Five Ways to Stay Productive During Depression

APR. 04, 2016

By Jeremy Rinkel

When I fell into depression in September 2012, watching Netflix, eating ice cream and lying on the couch are what my days consisted of for months. I felt exhausted without doing anything physical. The hours of sleeping, lack of exercise and half-gallon containers of ice cream were making my symptoms much worse.

My family, therapist and doctor helped me create a plan to get me back to health spiritually, mentally and physically. The plan significantly improved my symptoms, so I thought I would share what worked best for me. Here are five ways to stay productive and avoid isolation during depression:

Create a daily schedule       

Without a daily routine in place, it’s easy to stay in bed longer, sit on the couch longer and take longer to recover. Writing my to-do list and recording my thoughts in my journal became a critical part of my daily routine and my recovery.

Not having a schedule makes me feel like a ball in a pinball machine. It’s like life is flying around me without a particular direction or goal, which ultimately increases my anxiety levels. A schedule keeps me organized and focused and gets me going in the morning.

Michael McCullough, Professor of Psychology at the University of Miami said, “Routines are like mental butlers. Once you have a routine in place, then the mental processes that make the behavior happen take place automatically.”

When creating your schedule, build in challenges every day. In the beginning, one challenge was to shower by 10 a.m. This ensured that I was out of bed and ready to start the day at a reasonable hour. Having this extra challenge will help you prove to yourself that you can handle more than you think.

Create a list of “must-have” relationships to focus on

Friends and family are instrumental for recovery.  We were created to be with people. Feeling comfortable talking to someone about what you are going through is so important.

There was a day when negative thoughts wouldn’t quit entering my head. I took a walk with my minister, and we discussed my situation and feelings. I shared my desire to be happy again and my negative feelings and thoughts. I was in a ‘scary’ place, and telling someone helped me to process my feelings.  

Graduate Student John Rapking wrote in Out of the Blue: Understanding and Responding to Depression, “If you want to leave depression behind in your life, nurture significant relationships with friends and family. List the most important people in your life. With these people in mind, work on enriching your relationships with them. Listening to another’s feelings and goals can help put life in perspective and ease your feelings of sadness.”

It was nice to know that I had multiple people on my team that I could call if I needed. Ultimately, you need people to remind you that you are not alone.

Set boundaries with yourself and others

Setting boundaries isn’t easy, particularly because not everyone agrees with the boundaries each person sets. My wife thought being around people was what I needed, instead of spending my days laying on the couch. My therapist agreed with her, and month after month, told me I needed to walk or exercise.

Each person in my life offered support and suggestions, but I believed that stressful situations would deter my recovery. So I fought it. Sometimes I wanted to be around people, but most of the time, I wanted to be left alone.

You may feel the same way. You may have well-meaning friends and family offering support and advice that feels overwhelming. This is normal. You need to know your limits of what is helpful and what is too much.

Dr. Henry Cloud in his book Boundaries: When to say yes, when to say no to take control of your life said, “Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences.”

Your friends and family will want to help you, but they won’t always know the best way to do this. Being honest and setting boundaries with them can help you avoid overwhelming interactions and prevent unproductive arguments.

Write down specific goals and dates you wish to achieve

In May, I set the goal of losing 20 pounds by the end of summer. A study conducted by Psychologist Dr. Gail Matthew at Dominican University in California found that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals by writing them. So, I wrote the phrase “Lose 20 by August 20” everywhere—on sticky notes in my car, on my bathroom mirror and on my office whiteboard. Setting a deadline helped me work harder and be more mindful of my actions as the deadline came closer.

Writing down goals also gives you a visual of what you want to achieve. Not only did I write down my end goal, but I created a graph to chart my progress. I found it interesting to see how my chart went up and down depending on my exercise and eating patterns. Keep your goals in front of you and review them daily.

Productivity experts stress the importance of setting SMART goals:

Specific—set specific goals

Measurable—set measurable goals

Actionable—start every goal with an action verb

Realistic—be realistic but also challenge yourself

Time-bound—set a date for reaching your goal

What do you want to achieve in the next week, month, three months, six months or year? Write it down and get to work.

Volunteer and help others

Numerous studies show that being involved with others increases the chance of bouncing back from depression faster. Mark Snyder, a psychologist and head of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota believes volunteerism helps mental well-being. “People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness,” Snyder says. “All of these things go up as their feelings of social connectedness goes up, which in reality, it does. It also improves their health and even their longevity.”

Getting involved for me was a gradual process. Shortly after taking medical leave from the classroom, Serve India Ministries, a missions organization my church supports, was looking for some technology help. I volunteered 10 hours a week, helping establish technology policy and creating their social media campaign.

I didn’t want to share that I was no longer working. I was afraid to talk about my depression and health issues, and I was ashamed and scared about what people would think. It wasn’t until I realized my experience could help someone else that it was easier for me to open up.

Having a purpose and using my talents to help people was therapeutic, even though being involved was difficult. After being so isolated, I had to relearn how to be part of a close-knit group. But getting involved made a significant difference. Taking steps to reach out and continue being involved with others is a crucial step to recovery.

Jeremy Rinkel is a life coach, journalist, self-published author, teacher and lifestyle entrepreneur. In February 2016, Rinkel founded Live Happy Life Coach. He co-authored the book ex-depressed:26 Words to Combat Depression and blogs at Rinkel enjoys traveling, writing and watching old TV shows on Netflix with his three children.


SEP, 25, 2018 12:39:45 AM
Very helpful. Recently seperated from my gf of 2 and a half years. It’s only been a month and just in the process of starting completely over in a separate city. So just trying to not be down all the time. Keeping in touch with her kids and just focusing on keeping a relationship with them is helping me. Helping me realize not al was lost in the relationship. Stumbling across this post have gave me guidance. Definitely ideas and seeing that I’m not alone just from reading the comments. Stay blessed everyone and don’t give up. I love you all❤️❤️

NOV, 26, 2017 07:29:53 AM
Thankyou For your best words really amazing article thankyou so much
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MAY, 21, 2016 01:31:52 AM
It has been very helpful to read all of this tonight. I too have been feeling like there is no purpose, and find myself asking "why" and I still here today? Due to the "drama" of my son's girlfriend, I rarely get to see my grandson, and that breaks my heart. I am trying to deal with a very sad and very broken heart. I am not sure how to do that. I have tried to keep busy; but I break down in tears, without warning no matter where I happen to be. That doesn't feel comfortable. I miss the little guy so much. He crosses my mind all the time. I have rearranged the house so it isn't always "waiting" for him to show up. I got rid of the car seat so I don't see it everytime I get into the car, hoping that I will get a call to pick him up from the sitter's. I like the goal setting idea. Maybe I will be able to turn this very deep hurting pain, into some kind of positive and productive experience through taking it one small step at a time. Thank you for the ideas of getting back to writing things down. I used to do a lot of journaling years ago, and that helped get all of the racing thoughts out of my head. Maybe I will be able to actually get some sleep tonight. Thank you for this blog being here tonight. I already feel like I can relax my tense shoulders, at least for this moment in time, I can smile. And that is a nice way to be ending this day.

MAY, 02, 2016 09:27:13 AM
mary alice
am in the midst of a serious depression. have had others before this. am on a lot of meds which is helping but I know I need to do the things this article has suggested. sometimes it is hard to get motivated but I try to push myself to stay busy and exercise. I need to find the courage to share my issues with other people and bond closer to other people. I have to take each day as it comes. cognitive therapy is helping but it is a lot of work. the anxiety hurts and the sadness too. but I have to keep working on it. for myself and my family.

APR, 29, 2016 08:52:11 PM
Karen Lo
Thanks for your support!

APR, 29, 2016 08:50:14 PM
Karen Lo
Thanks so much for much needed advice in helping in the journey of recovery of our daughter,

APR, 28, 2016 09:18:05 PM
Awesome article

APR, 27, 2016 08:53:00 PM
Definitely a good idea, what I hate is for some reason I wake up before my alarm goes off, if it's a half hr before I'll just get up but if it's an hr or more I turn it off cause I feel cheated out of my sleep and it makes waking up even harder when I do, I even found an app/ext that lets me use chirping birds instead of that annoying high pitched beep all alarms have these days. I'm trying to set a to do list up starting with keeping house clean and manageable-I have serious back issues that won't let me work anymore so I know I need to try to finally break the depression that's been going on since my wife died 10 yrs ago and need to get out for something other than shopping & appts then just going home. It isn't easy, I don't know why, I only know it's not working and need to do something about it soon, I'm down to my last dog he's 13 and beginning to show it, I don't know how I'm going to feel when he's gone and not sure I want another as it ties me to having to keep going since I can't abandon them, not wanting to live *****s. So thanks for your story and advice, you look like you have a great family, something to live for right there, and I wish you luck!

APR, 25, 2016 07:27:42 PM
Single mom son is gettin ready to graduate. Hope this works goin to give it a shot. Get back with you in couple of weeks.

APR, 24, 2016 03:08:51 PM
Frank - Used to be Hopeless
My heart breaks when I read posts like HOPELESS above. I was there too not so long ago. In fact I feel like I have just opened a door and started to see there might be possibilities. I would nothave made it to the door if it wasn't for family and friends. Hopeless: please reach out and ask for help. I could not have made it this far without it. I know, easy sayings and platitudes...I was you just a few months ago...don't give up

APR, 23, 2016 05:40:57 PM
joe griso jr.
If your suffering from depression ; my prayers are with you. I suffered from 2 bouts of depression and used mental health counsellors and a Pentecostal church in n.j.

APR, 20, 2016 12:05:13 PM
D. Avellano
Our son is "lost" in depression. This blog may be a lifeline that will help us to help him. I appreciate it so much because the advice it provides will be an objective non-parental third party to make him aware he is not alone in this journey.

APR, 17, 2016 03:47:05 AM
Thank you for the info

APR, 06, 2016 11:57:32 AM
Thank you so much. Depression is so difficult.

APR, 05, 2016 06:34:06 PM
2015 and the early months of 2016 ive been at my lowest ready to try anything

APR, 05, 2016 05:17:58 PM
Joyce Gillespie
This is very useful, I work part time,24hrs. M-F. My work hr., end at 7pm, so I can't be part of several events and yoga I would love to do. walk our dog daily,,meditate every night. Rather stuck with these non-companion tasks. I am stuck at the writing down in a log. I have never been able to do this, more than one day.

APR, 05, 2016 03:43:40 PM
Very inciteful. 17 months post divorce after marriage of 30 years and retirement began Feb 2016, after 10 years high stress career 50 plus hours a week and on call 24/7 . I am generally a happy person but find depression and sometimes anxiety creeps in. I volunteer, practice all group bible study but need to fill large gaps with meaningful connections, church is one. I like your suggestion of writing goals down and setting achievable goals. I have a tendency to be hard on myself so I have to keep reminding myself a couple of big life changes in my life over short period of time is going to take time to find the balance. Thank you for drawing my attention to this blog.

APR, 05, 2016 12:42:45 PM
Thank you for this article, very helpful.

APR, 05, 2016 12:41:28 AM
None of this is helpful when you no longer have a need/want to live or do anything...lost all interest in anything and everything and all you think is on how to best take your life as quickly and painless as possible. Simply you've thrown in your towel and now past your point of no return. Is where I find my self.

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