How to Effectively Get Out of A Work Slump
There are times in life when nothing seems to be working for us. Our productivity drops, obstacles never seem to move, we get stuck in dark thoughts and moods and no amount of hard work seems to help. In other words, we’re in a slump.
Sometimes this feeling lasts just a day or two. But other times, this can go on for weeks. In a best-case scenario, a slump only impacts one or two aspects of our life. Uncomfortable, but manageable. It’s when these slumps go on for a longer duration that they can start to take over, impacting multiple aspects of our lives all at once.
Slumps don’t have to be permanent states. We’d all rather get through them sooner rather than later. Especially when we have responsibilities to uphold. Which means waiting for a slump to correct itself is not viable for most of us. Not to mention, a lot can go wrong if we let this state continue, including chronic health problems and uncertain job situations.
That’s why we need strategies to help us get out of it faster, more thoroughly, and effectively.
What is a slump?
The signs of a slump can differ from person to person and vary according to where we are in our lives and our careers. Generally, a slump is characterized by a period of decline in our productivity. We may work slower than our usual speed, miss deadlines, or simply not produce work or results like we once did.
But these are the external symptoms of a slump. If we’ve been inundated with stress for a long period of time, our mental fatigue can outwardly appear as a slump. Maybe we were expecting a promotion we didn’t get or are questioning whether we are working a job versus a career. If we’re going through an emotionally difficult time or aren’t taking care of ourselves, we can find the prospect of going to a job we once loved daunting––or even dread going in.
Once we discover the root cause of our slump, we can work on getting out of it.
How to get out of a slump
Remove negative self-talk
Slumps may feel debilitating, but they are actually not very different from any other external obstacle we face in life. And often, they’re much easier to control. Once we acknowledge we’re in a slump, we need to work to change the narrative in our head.
It’s important to remember, slumps are normal. They happen to nearly everyone at some point, and it has very little to do with our actual capacity or abilities.
When we do not perform to our own standards it’s easy to feel guilt or shame, and think of ourselves as sub-par. But this negative self-talk is a surefire way to deepen our descent into the slump instead of helping us overcome it.
Paying attention to this inner voice is crucial. When we catch ourselves thinking, “I am a failure”, change the narrative to, “I am failing at this now but I won’t fail in the future”. Instead of thinking, “I can’t solve problems”, think: “I am unable to solve this particular problem at the moment”.
Negative self-talk can keep us in a negative spiral. We need to keep reminding ourselves that whatever we are feeling at the moment is temporary and will pass.
Re-organize our goals
When we have too much on our plates, our goals can start competing with each other. Trying to juggle too many priorities is risky as our brain can become fatigued, allowing for a slump to set in. If this is the point we find ourselves at, it’s a good idea to reevaluate our goals and reprioritize them.
We need to be honest with ourselves by asking specific and focused questions.
- Are we taking enough breaks throughout our workday?
- Is it time or have we neglected taking a vacation?
- Are we spending quality time with our family and loved ones?
If the answer is no, we need to understand why not.
- Have we taken on too much at work?
- Are our goals too aggressive or unrealistic?
- Can we put one or two on the back burner and focus only on the top goals?
Keeping these answers in mind, we can organize our goals into more manageable priorities. We may need to step down from a side project at work and focus on our main job duties. It could be we need to ask our partner to help more with personal errands or step away from personal commitments that are eating into the time we need to spend with our family.
Stepping away from some of our goals may not be an option. In this case, breaking them down into micro-goals can be very effective in helping ensure we can accomplish them.
Micro-goals are where we pull apart our larger goals into small steps. The smaller the better, with the entire focus on, “What can I accomplish now?”. When we sit down for our day, instead of looking at a large project looming and shutting down, we can create a list of five things that are easily achievable in our day. It isn’t about reaching the finish line as fast as we can, but how we can realign our focus, giving ourselves a series of wins and activating the reward cycle in our brain.
Finishing a detailed report in a week can feel daunting, and that anxiety may contribute to worsening accuracy or time management. But finishing small sections each day feels less daunting, making it more likely we achieve them.
This technique is effective in not just getting us out of a slump, but preventing one from setting in.
Examine work conditions
It’s possible that a slump is being brought on by our work environment. Were we passed over or not given the promotion we were sure we would get? Did cutbacks impact our pay? Perhaps we lost members of our working team and now have to do more, or take on assignments we don’t enjoy. All of these can lead to a drop in performance and lower our enthusiasm for engaging in quality work.
In this case, initiating change is a much better option than dealing with it silently. The more we suppress our problems the worse they become, especially if bringing them up can result in change. Even if we don’t get the results we want, talking these issues through can help us pinpoint why we are unhappy and help us find solutions to our slump.
For example, if we didn’t get the promotion we wanted, talking to our boss can give us some insight into the decision. Maybe they can help redirect our energy so we know what HR is looking for. Or maybe that conversation helps us decide to start looking for new opportunities. Whatever the outcome, having answers and direction are extremely helpful in getting out of a slump.
Remember our passion
It is possible to feel stuck even in a job we love doing. Writing novels is a labor of love for most novelists, and yet they too struggle with writer’s block from time to time. Any job comes with a daily grind, making it easy to forget why we chose a particular path in the first place. Which is why reminding ourselves of our passion is helpful. What were the things that first inspired us to pursue our careers? What did we dream we’d accomplish when we first started? If we reached that goal, why haven’t we set new ones? If we haven’t, maybe it’s time to refocus on that purpose and direction.
Sometimes taking a class to refresh our skills can be the thing we need to remind us why we love what we do. Or reading about the leaders in our industry to understand their own struggles and how they overcame them can help. Immersing ourselves in the energy and excitement of our field is revitalizing and necessary from time to time.
Shake up the routine
We are creatures of habit, and often our daily activities fall into repetitive patterns. If we keep doing the same thing every day, over time the neural pathways in our brain related to those things get stronger, and these things become almost automatic.
But as much as the brain loves repetition, it also needs stimulation to stay healthy and engaged. Sometimes, a slump is indicative of the fact that our brain is unstimulated.
Shaking up our daily routine can be a great way to deal with this. Introduce new practices in our daily schedule, like a new workout regime. Start learning a new language. Or start planning a trip to a country you’ve always wanted to visit. Adopt a pet. Take an art class or join a book club.
Keeping the brain stimulated is one of the best ways to keep it engaged and interested, giving us energy in all areas of our life.
It can be easy to forget our health requirements when we are aiming to increase productivity. We often work without breaks, eat junk food, forego sleep, or don’t drink enough water throughout the day.
But when we do this, we forget that our brain needs the right kind of fuel to function at its full potential. And if we fail to provide that––no matter how skilled we are at our jobs or how much we love them––our brain will begin to perform less optimally.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of listening to the demands of our body. Eat when we’re hungry. Sleep when we’re tired. But other times, it’s a little trickier to get under control. It isn’t just about eating but eating healthy foods. If we have trouble sleeping, we need to set habitual bedtime routines to help our brain shut down and prepare for healthy sleep. And even though it seems counterintuitive, we don’t always recognize dehydration as being thirsty. Keeping water near us at all times and cutting back on carbonated or sugary drinks is a good way to help meet our hydration needs.
When we are taking care of ourselves, it is not only easier to handle getting out of a slump, but avoiding falling into one as well. Small changes go a long way in dealing with a slump.
Slumps can be hard to recognize, and harder to get through. They can feel overwhelming and that we are alone in experiencing them. But we aren’t. As difficult as it may seem in the moment, we can get through it.
By taking care of ourselves, reducing our negative self-talk, realigning our goals and breaking them down into manageable pieces, we have the building blocks to reignite our passion and find our way back to work satisfaction.