What are productivity slumps, what we can do to avoid them, and how to manage our minds to be our most productive when they inevitably happen?
Productivity slumps will happen (we’re human) but there are things we can do to bounce back
Recently I read an article published on Forbes.com about the fact that workplace productivity “plummets” on Mondays. I found the article interesting and started looking into the research on what the article referred to as “productivity slumps”–periods of low productivity.
One article I read on Linked In described a productivity slump as a time when we spend more time thinking of what we need to do (but not doing it) than the time it would take to do the task.
Another described it as a time when “You can feel a lack of creativity, physically tired, mentally distracted, or emotionally undervalued. Essentially, it’s just a severe lack of motivation. You’re probably in a slump if you’ve noticed your productivity and ambition decline.”
Interestingly, a lot of the materials I came across as I was researching this topic had to do with business productivity in a global sense. An article published on Inc.com described statistics regarding U.S. worker output, noting recent years have shown a huge drop in U.S. worker productivity–the biggest slump since 1947.
According to the Forbes article, “Mondays and late afternoons are the worst days for stress, productivity and motivation.” A poll cited in the article found that 35% of the respondents said they’re most productive on Tuesdays and 39% say Wednesdays. Furthermore, the poll results found that 9 – 11 a.m. are the most productive hours, and 3 – 5 p.m. are the least productive.”
Productivity slumps can occur at certain times of day or days of the week, as discussed in that Forbes article, or they can be longer stretches. Either way, avoiding productivity slumps is crucial for maintaining consistent performance and achieving long-term goals, whether personal or professional. Here are some strategies to avoid or overcome these downturns:
1. Identify the cause
- Is it physiological–due to physical exhaustion, hormonal imbalance, hunger, dehydration, or illness? Are you recovering from childbirth or surgery? Do you need to get a checkup with your doctor?
- Is it emotional–are you in the midst of, or just coming out of, a difficult time dealing with grief, worry, fear, or other strong emotions? Are you distracted by something–or many somethings–on your mind?
- Is it burnout–are you experiencing work overload, or have you just finished an extremely busy period professionally or personally?
- Is it overwhelm–either too much to do, or impostor syndrome–a lack of confidence regarding your ability to do the things you need and want to do?
- Is it loneliness? Especially those of us who work remotely, including moms at home with young children, a sense of isolation and loneliness can lead to a productivity slump.
2. Address physiological issues
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity can boost mood, energy, and cognitive function. Even a short walk can make a difference.
- Eat healthily:
A balanced diet with proper nutrients can provide the energy you need to stay focused and productive.
Last week’s guest, nutritionist and coach Angela Shurina, recommended that we include protein and complex carbohydrates in our breakfast to fuel our brain in a way that will promote productive focus.
- Stay hydrated:
Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and decreased concentration.
In an Instagram post earlier this month, Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., a neuroscience professor at Stanford and host of the Huberman Lab podcast, said that if you regularly experience an afternoon energy crash, delaying caffeine consumption until 90-120 minutes after waking can help offset that crash–but be sure to hydrate well.
- Sleep well:
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Quality sleep enhances memory, problem-solving skills, and overall productivity.
In another recent Instagram post, Dr. Huberman identifies sleep–its quality, timing, and duration–as one of the “core 5 non-negotiable pillars of mental and physical health,” noting that “sleep is when neuroplasticity and learning occur and when we unload the emotional burden of challenging experiences.”
In addition to night-time sleep, Dr. Huberman has said that “for many, a thorough reset of afternoon mental & physical energy is best achieved by a 10-20min NSDR [non-sleep deep rest] (rather than a nap or more caffeine) as it improves rather than degrades night time sleep which = the essential reset.”
- Take regular breaks:
Stepping away from your work periodically can refresh your mind and improve concentration. Short, frequent breaks are often more beneficial than longer, less frequent ones.
The Forbes article that inspired this episode noted that “Interestingly, most survey respondents noted that they can only sustain productivity for a limited number of consecutive hours. Gen Z and Millennials max out at just under five hours, Gen X at five hours and 22 minutes, and Boomers can work the longest—for about six hours consecutively.”
Interestingly, in another article published on Forbes.com during the early days of the COVID pandemic, psychologist Kate Sullivan recommended that if we’re having trouble completing a task due to a slump, we simply walk away in the middle of it. Dr. Sullivan has been quoted as saying, “There’s a psychological principle called the Zeigarnik Effect which holds that anything we’re doing that gets interrupted sticks in our minds. It bothers us until we actually get it done. By walking away in the middle of an unfinished task to do something else–even if that’s to write some emails or make a pot of coffee–your brain will start itching to get back to that thing you stopped.”
3. Reduce the friction
- Establish a Routine:
A consistent routine can provide a structure that makes it easier to start tasks and maintain momentum. Begin with a solid morning routine to kickstart your day. The Forbes article encourages us to allocate our hours wisely, noting that “Generally, mornings are better for analytical and focused work, and afternoons are more optimal for creative work, but you’ll want to determine what works best for you and align your tasks accordingly.”
Know yourself, and try to structure your days accordingly. One writer asks us to consider: “Are you a night or a morning person? Do you concentrate more with music bursting through your ears or in total silence? Find your productive zone and work on your most important tasks, and you will eventually build your routine.”
- Set Clear Goals:
Break larger tasks into smaller, actionable steps. This makes them more manageable, making it easier to overcome resistance and get started, and gives a sense of accomplishment as you complete each one, which can provide the momentum we need to keep going.
Another Forbes article reminds us to be realistic about what we take on each day, noting that “Having a couple of achievable daily goals is far better than facing an insurmountable to-do list and producing nothing of note.”
- Prioritize tasks
As we’ve discussed before, use tools like the Eisenhower Box or the ABCD method to determine what’s urgent and important, and tackle those tasks first.
- Start small.
Blogger Amar Deep says that when he’s in a slump he’ll do a simple task as a warm-up to get himself started. His example is that to get himself writing he’ll take an online typing test. He says, “The text is meaningless but it gets my fingers flowing. It’s like a game so I never procrastinate on this and this wins half the battle against my inertia.” Deep notes that this approach works for “any high-brainpower task” and urges us to “warm yourself up with no real pressure to get your momentum going.”
Another article recommends that we “Start small by completing at least one project daily, which will give you the satisfaction to do more the next day. Completing small tasks fast gives you a mental boost to be more productive on the bigger tasks. Spreading yourself too thin can be overwhelming, and you may end up doing nothing.”
- Minimize Distractions:
Identify what commonly sidetracks you from work and find ways to eliminate or reduce those distractions. This might include digital tools like website blockers or noise-cancelling headphones.
If you’re distracted by worries or uncompleted tasks, take 10 minutes to write it all out and get them out of your head and onto paper.
- Stay organized
A clean workspace and an organized task list can reduce friction and make it easier to get into a productive mindset.
- Avoid multitasking
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking often actually increases friction and decreases productivity. Focus on one task at a time and let it have your full attention while you’re working on it.
- Establish Boundaries:
Especially (but not only) if you’re working from home, set clear boundaries between work and personal time. This helps in avoiding burnout that can lead to a slump.
- Be sure to plan for your personal time activities you can look forward to. (Think of how much we get done in the days or hours leading up to vacation.)
4. Manage your mind
- Stay Motivated:
Keep your ‘why‘ in mind. Remembering why you’re doing what you’re doing can help maintain motivation.
Periodically assess your productivity patterns. What’s working? What isn’t? Does the way you’re allocating your time conflict with your own circadian rhythms? Adjust accordingly.
Dress for the part. One of the things I like about working from home is that I can dress however I want. Sometimes, though, when I’m feeling less motivated or focused, it can help to basically dress as if I was going into the office. Whenever you find yourself in a productivity slump, consider whether a change in your demeanor and appearance might help.
Cultivate mindfulness. As we’ve talked about many times, a positive mindset can be a catalyst for productivity. Additionally, practices like meditation can help in maintaining focus and reducing stress.
- Rethink how you talk to yourself.
Instead of beating yourself up for what you’re not doing, give yourself credit for what you have done, and speak kindly to yourself. Experiencing a slump–even an extended one–is not a reflection of who you are as a person.
One article I read encourages us to use affirmations–positive phrases we speak out loud to ourselves–every day. Some of this writer’s suggestions are:
“I am productive and consistent with my work efforts.”
“I will achieve all that I need to, and know my limits.”
“I am capable of focus.”
- Invest in Continuous Learning:
New knowledge and skills can invigorate your approach to tasks and projects.
This can actually fit under the “reduce friction” category as well, because sometimes a productivity slump can result from a lack of confidence in our ability to do the things we need to do. Improving our skills or gaining missing knowledge can help overcome that.
Another element of this might be seeking feedback on your approach or performance in general. Others might see things you don’t. Constructive feedback can provide insights into areas of improvement that will help get you over the hump and out of the slump.
- Gamify it:
Look for the fun in whatever task you’re doing.
Techniques like the Pomodoro Technique or time-blocking can help maintain focus and prevent burnout.
Consider setting a challenging but achievable deadline for yourself.
Setting a timer or racing against yourself or an accountability partner can sometimes spark a little more enthusiasm. Establishing milestones and small rewards for reaching them can serve as motivation to push through challenging times.
- Stay Connected:
We are, as Brené Brown has said, wired for connection. Even those of us who are introverts need human connection. Loneliness can sap motivation. Regularly connecting with colleagues, friends, or family, even if it’s virtually, can boost morale.
Finally, remember that everyone has off days. Rather than being overly critical of yourself during productivity slumps, seek to understand the root cause and make adjustments as needed. Being flexible and adaptable is key to long-term productivity and success.
What do you think?
When you experience a productivity slump, what helps you get yourself out of it and back on track? Post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me.
Resources and Links
- Productivity Plummets On Mondays: How to Be Your Best All Week Long
- detailed IG post
- Six Clever Ways To Claw Your Way Out Of A Productivity Slump
- 6 Practical Ways To Reverse A Productivity Slump
- How to Answer America’s Productivity Slump | Inc.com
- How I Get Out of a Productivity Slump: Five Ways You Can do the Same –
- (26) 4 Practical Ways To Overcome Your Productivity Slump | LinkedIn
- How to Bounce Back from a Productivity Slump When You Work Remotely – Thrive Global
Help Spread the Word!
Tell a friend about The Productive Woman podcast. Share an episode using the social sharing buttons at the top of this post, and consider leaving a review on Apple Podcast.
Click here to discover my favorite apps!
I would love to have your help!
Royse City, Texas