Last Friday started well and then landed in a slump. I taught a three-hour class in the morning to a group from Europe. The students were engaged, and the time flew by. And when the class ended, I was wiped out. But, it was only 11 a.m., and I had a long list of things to finish before the weekend.
That got me thinking about the strategies you can use to get yourself back on track when you just aren’t motivated to work. Here are five that work pretty well:
Go for a walk
My go-to when I hit a lull is some type of mild exercise. A 15-minute walk can be great. Park your phone on your desk, get outside and stroll. Look at the trees. Appreciate the design of cars that roll by. Listen to the noises of life. Remind yourself that there is a big world out there beyond your to-do list.
Then, pop back to your desk and dig back in. The combination of the change of context, the energy you get from some exercise, and the time to clear your head can often get you back into the swing of the workday.
Take small bites
The low-energy days are not the ones when you’re going to knock out a huge project that needs your best work self. But, that’s okay. There are usually a lot of smaller things that need to get done. I usually recommend organizing your to-do list around the length of the tasks that need to get done.
Pick some tasks that fit the amount of energy and concentration ability you have. An interesting side effect of this strategy is that if you knock a few things off the list, you might just find that you are more energized.
Find the busywork
Another organizational strategy for your to-do list is to divide it by the degree to which the task requires your best work self. When your best self has exited the building, there are still things you can accomplish that need to happen. There are always forms to fill out or receipts to check, or even some emails that you can do on those slow days.
Try working for a few more minutes
Low energy days tend to drive you to want to give up. You’re feeling bored or frustrated, and you just want to put everything aside. Your reaction to those feelings influences the habits you create. If you stop working or pull out your cell phone every time you feel bored or frustrated, you will begin to associate those feelings with the action of pulling out your phone.
Instead, tell yourself that you’re going to work for five more minutes. Even if you only get another five minutes of work done before you do check your phone, you have associated the feelings that might have gotten you to stop working with continued effort. That makes it easier to keep going in the future. And—every once in a while—that continued effort gets you to a second wind that makes you more productive.
Phone a friend
Worst case, make use of the importance of social interaction to your brain. Set up a meeting—even a phone or Zoom meeting—with a client, customer, mentor, or colleague to talk about something work-related. Work relationships have suffered a lot during the pandemic, so taking some time to have a discussion that is relevant to work, but not directed at a specific project can bring you closer together with your network.
Not only that, but those conversations can often be inspiring. Getting an outside perspective can help you to see your work and the particular projects you’re doing from an outside perspective. Often, after talking with colleagues, you may find renewed energy to push a project forward.