There are days – weeks even! – when you just can’t seem to find your mojo. You swear you can hear your duvet whispering your name. You dream of bowls of popcorn and binge-watching Game of Thrones. You can’t even concentrate on an actual book: your attention span’s shrunken to reading the occasional tweet.
Yet there are still projects to be completed, with deadlines that are closing in. And there are clients who depend on you and need your input, and emails you really must return – even the boring ones.
You know perfectly well how much better you’d feel if you could just get your groove back. If you could just figure out how to make yourself do the things you ought to do when you ought to do them.
Here are some proven strategies for breaking out of those “I just can’t face work today!” cycles.
Visualize how great it will be to get the job done
Researchers have found that people are more likely to save for their retirement if they’re shown digitally aged photographs of themselves. Why? Because it makes their future self feel more real—making the future benefits of saving also feel more tangible.
Try applying a version of this technique to any task you’ve been avoiding by taking a moment to paint a vivid mental picture of the benefits of getting it done (imagine your client’s satisfaction, your own sense of self-worth). It can sometimes be all you need to get back on track.
Think about the downside of not doing anything
While we might weigh the pros and cons of doing something new, we rarely consider the pros and cons of not doing that thing. This is called omission bias, and often leads us to ignore the obvious benefits of getting stuff done.
Suppose you’re repeatedly putting off the preparation you need to do for an upcoming meeting. You’re tempted by more pleasant tasks, so you tell yourself you can do it tomorrow (or the day after). But force yourself to consider the downside of putting it off, and you realize that tomorrow will be too late to get the input you really need from colleagues. If you get moving now, you have a chance of reaching them in time – and suddenly, you realize your duvet can wait.
Find what’s blocking you – and remove it
Most of us know how much simpler it is to tackle a big task if we break it into smaller, easy-to-accomplish pieces. Despite this tactic, we sometimes find ourselves returning to a task over and over, unable to take that first step. Ask yourself some questions to figure out what’s really preventing you from taking action: “Why does it seem so hard to do this?”; “Why can’t I tackle the first step of this task?”
Often, the issue is that a different yet equally important commitment is holding you back. Suppose you’ve wanted to get in an early morning run each day. A few “whys” might reveal that the blockage stems from your equally strong desire to eat breakfast with your family. Once you’ve clarified that conflict, it’s far more likely you’ll find a way to overcome it– perhaps by running the night before, or alternating morning runs with family breakfasts on different days.
The hardest but the most effective one: ignore your feelings
In his book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman points out that much of the time, when we say things like “I just can’t get out of bed early in the morning,” or “I just can’t get myself to exercise,” what we really mean is that we can’t get ourselves to feel like doing these things. After all, no one is tying you to your bed every morning or barring the entrance to your gym. Physically, nothing is stopping you – you just don’t feel like it. But as Burkeman asks, “Who says you need to wait until you ‘feel like’ doing something in order to start doing it?”
So if you’re sitting there being a couch potato or huddling under your covers putting something off because you Just. Don’t. Feel. Like. It., remember that you don’t need to feel like it. Because there’s actually nothing stopping you. To borrow a much overused advertising slogan, “Just do it”.