How To Be Productive, Even When You Are Depressed

Depression has been around for a long time. There have been studies, analyses, investigations, laboratory tests and decades of research. It has been shown that depression has a significant impact on ones productivity. Even now research continues into the complex world of depression, and its grip over us. 200 years ago however, the topic had already been written about definitively, by the Brothers Grimm, in their research paper entitled ‘Hansel and Gretel‘. This paper is often misrepresented as a children’s tale or frivolous entertainment, when in reality it is the key to all productivity.

You see they describe depression as an evil witch, one which lives in the depths, the darkness of a cold and lonely forest. So far so good, sounds like depression to me. This witch is not only evil but she is cannibalistic, she quite literally wants to kill you*. Not only that, but she has designed her whole existence in such a way as to draw you in. She even built a house made of sweets and confectionary – how delightful. I want some.

Your irrational mind is called Gretel, and quite frankly she is only in it for herself. She will see the candy and the confection and try desperately to convince you it is the right way. It is not the right way. She will lead you to an evil witch, who will kill you.

You should be listening to Hansel, he is smart. Logical even. He will always provide a path for escape. Not only that, he does it in a very intelligent way. This was probably because of his early understanding of the ‘Ego-Depletion Theory‘, which states that willpower is a limited resource and not a bottomless pit. So one would assume on analysing this future theory hansel decided that the way to battle depression and certain death, was to break the task down into very small, easy-to-consume, pieces*. See, smart.

The story so far.

So what we know so far is that depression is an evil witch that will try and kill you, but because your irrational emotional part of the brain, Gretel, wants candy, you are doomed forever. Not so. Because you have an intelligent part of the brain called Hansel, who has quite literally roadmapped your way out of there.

This is what you do.

Like Hansel, you need to break down big tasks into very small bite size tasks. Breadcrumbs, if you will. One of the biggest problems with productivity however, is the starting of the task. Do not fear, there’s a solution. The 5 minute rule. This rules states that no matter what the task is, you must commit a small bite sized amount of time (5 minutes to be precise or to put it another way, 0.34% of your day) to the task. After the time is up, you can stop. That is not so difficult is it?

Another thing Hansel does rather well is keeping his mind on the next small task. His goal was always to find the next breadcrumb, not the way out all together. This is your aim. Identify the next breadcrumb and commit 5 minutes to that thing. Don’t worry about getting out of the forest. Most importantly, don’t listen to Gretel.

One area Hansel does let us down in however, is barriers. Productivity is about barriers, and unfortunately for me the story of Hansel and Gretel doesn’t have much to offer in the metaphorical barrier department. But I won’t hold it against them – they got me this far after all (572 words, in fact).

So barriers are needed to force you to do things.

It is like a bowling alley with the guttering guards down, you can throw that ball down and be confident it is going to hit something. No precision required. The barriers will bounce you towards the right direction. This is the approach.

For instance, I have sat and not looked at my phone for hours because it was 1 meter out of reach. I also used to sit in my bed for hours on my laptop, until I taped my charger to the other side of the wall – in the next room. Now I have to get up… when it dies. I cannot sit there all day. I put my phone charger in awkward places so when my alarm goes off I have to get up. The list goes on. You can find your own barriers.

Create the barriers to the things which inhibit you and incentives for the things which benefit you.

The effect of this is that you will be mighty pissed off when your alarm goes off, or when your laptop is about to die. You with thrash and complain to anyone around you. You will be agitated and uncomfortable. Your habitat will smell primarily of yeast – but – you will be productive. Just don’t be lured by the house with the candy and confection.


*Can’t actually believe this metaphor is going to work out.

*Also known as breadcrumbs


Read more, it is good for you.

Is Social Media Affecting Your Mental Health?

One Simple Reason You Should Express Yourself

How To Get ‘Free’ Mental Health Care In The USA™

Is Your Window Designed to Kill You?


  1. This is brilliant, simple things can make all the difference, and the five minute rule applies with me, it’s been a long time since I felt as though I could focus on anything for much longer than five minutes, especially if it’s something that requires a decent level of concentration.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know exactly what you mean, I think we try and focus too much on the big picture and forget to take some small steps. The 5 minute thing is useful for me on a daily basis. I hope it is useful for others too. And thank you for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

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