It happens to the best of us. We go to bed, to-do lists prepared, with the best of intentions to get cracking with work the next day. Though when tomorrow comes around – nothing. And during this time, it feels like no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to bring yourself around to getting things done. Well, no judgement here. In fact, this piece will share some things that have helped me in this regard.
First things first, I’ve found it best to first identify why I’m not eager to get work done, even in light of a looming deadline. For instance, am I mentally tired? Do I find the task at hand boring? Am I procrastinating on some level for whatever reason? Do I just have too much on my plate, causing ‘temporary paralysis’? Whatever the underlying reason, identifying it helps in finding the best way to pull yourself out of that slump. So, let’s look at these in a bit more detail.
1. Feeling mentally tired
This happens more often than most people think, though can be hard to identify. This usually happens when one has been doing a lot in a short period of time. Unfortunately, remedying this can be a bit… tricky. In an ideal world, the best thing to do is to take some time away from your work. This means having a complete break from it for a couple of days to however long you can spare, without coming back to stressfully tight deadlines. Think of this as a mental cleanse so you can come back feeling refreshed and ready to tackle work.
2. The task at hand is boring
For me, this is synonymous to doing a literature review. I have found it to be more bearable doing particular things at certain times, and for a pre-allocated period of time. This has taken the form of me doing all the reading for the literature review in the morning, when I am feeling most awake. I’d make summaries as I read and move on to something more ‘hands-on’ after lunch. I have found that knowing how much time I’d spend on a task, particularly a boring task, helps keep my mind focused and tuned in. The pomodoro technique can be useful in this regard.
3. Intentionally procrastinating
The best way to address this is to ask yourself why you’re procrastinating. Is it because you don’t want to ‘fail’ (get the result you are not anticipating) – which, by the way, is completely legitimate. If so, you won’t really know unless you try. And failing soon can simply mean, quickly identifying ways that don’t work, meaning you can move on to exploring other avenues. Is your procrastinating because you actually don’t know what to do or how to approach things? If so, just ask for help. Why work yourself up for no reason if just asking for clarity can move things along.
4. Temporary paralysis due to there being too much other work
Unfortunately, this is just part of modern life; sometimes things just pile up seemingly from nowhere. Resolution: planning and prioritising. Break down what has to be done and by when. Write down how long you reckon each task will realistically take, and add contingencies. Do the most pressing (time sensitive) and important things first and work your way done the list. Don’t make yourself any busier than is necessary.
5. Other reasons
When all else fails, I have found it useful to change focus, perhaps working on another task. Changing the work area has also been useful. Perhaps try working with a friend, if you normally work alone, or vice versa. Try working at a library, a café or somewhere outside your norm to help change your state of mind.
Lessons learnt – multi-tasking is not a good idea. I have found it to be more productive to fully focus on one task for a set period of time, rather than splitting my attention over several tasks for a longer period of time. All things being said, it all really comes down to what works for you. If you’re already in a slump, why not use the time to explore what works for you? Try out a bunch of things. What more do you have to lose?