The Dreaded Productivity Slump

Productivity Slump
This post was previously published. It has been updated.

I’ve had a rough couple of months, and my productivity has taken a hit. It reminded me of a week years ago. Read on for the description, and what I did:

It was the week from hell: a situation with a family member threatened to sever a relationship, I was recovering from a vertigo-inducing double ear infection, and my daughter picked up a virus that caused her to vomit for 9 hours. Then work went to you-know-where in a handbasket, and we went on vacation. I spent the next two weeks trying to catch up, unsuccessfully.

I realized I had to do something. Quickly. The situation had turned into chaos.

After rushing to print some things out for our Brownie meeting, I realized we were responsible for snack. So I made up some lemonade, threw some cheese crackers in a bag, and hoped the girls would forgive me. I was running late. Really late. So late that the neighbor on her way to the same Brownie meeting stopped to make sure I wasn’t collapsed on the floor — because I am never late. Then I got in my car and realized I was low on gas. As in run-the-Prius-on-electrical-to-make-sure-I-got-there low. After the meeting I realized I had missed two deadlines on commitments I was supposed to keep, forgot an appointment, and discovered a cache of overdue library books.

Ouch. Not only was my lack of motivation and inability to take care of things getting bad, it was affecting other people.

Recognizing a Slump

Sometimes slumps are so ginormous that you can’t fail but recognize them. But had I been paying attention, I might have been able to address something a month before it crashed.

Here are the things I see when I start to slump:

  • My task list doesn’t get looked at. I make a task list once a day, but there have been days that is all I do.
  • The task list doesn’t get made at all. There are days when I forgot to make a task list.
  • I want to do nothing. I don’t want to move forward on anything, and I struggle to will myself to.

Recognizing the Root Causes

Usually I can handle a blip in the productivity meter…as long as it is a single blip. An episode of illness, too much stress, traveling, poor work conditions or a mental block on a project are no big deal. I ask myself why I’m struggling, find the root cause and deal with it.

I find that I have to look at what is causing the block:

  • Illness. Have I been ill? Am I tired or run-down or otherwise not at a good place physically?
  • Family illness. Has someone close to me been ill? Have I spent more time shuttling people to doctors or waiting at the pharmacy? Or cleaning?
  • Too much stress. Lives are not calm all the time. Situations will crop up that will demand our attention.
  • Poor work conditions. The question here is whether it is annoying, or harmful. Can the situation be adapted to?
  • Traveling. Vacations come and go. This disruption is time-sensitive, and with a bit of preparation, I can wait it out.
  • Mental blocks. Is my lack of progress all in my head?

How To Get Out of a Slump

Depending on the cause of the slump, I can react in a way to get past it. If more than one thing is contributing, I must deal with each in part.

  • Illness. If I am sick, I need to give myself the time and the space to recover. This will mean resting, and it means that my projects must be evaluated to see what can get pushed off.
  • Family Illness. I have to make space for dealing with the sick person, doctor appointments and care. While it doesn’t require as much rest as an illness of my own, I still have to make sure I take time to take care of me, or I will run myself down – and probably catch whatever it was.
  • Too much stress. I have to ask myself if this is something I need to be involved in (my family likes to try to drag me into things that are not any business of mine), and if it is, what I can do. Fretting about a problem is not productive, and it saps energy and focus. I need to make time for extra meditation, hot baths and sitting in the woods.
  • Poor work conditions. Once I have taken all the action I can to change a situation, I must look to change myself. Making sure I act in a way that I feel good about becomes top priority. Taking frequent breaks, posting reminders (“Pigs don’t sing; Consider the source”) on my computer, listening to calming music all help. Most of all, leaving work behind me at the end of the day ensures it doesn’t intrude on the rest of my life.
  • Traveling. All trips, good and bad, come to an end. Having a process in place to get back on track helps.
  • Mental blocks. Most of my mental blocks are caused by over-thinking. Rather than do something, I have a tendency to try to sort out the options to see what the best thing to do might be. Think rather than do. To get around this, I must simple do. And it doesn’t matter what I choose to do. Just getting going works.

The first step in getting out of a slump is to recognize you are in one, and then figuring out the cause(s). Once you have that information, you can address how to move forward.