Productivity, depression, and the challenge of being an entrepreneur

When you write a happiness and productivity blog, people expect you to be glowing, sparkling, checking everything off your to do list daily. And when I am at my best, I’d say I fit the bill quite perfectly. But on days like today, I cannot get anything done, and there’s not much I can do about it.

I’ve suffered from depression since I am a teenager. At 15, my first major depression hit hard, I had to take meds and some time off from school. I even had to change schools. The doctors said that my chances of suffering from depression again in life were very high. With the help of antidepressants and therapy, I gradually started feeling better and, by the end of high school, depression was only a distant memory.

Later in my 20s, depression crept back in, it came and went. I tried different meds, with astonishing side effects, weight gain, acne, all sorts of weird things, like blurry vision or falling asleep at 8 at night. Then I had a few years of solace, where my mood was normal and I could work and enjoy life.

Later, in 2016, something awful happened at work, and the depression quickly came back, filling all the space in my life. I took a few months off work, then left and created Productive Happiness. When the depression lifted up, I could start building my brand new business. Writing and coaching about productivity and happiness was my jam. I felt like I had really found my life’s purpose. I felt fulfilled in my work and wouldn’t see myself doing anything else. Then, surely but slowly, depression crept back up again.

Fast forward to last week. I was so depressed, or so numb, that I couldn’t pick myself up or do any kind of work. I did not publish a blog post last week. I did not record that shiny new video I’ve been planning for you guys. I just couldn’t. And it made me think. As entrepreneurs, you are the only person you can rely on to get the job done. You are the boss, the employee, the marketer, the writer, the accountant. You have to do it all. And when your moods get in the way, everything falls to the wayside. Hopefully, I found a few tricks to help me pick myself up and get back to work.

Here are the few things that helped me get back on track during this last year battling depression :

  • Don’t try to do it all

When the smallest thing is a challenge, do not jam-pack your to do list. Select the few things that absolutely need to get done, and focus on those. When I have a really bad day, I try to set my goal at accomplishing only two tasks. I will often choose something that will make my environment more enjoyable, like washing the dishes or cleaning up my living room.

  • Break up big projects in smaller chunks

Trying to tackle huge projects is discouraging when you’re depressed. Break down those bigger projects in smaller tasks. I often find that, when I get started knocking small tasks off my to do list, I gain momentum and slowly start enjoying my work.

  • Focus on self-care

Make sure you get plenty of rest, try to go to sleep early, allow yourself to sleep in if you need. Try to find at least one activity in your day that will make you feel better. Kendra Wright talks about the Bingo Card of good habits. Try to hit a bingo and make your day super special. If I am unable to do much, I try at least to take a warm bath with a book, or go for a walk.

  • Allow yourself some healthy treats

A warm bath, your favorite cup of tea, or, if you can afford it, a massage can go a long way making you feel better. You might feel guilty that you’re not accomplishing as much as you would like and would prefer to kick yourself into working instead of giving yourself a treat, but the only way to full productivity is feeling better first. Put yourself in priority.

Depression is quite a challenge, especially when you’re an entrepreneur, or building a side business. Try not to be too hard on yourself, be compassionate and understand that you need to refuel before you can be the productivity beast you once were. Take care of yourself, be kind and allow yourself to do less while you’re healing. When you’re feeling better, and you will, you’ll be able to start back were you left off. Give yourself the time and space to do just that.

I hope this post helps you find a few tricks to feel better. If you would like more happiness and productivity tips directly in your inbox, sign up for my weekly newsletter to receive every new blog post as soon as it comes out.

Have you ever battled depression? How did you handle work and productivity while you were not feeling well? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Thanks for sharing, Anick – it’s not an easy subject to write about. A while back, my employer did some things that went directly against my core values, it felt like they left me alone to explain their actions to my multi-national client, in turn launching my first major depression.I left work for about 8 months, returned to another job there, only to leave 2.5 years later because of that deeply rooted values conflict. That time I quit, but the two job offers I had both fell through (no fault of mine) and I tumbled back into a slump for several months. I took meds that made me gain weight and lose my sex drive, both of which didn’t help me feel better.

    Since then I picked myself up and got hired elsewhere – at the time it was all about taking one small step at a time, as you suggest. I still find it pretty easy to get depressed again from time to time, and I still take medication although the only side effect of this one is weight gain. I’m also blessed to have one of the most supportive and encouraging life partners in the world.

    Otherwise, I do almost the same things, though – I take a nice bath, go for a massage, or spend a day just on making me feel better. That and lean on a friend for a cup of tea or a fun activity. Forcing myself to get out of the house and do something, anything, outside or out of the house helps. Lastly, I started going to the gym, and although it’s really tough to get TO the gym, exercise really does help burn off the blues.

    1. Hey Jason, thanks for sharing your story. You are right about exercise. When I can muster the courage to get started, I feel better instantly. There are great tips in your comments. Thank you!

  2. I 100% agree with this ~ … And when your moods get in the way, everything falls to the wayside. So I taught myself to try this anytime facing difficulties~ respond & not react. To fully accept the things that are out of my control but put focus on things that matters the most. Btw, This post is my favorite article by far!!

    1. Thank you Sophie, it was not an easy one to write, but if I can help someone going through something similar, it was worth it. Glad you’ve appreciated it