This has been some kind of week, hasn’t it? To be honest with myself (and with you), I failed to set healthy boundaries regarding my time this week, and I stopped moving forward. I was feeling stuck.
The US presidential election took over my social media feeds, and I found it more difficult than usual to disengage and work on my business. I allowed myself to be sucked into the vortex of post-election coverage and the emotions that come with it. Based on discussions with friends and family, I know I’m not the only one. Whether they voted for Trump, Clinton, a third-party candidate, or didn’t vote at all, one consistent theme emerged – this has been a tough week to be productive.
So what better way to tackle the beast than by addressing it head on? Here are the strategies I use to increase productivity when I'm feeling stuck.
Give yourself a reality check.
Take a few minutes to objectively assess where you are and what’s going on in your life. What is asking to be your priority right now? Are you honoring yourself by giving yourself some time and space to breathe, or are you procrastinating?
If you're dealing with a life-altering change, you may need a little more time to get back on your feet – and that’s normal. Change is stressful, regardless of whether or not it is welcome or expected. When you're going through a transition, it’s perfectly understandable if you lose a little professional mojo as a result. Meet yourself where you are, and allow yourself some time to process the thoughts and emotions you’re experiencing.
At some point, though, it will be time to get back to work. When that happens…
Give yourself a values check.
Your values are what’s important to you and what define you and your business. They provide direction and let us know when we're on the right path. When we’re disconnected from our values, we feel distressed, unhappy, and confused – and it’s not uncommon for procrastination or lethargy to set in when we’re out of alignment with what drives us.
If you feel stuck or find yourself procrastinating, give yourself a mini-values check. What key values drive your life and your business right now? How is what you’re currently doing – or not doing – resonating with your values? How is it helping or hurting you?
For example, I highly value connection, service, and family. I started a coaching business because I wanted to connect with other professionals and help them develop successful businesses rooted in their values. I also wanted to create a business that would be professionally fulfilling while allowing me time to connect with my family and close friends.
This past week, I spent hours on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram connecting with friends and family, reaching out and checking in. On the surface, it sounds like I was living in concert with my values – and to an extent, I was. But I was also staring at a screen for the majority of the day, not fully present for my family at home, and certainly not thinking about how to best serve my clients. My values were helping me personally but hurting me professionally. Moreover, at the end of the day, I felt exhausted and emotionally drained – my personal red flag telling me that I had not set appropriate boundaries for myself. Lesson learned.
(If you’re unclear on what your values are, download my free values clarification guide, Who Do You Think You Are?)
Your timer is your friend.
Yesterday, I decided to pull myself away from social media and get to work. My growing to-do list greeted me, full of both personal and business tasks to complete. My initial impulse was to crawl back in bed and finish my “Stranger Things” Netflix binge, but as that was clearly was out of alignment with my values, I developed another plan.
I grabbed my phone and asked Siri to set a timer for 10 minutes. Then, I straightened up my office.
Okay, I can hear you already. But before you accuse me of procrastinating, please understand that I’m one of those people for whom outer order brings inner calm (thanks, Gretchen Rubin!). If my work area is a disaster, then it's much more difficult for me to accomplish anything. Taking 10 minutes to declutter and organize helped create a successful afternoon.
Once that timer went off, I sat down, set it again for 15 minutes, and started jotting down notes for the blog post you’re reading right now. When that timer went off, I took a quick five minute break, and then set another timer and got back to work.
When you need to get going, start small. Pick a task, set your timer, and do it. It doesn’t matter how long or short a time period you choose (though I’d suggest somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes to start), nor is it important that you finish your task. All that matters is that you focus your efforts solely on the task while the timer is on.
When the timer goes off, you get to decide what’s next. Want to keep going and finish the task? Awesome. Don’t stop. Do you need a break? Fine. Set your timer, take a quick break, and then return to your work. Want to keep going but on a different project? Cool. Set that timer and go for it. For now, the goal is getting started and making forward progress.
Make a plan…
I’m working on a large-scale project right now, with multiple components and tasks to complete. When I’m in the zone, I feel like I can accomplish everything and anything. But when I’m feeling stuck, like I did this week, it seems completely daunting, and that Netflix binge starts to look more and more enticing.
Stop. Breathe. Break it down.
Break that large goal into smaller goals. Break one smaller goal into larger tasks, and break one larger task into smaller pieces. Pick a small piece and do it – perhaps using the timer strategy I describe above.
For some of us, making a plan, breaking it down, and following through on a single step is empowering. We like an orderly system to get stuff done, and this feels very comforting.
But for others of us, the thought of making a to-do list or outline only serves to increase our anxiety or overwhelm, leading us straight back towards paralysis, procrastination, and general unproductiveness.
If that sounds like you, then don’t make a plan. Pick something, anything, and just do it. Then do something else. Call a client, do some free-writing, then create an Instagram graphic. It doesn’t have to follow an orderly progression – at least, not today. Today is about getting you started and finding your energy.
Down the road, once you’ve regained your mojo, you can put the pieces together and synthesize it with your strategic plan. But the goal of today is to shake off the cobwebs and get moving.
In other words, you do you. But DO is the key word. DO something.
Reach out to your community.
When you’re feeling stuck, it's a lonely, depressing place to be. It’s tempting to put on a brave face and gut it out, but sometimes, doing so only exacerbates an already frustrating situation. If you’ve tried the above strategies and are still having difficulty establishing momentum, don’t suffer in silence.
Reach out to a colleague or mentor, and talk through your frustration. Contact your friendly neighborhood business coach (**ahem**), and talk to her about what you’re experiencing. Clearing the unhelpful thoughts and emotions may be enough to inspire momentum.
If you’re more comfortable reaching out virtually, you can also find support through social media and networking groups, such as on LinkedIn and Facebook, or through business-oriented discussion boards. For example, I’m a member of Fizzle, an online community of entrepreneurs. The Fizzle Forum is a great resource for up-and-coming business professionals who need a space to ask questions, celebrate success, and reach out for help. (note: The link to Fizzle is an affiliate link – I receive a discount on my membership when someone signs up using my link.)
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
Feeling stuck or uncertain is an uncomfortable place to be. I know – I’ve been there before, and I’m sure I’ll be there again. But I remind myself that feelings and experiences come and go, and that feeling stuck or unproductive today doesn’t mean I will feel that way forever.
The strategies I outlined above help me overcome the roadblocks of lethargy, procrastination, and self-doubt. What steps do you take to rekindle the fire when you’re feeling burned out? Leave me a note in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts!