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4 Ways to Reclaim Your Productivity from Negative Emotions

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Remember that old thought experiment where you imagine you have a choice:

  1. A job where the work is fulfilling and the pay is great, but all your work is destroyed every day. You make no impact on the world.
  2. A job where the work is difficult, the pay is awful, but your work really matters.

Most people, if they really think about it, pick #2. While we want good working conditions and good pay, it’s critical that our work means something. I suspect that’s especially true for people who work in the nonprofit world.

I have in my inbox a project I have a feeling is in the first category. It’s going to pay well, but I can already see signs that it will either get cancelled in the end, or some committee is going to make sure it’s completely ineffective. I’ve been in this business a long time, so I’m pretty good at reading the signs.

I don’t want to work on a meaningless project. Even though I said yes. (The pay really is good.)

So I’m avoiding working on the project. This morning I’m writing this blog post, way ahead of schedule, even though I really should be working on the other project.

How we feel really drives productivity!

People who struggle with depression and anxiety know this very well.

Here are some things you can do to minimize the hit to productivity that your feelings can cause…

Keep a Journal

Writing about your anxieties or other negative thoughts can help de-fang them and measurably improve your productivity. That’s because worry uses up space in your memory, leaving you with less capacity to store more information and focus on your work. Writing down your emotions before working can really clear your mind.

Make a to-do list work for you

A to-do list can be a real anxiety-promoter when it dramatically shows you how far behind you are. But you can also make it your friend by taking a few extra steps with your list:

  • Rank your to-do items by priority. Cross off unnecessary items. (Yes, there are things on your list you really don’t need to do, at least not today!)
  • On difficult days ask yourself what you should do if you can only do one thing. One is far better than none!
  • Break down large and complex tasks into smaller steps. Instead of “Finish Year-End Campaign,” give yourself a smaller, more immediate part of the big tasks. Write the call to action for the Year-End Campaign. That will be something you can complete. As Grandma used to say, “Well begun is half done.” Reduce the pressure on yourself.
  • Be nice to yourself with self-talk. What would a really excellent coach say to you about the tasks you’re facing? That’s what you should say to yourself. It really can help you get on top of your negative feelings.


Whatever calming, centering, or mindfulness practice you know best and feel most comfortable with can always help you find a better mood or way of handling your mood.

Face negativity head-on

Sometimes you can’t find a way around it. That’s when to go through it.

Just give yourself some time to feel the negative emotions. Go for a walk, curl up and cry … just let it wash over you. Or find someone who will listen and tell them all about it, making it clear you aren’t looking for a solution. This can make your feelings less threatening than they are when you’re trying to fight them, leaving you feeling calmer and clearer.

(I recently heard about a free online service called Vent Over Tea  that allows you to schedule time with a real person who will listen to you without advice or judgement – just listen. I haven’t yet tried it, but it sounds promising. Let me know if you’ve done it.)

We all face challenges to be productive and effective. We have so much we can learn from others in the fundraising world. That’s the most powerful reason to join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. You’ll become part of a supporting community of some of the coolest fundraising people around the world. They’ll boost your confidence, increase your joy, and help you go to new places in your fundraising career. Join the waiting list now and you’ll be the first to hear when the doors open again!

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  • Jeff Brooks

    Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising, and has worked as a writer and creative director on behalf of top nonprofits around the world, including CARE, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Feeding America, and many others.

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