No matter how successful, talented, or hardworking you are, there are times when you find yourself in a rut. This usually happens after a period of success and hard work. Suddenly, you realize the joy of doing something you are good at has faded. Activities that, up until recently, were enjoyable, have now become a grind. From here, it is a short path to becoming demotivated and ending up going through the motions each day without passion, enjoyment, and excellent results.
These doldrum periods can also be caused by a long period of dealing with challenges where you have to step up every day and perform with pressure on you. This daily grinding wears you out mentally. At some point, if there is no relief, you reach burnout, and then are unable to work effectively. In the worst of these cases, you have to shut down for a period of time before you can approach your work with a productive attitude and with the energy needed to be successful.
The questions is, when you realize that you are caught in the doldrums, how do you get out of it? How do you become productive again? What practical steps can you take to get back on track so that you can once again perform at a highly effective level?
The first step to getting back on track is to recognize that you are off track. Sometimes it is incredibly obvious that all is not well. The evidence is in missed deadlines, poor quality work, dissatisfied customers, unhappy employees, etc. More likely, if you are catching the doldrums early, the evidence is more subtle. It is reflected in a lack of energy, little satisfaction from activities that you used to enjoy, or a feeling that you just aren’t firing on all cylinders.
Once you determine that you have hit a tough and unproductive period, the key is to immediately take steps to address the situation. The first and most important thing for you to do in getting back on track is to take some time off and get away from the work and activities that have become frustrating to you. Once you recognize that you need to shut down for a while, there is a practical process you can use to get your spark back.
The process starts with committing to do two things during your down time. First, you need to commit that for three or four days, you are going to avoid the work or other activities that are causing you stress. Secondly, you need to commit to a process, such as the one outlined in the rest of this article, to take steps to get back on track.
Getting away and relaxing during this downtime is important. But, in addition to rest, it is important that you spend time thinking about the big picture as it relates to your work as well as other major responsibilities in your life.
This gets to the core of why you have become unproductive and frustrated with your day-to-day life. What has happened is that your daily activities have become misaligned with what is really important to you. If you have previously established goals, then it is probable that the way you spend your time on a day-to-day business has drifted away from your goals. If you have not set goals, then the problem, likely, is a result of the successful person inside of you becoming confused and frustrated with the lack of clear goals needed to guide your actions.
When I go through these challenging times, it always takes me a day or two to get away and relax enough so that I can start thinking about my situation objectively and creatively. Note that getting away does not mean you must take a trip or get away geographically. What it does mean is that you have to consciously get away from work and as many other routine activities as you can for a time.
By the middle of the second day of my downtime, I start to transition. I go from simply resting to beginning to think in a structured manner about what is important to me. My key tools for this are a pad of paper and a pen or pencil. (I use actual paper, in part, because it keeps me away from the computer and my work.) Over the next two to three days, I will write many thoughts and notes on the pad. I will also read through my notes several times as I begin the process of revisiting my values and consciously thinking about what is important to me as a precursor to setting new goals.
By the end of the third or fourth day, I have revisited my values. This means that I have written down the things that are important to me. They include things such as my faith, my family, and my friends. They also include why my work is important, as well as an evaluation of what I like about my work and what I would like to do more of and less of. It also may include new interests and activities that I might want to pursue.
During this process I look back through the last several months of my calendar to see if I am spending a lot of time doing things that are not important to me. As I go through this process, I think on paper. I write things down, erase them, add to them, and scratch them out, until I have a clearly identified what is important to me. I also make a list of things that are taking up my time with limited reward. My goal in this regard is to eliminate these activities as soon as is practical.
The last step in my process is to take my list of what is valuable to me and spend several hours writing a new set of goals that line up with my values. These goals include the practical changes I need to make, or things I need to do, so that the way I spend my time will line up with what is important to me. These goals will be a GPS for me to use as I get back in the game. They will help me spend my time productively. Being productive means that I am spending as much time as possible on activities that align with my goals. It also means that I am proactively eliminating activities that are no longer important to me.
I go through this process at least two three times each year. I try to start the process before I hit burnout or get into a doldrums period. If you go through this process periodically, you will find that you can stay more on top of your life and work, and that you are able to lessen or eliminate most of the dry times in your life.
But, if you’re in a dry time now, this process can help you get your spark back.