Once in a while, you get caught in a vicious circle, letting yourself down over and over again. You wake up too late, run out of time and put things off for hours, days or even weeks. Your tasks pile up and eventually, you have no idea where to start.
Losing motivation is uncomfortable, but if you take the opportunity to investigate why it happened, you can start changing your habits and keep moving forward before you get stuck.
Identify your triggers
Start by looking back at what was going on before you got stuck. What were you doing? What were you thinking? Did someone else say something? Were you approaching a particularly difficult or boring phase of a project? Just write it all down. Then take an empty sheet of paper and make two columns. In the left, rewrite the cause of your situation in one single sentence. Repeat the next time you get stuck. Gradually compile a list of your triggers and keep it on your desk where you can see it.
This exercise has two objectives: It forces you to put the often abstract and sometimes inflated underlying reason for not moving forward into words. It also gives you a chance to brace yourself for similar situations and take appropriate action the next time it occurs.
When you know why you get stuck, the next step is to replace the effect of these triggers. Turn each of them into a reminder to take action instead of letting them pull you into the vicious circle. Fill up the right column of your sheet of paper with concrete things you can do to get back on track. What works for you is something you will have to figure out on your own. You probably already know the appropriate action for some of your triggers, while others may require some experimenting. Again, keep it simple – a long series of actions may just leave you feeling even more overwhelmed.
Here are a few examples of triggers that I have identifyed over the last few months and actions that tend to help me get unstuck if I just allow them to:
Trigger: Having too many things to do
Action: List your tasks in order of priority and focus only on finishing the first.
Trigger: Getting distracted by email or social media
Action: Turn off notifications and block distracting websites (I use the app SelfControl).
Trigger: Facing a challenging task
Action: Go to bed early, wake up early and do it first thing tomorrow.
Trigger: Not knowing how to start a new task
Action: Spend five minutes dividing the task into small steps, then do the first.
Trigger: Feeling disappointed with a previous project
Action: Write down what you learnt and how you will use this to do better next time.
Trigger: Not being able to move on after finishing a big project
Action: Close all documents and applications relating to the finished project, take a short, brisk walk and start the next task.
Over the next few days – or weeks – I would encourage you to take inventory of your triggers and appropriate actions to change their effect. Ask yourself why you get stuck and identify the best way to move forward. When you are in the middle of these situations it is often ridiculously difficult to see a way out, but this list could act as a simple reminder of how your mind works. Next time, see if you can move forward before you stop.
When did you last get stuck? Why did it happen and how will you deal with it next time?