We’ve all been there: It is 4:30pm, our energy is low, we have at least four hours of work left to do, and we feel like giving up and taking a nap.
In that moment, we must make a critical decision: Do we keep going and get our work done or throw in the towel, knowing we will pay the price later?
If it were five hours earlier, the work would be no problem. A fresher, more energetic version of ourselves earlier in the day had what it took to knock this stuff out. The trick is to get back into that earlier state of mind.
Here is what I do to hit reset and keep going:
Change the body, change the mind
“The difference between peak performance and poor performance is not intelligence or ability; most often it’s the state that your mind and body is in.” — Tony Robbins
One of the things Tony Robbins talks about is the connection between your body and your mind. Your physical state has a huge impact on your mental state.
When your mind is feeling in a slump, your posture is likely slumped over, too. Your breathing is probably shallow. If you change these two things, your mindset will shift, too.
Here is the physiological checklist I go down when I’m feeling sluggish:
- How is my posture? Stand up straight, move from the chair to the standing desk.
- Do I need to roll my back? If my posture has been off for a few hours, I like to get out my foam roller and arch my back for 90 seconds and then roll it out for another 90 seconds.
- How is my breathing? Am I breathing deeply enough? Do I need to do 2–3 minutes of box breathing? Try breathing in sync with this gif. Breath in, hold, breath out, hold, repeat.
- Do I need to stretch? Try doing 30 seconds each of your favorite stretches.
- Do I need to get my blood pumping? Try running some stairs, swinging a kettlebell, doing some burpees, or doing some old-fashioned jumping jacks.
- Do I need to rehydrate? I’m terrible about drinking enough water. Sometimes I’m just dehydrated and need to drink a glass of water.
- Do I need to do a power up? After reading Super Better by Jane McGonigal, I was sold on power ups: Little things that are easy to do and make you feel better. Mine are 1) Stretching my arms to the sky for ten seconds (physical) and 2) Watering and the house plants (emotional).
- Do I need to take a cold shower? A cold shower will radically shift your state of mind. At the end of a normal shower, I like to turn the temperature as low as it will go and stand there for two minutes. It gets me ready to start the day. It will also pull you out of the fog of malaise.
Get a change of scenery
Sometimes working at the same desk all day just doesn’t work well for me. Being in a physically different place helps.
- Try moving from your desk to a conference table. Or, if you are like me and both live and work in a small one-bedroom apartment, switch to your kitchen table instead of your desk.
- Go work from a coffee shop. Getting out will be nice and and extra caffeine boost won’t hurt, either. I don’t have any good coffee shops within walking distance of me, so when I can’t take the time to drive to one, I go work from the local brewery. I have the wifi password and I order the lowest ABV % beer on the menu and nurse it. Always leave the bartender a hefty tip since you are taking up a seat.
Sometimes a break is necessary. Just make sure the break is helping you reset instead of just prolonging the struggle.
- Go for a walk. Sometimes a break is necessary. Just make sure the break is helping you reset instead of just prolonging the struggle. Going for a walk is more likely to get you in a better frame of mind than watching Netflix and surfing Facebook. While you walk, breathe in fresh air, take in some different sights and sounds, get your blood pumping, and let your struggles go for 15–30 minutes. You’ll come back ready to work.
Our lizard brains love to be distracted by anything and everything. Removing them and making them harder to reach will lower the barriers to focus.
- Put your cell phone out of reach. Mine sits on a table out of my normal reach while I’m working so that I don’t mindlessly surf Instagram all day.
- Install a social media and news site blocker. I use WasteNoTime in Safari and Chrome.
- Close email, Slack, and Skype. Keeping in touch is great, but sometimes you need to disconnect to get real work done.
Get into work mode
Think back to the last five times you’ve had to buckle down and get some work done? Is there something you do that signals “it’s time to work”?
For me it is putting my headphones on and turning on Beaucoup Fish by Underworld. I only listen to this album when I’m working. I’ve done the same thing f0r the last 15 years. It has a Pavlovian effect on me now.
Make a plan
Now that your body is good to go, you’ve gotten a change of scenery, you’ve removed your distractions, and you’ve put yourself in work mode, it is time to make a plan to dig yourself out of this hole.
- Pare your task list down to essentials. If you don’t have a task list, make one. Your tasks will seem must more doable once they are on paper and not just lurking around like monsters in your head. If you do have a task list already, put things into two categories: What absolutely needs to get done today? and What can actually be done later? Sometimes we think things must get done today, but in reality there will be no consequences if they are pushed to the next day. Figure out what must be done today so you can focus on that.
- Figure out the best order to accomplish these items in. I’m a big fan of eating the frog (doing the most important and difficult thing first), but sometimes things need to be done in a specific order.
Take the first step, then the second, then the third. The whole journey is composed of simple steps.
Once your list is made, take the first step to completing the first item. Then the second step. Then the third. Then the fourth.
Once the first item is completed, don’t take a break to check your email. Keep your momentum rolling and take the first step on your second item. Then the second step. Then the third.
Once a ball is rolling, it doesn’t stop easily. You’ve got this.