Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

Crawling Out of a Productivity Slump

I rest my hands on the keyboard. I take them away again. I type a sentence. I delete it. I change what I’m listening to on Spotify. I browse reddit for ten minutes. I try again. Fucking nothing. Whether you’re doing the thing you’re most passionate about in the world or your daily grind, a perfectly natural part of the productive process is for that process to occasionally grind to a halt. It can self-inflicted (i.e. discovering Netflix’s Daredevil) or just bad luck. And sometimes it can last for days or even weeks.

If my spells of writer’s block were as exciting as an episode of Californication, I wouldn’t complain so much. But they’re not, and not being able to produce something of merit after an entire week of struggling can be really disheartening. Although these blocks are pretty much unavoidable, there are ways to make them easier to deal with and possibly shorter. In addition to drinking more than I should, here are five tools I use to claw my way out of a productivity slump.

1. Set realistic goals

So you’re going to run 5 miles, compose a sonata and learn Brazilian jujitsu before breakfast? No wonder you’re in a slump! The easiest way to put ourselves in a rut is to expect way too much of ourselves. You’re not Jesus, so dial it down a notch. Maybe even down to 1. When I have a hard time picking up a pen, I limit myself to one very achievable goal per day. If you can focus all of your energy on getting that one thing done, then it’s impossible to fail and you will build some positive momentum toward getting back to your old productive self.

2. Exercise and eat well

Being unproductive has as much to do with the body as it does the mind. If your diet is full of sugar and empty calories, then you’re not working with an effective energy source. Couple that with a sedentary lifestyle and poor sleep habits and you’ve got yourself a vicious cycle of low energy. Put good stuff in your belly, exercise for at least 30 minutes a day and get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Do those things and I guarantee the fog around your mind will thin significantly. In addition, I find yoga and meditation to be particularly helpful with productivity.

3. Do something, anything

Falling into a productivity slump is really a case of negative momentum. I’ve worked on the same 1,000 word piece for a month before. At some point you hit a roadblock and you don’t get anywhere that day. The next day is the same. This repeats until you’ve made what was really quite easy into a monumental task in your mind. You need to reverse the momentum in your favor. Sometimes, all that’s needed is the smallest thing to push you in a positive direction. If you’re having trouble writing a blog post, just write in your journal or free-write. Graphic designer with no ideas? Sketchbook time. Musician? Jam session, of course.

4. Remove distractions

Reddit doesn’t open itself. I will be the first to admit that a lot of my productivity issues are my own damn fault. In a perfect world, we should launch right into the task at hand because it’s the best way to quickly build some positive momentum for the day. But, I find it impossible to do that sometimes. I have to watch at least one YouTube video first! Granted, I believe Secular Talk is a force for good, but I can’t watch just one and there goes an hour of my morning. I present to you the SelfControl app. Add those time-eating websites, dial up the amount of time you’d like them to be blocked and enjoy some time free from distraction.

5. Get inspired

For me, one of the best cures for writer’s block is reading. Taking in someone else’s work reminds me of the incredible, beautiful things we can do with words and, more importantly, the things I can do if I keep writing. Browsing the galleries on Behance gives me the same effect when I’m all out of design ideas. Getting inspired to the point of jealousy is a powerful motivator. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves what is possible and light a fire inside ourselves to make something as amazing as the things that inspire us.

Staying out

Climbing out of a slump is only half the battle. It would be pretty nice to stay out. To do that, keep doing the stuff that got you out in the first place. Continue setting realistic goals that you know you can meet and nothing will seem too overwhelming. All of these tips are quite important for continued productivity, but if you do anything, continue to look after yourself. Nothing is going to give you more energy and positive momentum than a fit body. Keep it that way.

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