Mind wandering? Motivation flagging? You're not alone. Photo: iStock
Are you the type of person who is super-motivated, disciplined, can self-regulate your behaviour and finds your groove every day?
Most people who answer that description probably also wear a cape, and undies on the outside.
For the rest of us, who find we alternate between working like a man or woman possessed, and the next day drag our knuckles thinking “work sucks”, this is for you.
The reality is that most people have periods where they find it difficult to stay motivated at work. Even the lucky few who absolutely love their jobs still go through times when work is hard.
So, what do you do when you hit a productivity slump? Here are eight simple tactics to trick your brain into working, and stop you from slumping on the couch watching back-to-back episodes of Breaking Bad.
1. Make a will-do list
Christie Little, my business partner at The Performance Clinic, is a super human when it comes to getting work done. Christie advocates an overall weekly plan, then starting the day (or planning at the end of the previous day) with a clear outline of what you're going to achieve. This is not a to-do list, it's a will-do list.
I know it sounds basic but even if it is only two or three big projects, write down what you are going to do and more importantly, how long it's going to take. If you're anything like me, you'll write down 10 things and realise you only have enough time to complete two.
2. Get out of the blocks
The worst thing you can do when you're in a bit of a slump (or even when you're not) is to sit down and start the day checking Facebook, surfing favourite websites and having your attention hijacked by others (hello, inbox).
Develop a morning ritual where you get out of the blocks quickly and focus on one of the tasks you mapped out in your daily plan. If you concentrate better during the morning, attack your hardest tasks first. After getting off to a good start it's amazing how the rest of the day tends to follow suit. Likewise, waste the first few hours and you'll scramble all day.
3. Work like a footballer
Think of dividing your day into four quarters, rather than one big chunk of time that can easily be swallowed up by "stuff".
Work for 90 minutes to two hours then have a break (little lunch); work for another 90 minutes to two hours and break (big lunch – away from your desk); the all-important third quarter after lunch is where many people fight against their circadian rhythm and feel tired and sluggish, so work around this by allocating low-level tasks (administration tasks, emails, easy reading) to this period then have a break (afternoon milky); then another 90 minutes to two hours and pack up and go home.
4. Create an hour of power
What is the best time of day for you to think? Allocate 60 minutes to powering through a project, when your energy levels and cognitive processing (thinking) are at their best. Get rid of all distractions and avoid multi-tasking during this block. If you locked in one undistracted hour a day, five days a week, how much more could you achieve?
5. Allocate little rewards
We all have a limited supply of willpower, which is why when you try to do too many things at once (get fit, stop smoking, work harder, learn the guitar) it all becomes too much and you're more likely to give up. Trick yourself with little rewards along the way. For example, if you start the day on a high-level activity and stay focused for 60 to 90 minutes, have a coffee break as a reward. It sounds simple but rewarding yourself can be a very effective way to build momentum when you need it.
6. Shuffle the deck
Have a copy of your daily plan in front of you and come back to it a few times each day. You might have received a last-minute proposal, spent time with an upset colleague or had some IT issues. Shuffling the deck helps you reprioritise and feel in control.
7. Set your departure
Just like a nightclub gives you a warning when they're about to close (in my day they use to play I Would Do Anything For Love by Meatloaf and you knew it was time to get out), put a time in your diary when you're going to depart, and work to it as a deadline. Working mums and dads who have to pick up the kids from daycare at 5pm are some of the most efficient workers for this reason.
8. Wipe off 5
OK, you've read all of the above, maybe even tried a few of the techniques, and you're still sitting there, staring into space dreaming of an asteroid hitting the office server so you can go home. Set aside the next five minutes to start a project. The process of just starting something can help overcome procrastination. Ever found one clean bookshelf has lead to an entire tidy house? Engaging your brain – well, tricking it – on a new task is a proven way to overcome procrastination.
What tricks do you use to make yourself do work when you couldn't be bothered?