With everything technology has given us in the ways of getting in touch with one another, the demands that come with being always connected has set work culture up to be quite a free-for-all, one with numerous competing bids for our attention. When you can talk to anyone from anywhere, anytime, you can be reached everywhere, all the time. Unless, of course, you’ve taken precautions.
When you have a good system in place to filter those demands, that takes a weight off you. Still, there are always days where it’s all you can do to somehow slog through your workload. It can be wearing on a daily basis, but consistently having bad days? That’s a recipe for burn out, mentally and emotionally. In that case, prevention can help things from getting worse.
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Assuming that you got a good set-up going for you, what else can you do to make it easier to still get things done when you’re hit by one of those zero-motivation days?
Certainly mindfulness is a very good skill to develop. It’s something that can help you distinguish and filter out the noise from the signal. Mindfulness also helps you cut through the distractions that swarm in and eat at your focus. But since mindfulness is a practice that you can get better at over time, what other things can you do to help you focus the work you need to finish today, even when you’re really not feeling it?
- Are you watered? Dehydration can lead to headaches and fogginess, you delicate flower you, and could be why you’re wilting. Coffee still counts as a liquid, but the caffeine can act as a diuretic. Go get water-water. Whether carbonated or flavored, get water. Please steer away from sodas and other sugary drinks — they’re not good for you in the long run.
- How’s your blood sugar? Is it crashing? Speaking of sugar, when was the last time you ate something substantial, and not artificially flavored? Do yourself a good deed and treat yourself right. It’s not just garbage in, garbage out when it comes to sustaining yourself. Eat real food.
- How’s your breathing? Slumping in front of your computer screen doesn’t only play havoc with your spine, it compresses your lungs and you don’t get as much air as you need. Go take a brisk walk, preferably outside if you can. Stretch your legs. Pull your shoulders down and back and breathe into your belly, exhaling slowly through your lips. Get your blood oxygen up.
- Do you need to go to the bathroom? Go to the bathroom. Wash your face and your hands while you’re at it to clear up your head and shake off the mood. Use cold water to wake yourself up.
Back to the subject:
Leo Babauta, noted simplicity guru of Zen Habits, wrote about rocks and sand as a way to illustrate how good prioritization helps people fill up their days. Assuming you have a handle on your own priorities for the day, there could be something else that’s preventing you from doing your job well. Check your work environment and your physical condition.
Develop clarity as part of a regular review process.
When do your slumps happen? Be your own Dr. House without the jerk behavior and the drug abuse — think back and start a record on the incidences where you realize you’re not pushing through because you keep doing something else. Note the symptoms and dig down to possible causes. When you have an idea of why your slumps happen, you can start changing things up for the better. What follows are just a few examples, you can come up with more if you look at your own habits and work environment.
- Physical factors: The hangries, the sugar slumps, lack of movement after sitting for long periods, low oxygen from shallow breathing, seasonal stuffiness from pollen, a food intolerance you may treat as just ‘slight sensitivity’, etc.
- Multi-tasking: Constant alerts on your devices, multiple open tabs–each sipping a bit of your attention since they’re open loops you have yet to finish and close. Interruptions in your work-flow, from knocks on the door to someone sharing gossip.
- Environmental: Music with lyrics. Ambient noise. Bright lights. Too cold room. Too hot room. A chair that lost all its support and padding. Noisy keyboards — although there are people who are soothed by that kind of tapping away.
Separate emotions from explanations (Or, use your editor instead of your story teller.) Emotions don’t always need a story to explain why you’re feeling them. They just are. Quite often though, when you feel bad it sets off the pattern-finder in your head. It’s a hard-wired function. Something alerts you (a strong emotion) and your brains looks around to find the reason for it. And if there isn’t any real reason (thanks, anxiety!) your brain makes some up without your conscious intent. And you fall for it.
Check your set up before going back into the driver’s seat. Don’t believe everything your brain comes up with, and rein your attention in on what is actually in front of your right here, right now. Not on the story that explains why you feel you can’t do stuff right now. Focus on what is there instead of what is made up on the spot.
Doing something else for a little bit, like rearranging your workstation, can help you disengage from the brain-glitch (sort of like a mental vapor lock) and help you come back to work with a clear head.
As a supporting action, getting a medical check-up can help you eliminate or discover an underlying physical reason for the brain fog. Mental and physical fatigue is often written off to working too hard and not getting enough sleep, but a blood test can show if you have vitamin deficiencies — like low vitamin D or low blood iron levels — that contribute to your issue and can be addressed with supplements. Taking care of your physical health is a vital part of the system you need to be able to work at your best. Good health habits + good work habits + mindfulness = powering through the slumps better.
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