Ask the grumpies: getting out of unproductive funks

First Gen American asks:

How do you suck yourself out of an unproductive funk. Do you find that allowing yourself to wallow in it for awhile is actually is more helpful than beating yourself up about being unproductive.

Yes, with the caveat that beating oneself up about being unproductive can sometimes be an important component of wallowing in it.  To get the full wallow a little self-hatred is necessary.

To get out:  Just Do IT.  Sometimes I will ask #2 to remind me about vans by rivers and request a kick in the posterior.

#2 says:  I think the how getting-out part for me has involved meeting people at coffee shops.  I haven’t done much of that recently.  Hard deadlines also make me ridiculously productive.   Unfortunately last-minute deadline blitz is unsustainable, if for no other reason than RSI.

We here at grumpy rumblings love to cross things off lovely lovely lists.  Sometimes even if I can’t be productive, I can write a list about what it would take to be productive.  Then day two I can cross one of the things off the list.  Breaking up tasks into smaller tasks is great for goal motivation.  Doing them from smallest to largest is also good for motivation, though one of us works best when she has an important goal that she doesn’t want to do hanging over her head– it makes all the other tasks on the to-do list seem so much more worthy of doing by comparison.

I guess it depends on WHY the funk.  I have anxiety which I manage with meds and awareness of it.

It’s also important to ATTEMPT to realize that it’s really not so bad once I get going.  Starting is hard! But starting is often the hardest part. Like Boice says, tell yourself to do it for 30 min– if that’s too long, then 10 min, or even 5 min. You can do almost anything for 5 min, and once you’re started it usually isn’t so bad.

What do you do, Grumpy World?

20 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: getting out of unproductive funks”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    Since I work from home, sometimes I revert to productive but mindless tasks to make me realize it is possible to actually get stuff done. (Like a load of laundry or emptying the dishwasher).My job can require a lot of brainpower and can be very stressful. Sometimes I need a break from it. Sometimes I realize I need to take some vacation to recharge. Occasionally it takes a while to get back into the swing of things.

    But a big learning for me has been to accept that I am a binge worker….go go go until I collapse from exhaustion. I used to hate that I couldn’t keep up that crazy pace all the time but now I realize it’s just part of the natural way I work.

    I love lists. I have gotten out of the habit of My daily list and I don’t know why. I guess it’s just a general sense of burnout. Thanks for the post. Looking forward to hearing people’s comments as well.

    • Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

      +1 on the mindless but productive tasks – I tend to do the same thing, because my brain is just tired of thinking all the time! I find that an occasional “catch up on life jobs” day where I do paperwork-y/housework-y things at home or at work (I’m a scientist, so this is atypical) keeps my brain from getting too fried to function, but I still end up getting things done that I will have to do eventually.

    • delagar Says:

      This is what I do — if I can’t do what I call “real” work, my creative work, then I do “other” work — laundry, or editing, or grading. That way I’m getting something done, at least. Sometimes this is like priming the pump: it starts my engine and lets me do real work. And if it doesn’t, then at least I’ve gotten SOMETHING done.

  2. taylorqlee Says:

    Usually when I go into unproductive funks it’s because I haven’t been sleeping enough, my exercise routing is off, or I haven’t had time to cook for myself. Or that I haven’t been able to do any of those things because of laziness and funkedness. What I do is to take a day to just wallow in it. Like, deeply wallow. I don’t even move from my bed if I don’t want to. But only until 5 PM. Because then at 5 PM I use up every ounce of that self-discipline I didn’t spend all day to force myself out of bed and cook a proper dinner (with leftovers for a couple days). Then I eat, shower, and go to bed early (around 9-10 PM). The next morning I work out. That combination of things generally will set me up for productivity at least for a couple days. Usually that gets the ball rolling to have it last two weeks to a month, but that’s pretty much the limit to my productive-mode.

    • Susan Says:

      I like this strategy! A planned unproductive funk rather than procrastinating and frittering away time on mindless things!

      And for me too, lack of exercise, poor sleep are all contributors but my biggest sign is when my house gets messy, particularly piles of to-be-dealt-with papers on desk/dining table/kitchen counter. That’s a sign it’s time to snap out of my funk!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think it’s valuable to occasionally (!) write off a day, stop trying to work, and go to bed early. Then the next day get up early, fuel up on caffeine, and go. Only occasionally though.

  3. Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

    I also love, love, love lists. For my work to-do lists, I got myself a notepad from Hyperbole and a Half (amazing comic, if you haven’t read it – her description of her struggle with depression is one of the best I’ve read), and it makes it even more fun to make lists. It describes my life roughly 80% of the time, so it’s a good fit for me. :)

    When I’m in a funk I tend to handle it by accepting that sometimes, I just don’t feel like doing ______. If I feel like doing something else that is also productive, I do that instead and wait until I do feel like doing _______ to actually do it, and I refuse to let myself feel bad for not doing it. This attitude applies to all sorts of things at work, especially writing! I never write something of reasonable quality when I really don’t want to do it, so forcing myself to do it when I don’t want to sit still is not usually a helpful strategy. So far this has worked out OK for me, but I also don’t see myself in a writing-intensive position in the long run (because I hate it) so hopefully I can keep this up…

    I also occasionally take “mental health days”, which 100% of the time happen because my anxiety overwhelms me to the point that I am not able to focus long enough to do things that I need to do. I usually end up wallowing for a bit while snuggling with the kitty, and eventually get myself out of the house to do something that will keep me from thinking too much about whatever I’m anxious about. Long walks somewhere scenic are standard, pedicures are a sometimes treat, and massages are a rare but much appreciated intervention. Self care can go a long way in keeping me from getting to that point, but I manage to forget this regularly.

  4. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I wouldn’t call it “wallowing”, but for me it is important to recognize intellectually (easy) and emotionally (harder) that any sort of intense effort–physical, intellectual, or emotional–can only be engaged periodically, and interspersed with rest. So I know that when I’m being “unproductive”, I’m actually resting so I can ramp up to another intense effort. This is just as important to my long-term productivity as the intense efforts themselves. In the realm of physical training, this is the concept of periodization, supposedly first devised by the Soviet Union trainers of Olympic athletes.

  5. chacha1 Says:

    I like CPP’s rationale. That’s pretty much what I do.

    Wallowing is actually not an option for me because I have to get out of bed to take care of the cats, and once I’m out of bed I am incapable of getting back into it unless DH is in there. :-) Which he usually isn’t because of our effed-up work schedules. And of course five days a week I have a job to go to, no matter how much I don’t want to.

    When I am feeling deeply funked, which in stressful times like these is fairly often, I employ the list method to generate some momentum. Some things just have to get done no matter how funky I feel. But other things – like housekeeping – can and do get ignored for weeks at a time as I will choose to unplug with a book rather than push myself to do trivia like Swiffering.

  6. noemi Says:

    Starting is definitely the hardest part. Like when I’m trying to work out, putting on a sports bra is 90% of it. Once the sports bra is on, I’m good to go, but sometimes changing into it can take over an hour of me sputtering about wasting a shit ton of time.

  7. SHU Says:

    ugh. I think I’m in one of those funks now.

    I would absolutely love to take a day off and wallow and just REST, but in the clinical world that’s just not really something you can just do.

    lists do help though :)

  8. xykademiqz Says:

    Am I the only so-called high achiever in the world who hates lists? There is a visceral negative reaction to putting what needs to be done on paper/screen, it’s torture really. So no lists. Apparently I like the stuff to just nebulously float around in my head…

    I am definitely a binge worker, with bouts of crazy productivity interspersed with periods of laziness.

    When I am in unproductive funk, I go all in (well, as much as I can with having kids and teaching and so on). I cancel meetings, drop anything that can be dropped, and spend some time (usually several days) binge watching movies or farting around on the web in whatever free time I have left. Then eventually I get bored with that too and get off my a$$ and start doing stuff.

    The older I am, the more the lack of sleep seems to bother me and sap all my energy. And I have yet to find exercise I will stick with, that would help.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      well, some high achievers are global thinkers and can’t handle lists… they tend to go into creative fields. My guess is you just have a better memory than most of us.

  9. SP Says:

    Sometimes I do allow myself to wait until I feel like doing the productive things… but more often I acknowledge that I will NEVER feel like doing something… then I just have to start. Baby steps, as you said.

    For me, funks are anxiety related. Exercise (even just walking) is the best thing to help me get out of them (and avoid in the first place), yet it is so hard to start when you are in the funk! A dog that demands exercise seems to help, but there probably are much more frugal ways than getting a puppy…..

    I kind of like lists, but I don’t have any sort of good system that I’ve been able to regularly stick with for managing tasks with lists. I really enjoy making elaborate and long term plans, but sometimes it is just a strategy of avoidance on actually following through on them. So I have to be careful of lists, or at least cognizant when my list-making is daydreaming rather than actually planning.


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