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The 6 Step Plan to Get Out of Your Productivity Rut

The 6 Step Plan to Get Out of Your Productivity Rut
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I have a confession to make.

95% of the time I’m on it. I’m either writing, connecting, researching, learning, or doing something to better myself and my life. But, there are some days when I don’t get a whole lot done.

I’m not necessarily a “Type A” naturally driven and productive person. I’ve just become that way over time. Sometimes that old me that wants to lay around and do nothing comes out and shows its ugly face, and it rains all over my otherwise flowing exuberant productivity parade.

Don’t feel bad if that’s you too from time-to-time. There are times when everyone has their off days, even me.

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What’s important is that you don’t let it happen too often. Most of the time you’ll take a break from your fast-paced life, then get right back on your horse and go back to getting things done.

But What Happens When You Don’t?

What happens when you get in a productivity rut?

Maybe you get sick. Maybe you’re a bit tired. Maybe you just get overwhelmed. All of these things can lead to a productivity rut and can lead to your to do list piling up until you can’t put anything else on it. Bad things indeed.

The longer you don’t do something, the more likely you are not going to do it. When you get in a productivity rut, a few days or more of not getting things done, you are in danger of developing bad habits of putting things off for good. You’re in danger of becoming… ‘gasp’… lazy…

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I feel dirty just saying it. Don’t be that four letter word. Here’s how to escape that downward spiral of productivity smashing doom before it completely turns your world upside down.

Climb Out of That Productivity Rut

1.) Awareness – First, to recognize that you’re in a rut. The telltale signs are things like feelings of getting behind, feelings of overwhelm, feeling stressed out, having low energy levels, and tasks piling up. It’s pretty easy to spot, but first you have to be aware. That’s your trigger that you need to do something more than just start doing more. You need to get back on track with a system.

2.) Make a Quick “Catch Up” List – Lists are a great way to commit yourself to getting things done. Grab a piece of paper and write down the things you need to do to feel like you’re caught up. It’s ok to put other things off in the meantime. What’s important here is eliminating those feelings of overwhelm. Be careful not to let trivial things creep into your list. Focus on the big payoffs.

3.) Look Forward – Give yourself some motivation to get caught back up. What are those things you really want to do? What is your rut holding you back from getting accomplished? Identify this and use it to keep moving towards getting your list finished.

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4.) Just Get Started – Newton says objects at rest tend to stay at rest unless acted upon by a force. But on the other hand, objects in motion tend to stay in motion until acted upon by a force. Just get started, and you’ll find it a lot easier to keep things going.

5.) Chip Away at It – Now that you know you’re behind and you know what you’ve got to do to get caught up, you have to recognize that you can’t do everything at once. Looking at a big list of tasks can often spur feelings of heavy overwhelm. Don’t let all of this scare you. Set aside an extra hour a day, 30 minutes a day, whatever you need to do to get caught up. Don’t try to do everything all at once. Do a few things here and there, and cross them off your list as you progress.

6.) Finish It – This is vital. You’re almost there. Often times when you’re overwhelmed its easy to give in to all of the things you have to do. Keep your eye on that goal from Step 3 and use it to motivate yourself to finish getting out of your rut.

Now that you’re out of your rut, use that motivation and energy to keep things moving forward in your life. Use it to move towards your ultimate goals and continue to improve your life and your level of success.

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Let’s Hear Your Stories

Have you ever been in a productivity rut? Share with the community what you did to get out of it in the comments below. What was your thinking process? How did this differ from your normal routine? What did this allow you to get done afterwards?

(Photo credit: Design element useful for concepts such as mental breakdown via Shutterstock)

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Cody Wheeler

Cody is a self-improvement blogger at Academy Success, the place to learn life skills you don't learn in school.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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