5 min read

What to do when you can't seem to get into work mode

Some of my go-to tactics for busting out of zombie mode and getting back into work mode.
What to do when you can't seem to get into work mode

Last week, I had an amazing week with the MeetEdgar team in Phoenix. We spent three full days clarifying our message and scheming up better ways to serve our customers, and three full evenings laughing and enjoying each others' company in the warm Arizona weather.

MeetEdgar IRL!

It was fun, illuminating, energizing, and also exhausting.

My brain has been fired up non-stop with exciting new ideas and plans, and now that I've finally brain-dumped my way to a clearer, calmer place, I'm experiencing a little bit of an energy hangover.

I'm not too bothered by it. After a hugely productive week, I think some recovery time is required. We've all earned a little breather, and I'm happy to spend a few days recuperating and reflecting.

But inertia is a crazy thing, and this time around, it's taking me a little extra effort to get my butt back into motion. So, I thought I'd share some of my go-to tactics for busting out of zombie mode:

Write a list

When I'm zoning out and having trouble staying focused, my brain goes into consumption mode. I read and read, and while that's wonderful, in the wrong circumstances, it becomes a beautiful little trap that drags me further away from actually completing or producing a thing.

One of my favorite quick ways to shift gears into production mode is to tap out a list. Maybe it's a list of things you want to knock out this week, a list of ways you can implement something you learned or read today, or a list of wins from last week that you want to repeat this week. (Or maybe it's this! ...I wrote this list today when I needed a kick in the butt, and hopefully I'm now off to more productive things now!)

Ultimately, it doesn't matter what it is. The act of typing something (anything!) out creates some evidence that, no matter poorly it went, you showed up today. Even if it ends up not transforming into a normally productive day, you've broken that inertia and given yourself something to build from.

Tell someone else you're going to finish something

Nothing like a little peer pressure to motivate you to do something differently. Pick something you know would interest somebody else on your team or in your life and tell them you're going to do it today.

It could be something simple, like typing up some notes you took in a notebook for someone else on your team to read. Or it could be something inconsequential, like telling your partner that you intend to go for a jog with them at 4:00pm.

Start small, stay small, and keep going with one tiny accountability task after another, until you've found your normal rhythm again.

(For the record, I did transcribe those notes and I did go for that jog, so I'm two tasks ahead of where I'd be otherwise.)

Change your scenery

Even if your environment isn't the distraction, changing the scenery can reset your attitude. I've found that when I'm spinning my wheels alone, moving somewhere where other people are working can help inspire me to get into the zone, too.

If you can't change locations or if that's not helping, clean something. Decluttering my peripheral vision is sometimes even enough of a scenery change to help me feel more refreshed and ready to dive in.

Redirect your inner monster

If you're anything like me, when you notice you're in a slump, you're probably not very nice to yourself about it. I tend to toss little jabs at myself whenever I'm disappointed with how something's going, which as you can imagine, is terribly counter-productive.

When I start telling myself "ughh, damn lady, you are LAAAZY and SUCKKKY," instead of nodding solemnly to myself and accepting it as a fact, I've found it helpful to try and notice whether or not that's something I'd really say to another human being in this situation. (It's probably not, even if you're objectively being both lazy and sucky.)

Then, I'll try to replace it with something I imagine I'd actually say. And sometimes, I'll even imagine what a really animated fitness instructor would say, which is probably something much cheesier, like "ALRIGHT OKAY REST REAL QUICK, THAT'S COOL. BUT YOU GOT THIS, YOU CAN DO THIS, WE'LL GET THERE!" And even though this is incredibly dorky and shameful inner behavior, it's both weirdly encouraging and also jarring and embarrassing enough for me to desperately want to think about anything else. Bam, negative thought spiral, gone! (I'm pretty sure I'm doing this wrong, but you know what? It works.)

Set a timer

My preferred method of procrastination is distracting myself with other work. Sometimes, I'll start a bunch of little things I want to do in separate tabs, and then just switch between tabs over and over in a way where I can kind of say "oh yeah, this is work," but I'm not really making any progress on anything at all.

When this happens, the best way for me to cope is by setting a timer. There are lots of pomodoro-style timers out there, but also just typing "25 minute timer" into your Chrome address bar will start one for you right away. Committing to single-tasking on just one thing for a short period of time is pretty easy. When the urge hits to fiddle with something else, remind yourself that you only need to stay with this for a few minutes.

After the timer's up, you'll at least have one block of focused time under your belt for the day. Decide from there if you really need that break or to switch tasks, but I've found that I often don't anymore.

Close all tabs and walk away

There are times when gentle nudges and peer pressure aren't going to cut it. When I'm really struggling in my chair and the stuff above isn't helping, I go full scorched Earth.

Just shut it down. Shut everything down. Your tabs don't matter – you're not working on anything anyway. Whatever you have open is either a distraction or it's reminding you that you're shitty and lazy. Close it all and exit the room.

Give yourself 10 minutes to give into your inner demons. Go fix yourself a snack. Take a walk. Stand in the sun. Talk to your dog. Meditate. Breathe deeply. Whatever brings you out of your head and puts you more presently in the moment.

Once you're back on the ground, be honest with yourself. Are you actually going to make any substantial progress today? If not, don't struggle against yourself. It's frustrating and taxing you even more. Just give yourself the day off and try again tomorrow.

Giving yourself a "day off" will have to take whatever form it can for you: focusing on more menial (but still necessary) tasks, asking for help on a deadline, or even literally taking a personal day off from work. But whatever it is, do it guilt-free so you can actually benefit from the break.

More tips?

If you have a few go-to moves to get back into work mode after some time away, let me know!