I don’t believe anyone who tells you they are productive all year round. We’re humans not robots and sometimes things don’t go to plan. Your systems can work well for months and all of a sudden they collapse and you don’t why. It’s not anyone’s fault and there’s not always a logical reason why.
It just happens. That’s life.
This happened to me a few weeks ago with the worst possible timing. Projects I had been excited by all came in at once and my brain seemed to go on strike. You know the scene from Marvel’s Avengers when where the Hulk refuses to come out to play? I felt like Bruce Banner. Out of my depth.
I had to change things up to get back to 100%. Try these techniques for yourself to see if they work for you. You don’t need to commit to doing them forever just until you get your mojo back again.
#1 Do a warm-up
When you’re in a slump, you can spend more time thinking about doing a task than it would take to actually do it. This used to happen with me and writing all the time. I made excuses to spend five more minutes on Instagram which always seemed to turn into an hour.
A simple hack I use to get myself writing is starting by taking online typing tests. The text is meaningless but it gets my fingers flowing. It’s like a game so I never procrastinate on this and this wins half the battle against my inertia.
I found this works for any high-brainpower task. Warm yourself up with something with no real pressure to get your momentum going. If you need to do heavy statistical work, find a random quirky dataset to mess about with. It’s cognitively easier because it doesn’t matter but at least you’re doing the same actions.
#2 Look at the bricks, not the wall
Perhaps counter-intuitively, when my productivity is slumping, I make my to-do list longer. The underlying amount of work doesn’t change but I break each task down into small components. I make sure it won’t take me longer than 20 minutes to cross anything off the list.
I confess part of this is procrastination. Yet, more importantly, it means nothing feels overwhelming. I can cross more items off per day which makes me feel good rather than doing 90% of one big task and my to-do list looking untouched.
If you find yourself feeling like you’ve achieved nothing in a day, why not try breaking down a task. If it’s writing an article, switch from the mindset of it’s not finished to the introduction, and the first three sections are done. It’s a more upbeat way of looking at your day.
#3 Channel your Marie
Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up made a big splash both as a book and on Netflix. Let’s be real, most of us don’t prioritize organization as much in our daily lives as she does.
Yet when I can’t seem to get anything ‘productive’ done, I often end up tidying up my room. It’s cathartic to give order to the objects around me when my mind is so messy. It’s a low brainpower task but a job I need to do. The results are clear and in the end, you feel like you’ve done something good.
You can do the same for digital clutter too. Maybe I’m weird but I can spend hours sorting out files into the right places and feel relaxed. Again it’s a job that needs to be done but doesn’t need much thinking. Perfect for a slump.
#4 Buddy up
I’ve been my own boss for nearly six months now and I’ve noticed a glitch in my matrix. Despite enjoying my creative self-led projects the most, I often prioritized the tasks I had to do for other people first. It was as if I quit my job to be a slave to my clients instead.
I don’t believe enough self-employed people talk about how hard it is to keep up your intrinsic motivation. It’s easier to work towards other people’s deadlines because it feels concrete whereas you can always kick your own ambitions down the road.
Accountability is crucial for me to ensure I work on what deep down I know I want to work on. I’ve started sending 2-minute daily updates to people in my inner circle where I assess the previous day’s productivity and outline my to-do list for the current day. Knowing I’m going to need to explain myself if I keep missing my goals helps to keep my mind on track. You might find it does the same for you too.
I’m launching a YouTube channel soon and I publicly announced my intention to post a video a week from January 2022 while on a podcast with Hasan Kubba. If you are reading this in 2022 and my channel hasn’t met this promise, call me out on social media and I promise to retweet.
#5 No sweatpants when working
When I worked in consulting, one of my everyday joys was coming home, taking my suit off, and getting into sweatpants. It signaled the end of work mode and the start of chill mode.
Once I had the freedom to wear what I want, the suit gathered dust in my cupboard. I was sweatpants all day, every day. For a while, this was great like eating candy for breakfast. I was productive and comfortable, why would I ever choose to end this?
The problem is when I didn’t feel like working then I was already in my chill mode clothes. In my new freedom honeymoon, I could make myself work like this but it became more difficult over time. I began to resent myself for working when I’d rather just lounge around. Why was I spoiling chill mode?
While I haven’t dusted off my suit, I now wear business casual during the day. Studies have shown clothing can give you more confidence and it’s made a difference to me. I get the extra benefit of being able to switch back to sweatpants at the end of the day too.
Even if you aren’t your own boss, whenever you’re doing work from your own home, try to not taint your clothes for chilling by working in them.
Machines don’t have feelings but when they are a bit sluggish, the first thing we do is turn them off and give them a rest. We then switch them on again to see if our issue is solved.
If our first instinct with a machine is to switch it off then why do we try to force ourselves to work when our CPU is overloaded? Your productivity might be crashing because you are burnt out and you can try all the hacks in the world but nothing will substitute rest.
When I feel like this, I go to sleep earlier. Anything outstanding on my list can be picked up the following day in 99% of cases.
If it’s too late for this then you might need to take some time off and completely reboot. You might think you can’t do this but you get more done by working closer to 100% when you’re back than plodding along at 40% effectiveness.
It’s simple mathematics.
Give. Yourself. A. Break.
Picture Credit- Edited by the author — original from Pexels