11 TED Talks to motivate you when you aren’t feeling productive

Whether you’re procrastinating on a big project, a boring administrative task, or just because you didn’t sleep well the night before, we all have days when we feel unmotivated.

In some cases, this is a sign that you should take a short break, a mental health day or — gasp! — unplug and go on a real vacation.

But that isn’t always possible.

How do you get motivated when you find yourself 45 minutes down an Instagram rabbit hole looking at your ex’s photos?

Try watching a TED Talk.

There’s a TED Talk for just about any topic from creativity, artificial intelligence, and leadership to happiness and motivation.

Here are 11 TED talks that we like to watch when we aren’t feeling motivated.

1. Richard St. John: Success is a continuous journey

Success isn’t a one-way street. In this short talk, St. John shares the painful story about how he grew a successful business. At the height of his success, he stopped doing all of the things that made him successful, and his company nearly went under.

2. Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator

This is an excellent talk to watch the next time you find yourself going down a Reddit or YouTube rabbit hole. As a self-proclaimed master procrastinator, Urban shares a series of thought experiments with examples that show why we procrastinate.

3. Cal Newport: Why you should quit social media

Chances are, social media is how you not only get distracted from doing the work but also the place where you go when you don’t feel like working. In this talk, Newport makes the case that quitting social media can make us happier and more productive.

4. Rives: The museum of four in the morning

Have you ever wondered why there are so many references to 4 a.m. in books, music, and movies? Rives has an obsession with 4 a.m. Besides being entertaining, this is a great talk to watch to see a master storyteller in action.

5. Carl Honore: In praise of slowness

Watch this talk when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Honore discusses how we’re all cramming more and more into our already busy days. He says that we are so obsessed with speed that we often forget that it takes a toll on our life, work, and health. Productivity happens when we slow down.

6. Tim Ferriss: Smash fear, learn anything

What’s the worst that could happen? This is the central thesis behind Ferriss’s talk. He mentions that fear can teach you what you should not do, but more often it shows you what you should do.

7. Sam Berns: My philosophy for a happy life

Being brave isn’t always easy, but it is the key to moving forward. In his short life, Berns encountered more obstacles than most of us will ever face. Before his death, he shared the three principles of his personal philosophy in this talk.

8. Diana Nyad: Never, ever give up

At 64, Nyad swam 100 miles from Cuba to Florida. In this talk, she shares her story. It’s a powerful lesson on motivation, focus, perseverance, and why you should continue to chase your dreams.

9. Laura Vanderkam: How to gain control of your free time

Why do some people manage to accomplish 10 times as much as others? In this talk, Vanderkam shares her approach to time management. The key is effective prioritization.

10. Leticia Gasca: Don’t fail fast — fail mindfully

We glorify success and often try to hide or bury our failures. In this talk, Gasca opens up about some of her once-hidden failures. She realized that sharing your failures makes you stronger.

11. Elizabeth Gilbert: Success, failure, and the drive to keep creating

Success and failure have a lot more in common than we think. In this talk, Gilbert contends that the key to staying motivated lies in staying grounded or “going home again.” She claims that you have to identify the thing you love more than yourself and build your house on top of it.


The next time you find yourself procrastinating, consider watching one of these 11 TED talks. It may give you a new perspective and help you get focused again.

Annabel is a former Director of Communications at Jotform. She's passionate about writing and has worked in communications roles domestically and internationally. When she's not blogging about SaaS or online forms, she enjoys international travel, loud concerts, and artisan coffee.

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