5 simple ways to escape a slump and start kicking ass

Yesterday was an amazing day. I felt motivated, productive, everything was clicking. One of those days where I feel like I’m right where I should be and nothing can stop me.

This marks a dramatic change from the first few weeks of the year, when I was in a terrible slump. Just had real trouble feeling motivated, getting moving on anything, etc. Productivity was terrible. Not fun times.

I’ve observed that most people’s productivity and motivation tends to run in cycles, and when you’re in a slump, it can be really hard to pick yourself up and get back on track. Here are a few things I’ve tried over the last few years that have made a big difference to turning slumps around:

1. Take care of your body

More than anything else, I get productivity and motivational gains from getting enough sleep, exercising every day, and eating right. And while I’m far from perfect in any of these areas, just focusing on doing a little bit better is usually enough to make me feel much better. Try going for a walk or short run, eating a salad, and going to bed a little earlier tonight.

2. Take some action, no matter how small

For many, feeling unmotivated is often the result of discouragement, or not believing that our goal can be accomplished at all. Don’t worry about that. Seriously, do not think any further than the next few minutes, and just get up and do something. If it only takes five minutes, that’s OK. In fact, if you’re feeling really unmotivated, setting a timer for five or ten minutes and then working till it goes off is a great strategy for busting procrastination and feeling better about things. Don’t worry too much about whether this works, that’s the whole point. Just try it. Right now.

3. Go hang out with encouraging and accomplished people

When you’re in a slump, avoid negative people, and avoid people who talk but never accomplish anything. You want to spend time with winners who are eager to help and encourage you. Ideally in your field, but people who are accomplished in any field tend to share some of the same attributes, and being around them is often a great psychological kickstart. I never feel like kicking ass as much as I do after leaving a startup event and talking with other founders who are building awesome products and companies.

4. Measure something. Anything.

Pick a metric associated with your biggest goal and start tracking it on a daily basis. It doesn’t really matter at this point what the metric is, just that you have one. Examples might include minutes per day worked on a project, dollars of income, lines of code, number of sketches produced, visitors to your blog, words written, etc, etc. Just find something to track and start writing it down every day in a place where you can see it.

5. Consider taking a break

I put this one last because trying to evaluate whether you need a break while you’re in a slump can be tricky, but try to be honest with yourself: are you burned out? Have you been dealing with high stress for a long time without a proper break? If so, try and take a few days off. You don’t have to actually go anywhere, just studiously avoid work. If possible, also avoid computer, TV, etc, and spend time with family and friends, outside, or reading a good book.

What if all that doesn’t work?

Sometimes, in spite of all your best efforts and trying to rally, you still don’t feel like doing what you know you should. Enter habits. Think of a habit as an automated process running in the background on your computer. You don’t have to think about it, or worry whether you feel like doing it. You just do it, because that’s what you do. No matter how crappy you feel or whether you’re interested or how discouraged you are. You don’t need to evaluate on a day-to-day basis whether the habit is the right thing to do, you just do it.

So if all else fails, get a calendar and a marker, figure out what your daily habit should be (10 mins of work on your project, for example), and mark a big red ‘X’ over each day that you do the habit. If you find that you can’t even get 2 or 3 days marked in a row, set your sights lower. Do it for 60 seconds a day. Who can’t do that? You’ll be up to 10 mins (and more) in no time, trust me.

What have you done to escape a slump?