll be able to get a better understanding of what it is and how it works. Then you can look at a specific project and understand what you are missing and why you feel unmotivated.

    On the other hand, you have moods (which are longer lasting emotions). These are fairly easy to de-mistify and understand, and I actually summed up my findings when looking into this topic (with the help of a friend) on this site.

    This approach may not work for everyone - some people just need encouragement or different types of projects, but I found breaking things down and understanding them in detail, in an almost empirical way, will definitely help me identify the problem. Kind of like how you'll have a much better time driving your car properly and fixing it when it's acting out if you know how every part works.

    I hope this helps.

    0 points
  • Ali DemirciAli Demirci, over 6 years ago
    • Buy something make me happy, but buying something created beautifully change my whole mood. Example: Beat solo 3, New Macbook(not the latest one), New Table but that must look awesome.

    • Hanging around beautifully designed place. Or just walking where you like.

    • As a freelance, I would like to hang out my baby a while. But I haven't one yet :)

    0 points
    • Onur Senture, over 6 years ago

      Thanks for the answer Ali. Buying something to fix mood doesn't seem healthy and sustainable. Good luck with the baby career that didn't started yet. :)

      0 points
      • Duke CavinskiDuke Cavinski, over 6 years ago

        My version of this is used-book hunting. Retail therapy is real and useful in my experience, but no, it doesn't have to be some grand budget breaking purchase.

        0 points