Imagine driving a reliable car and then one day finding that it won't start. Your reaction? Start shopping for a new car! Ludicrous, isn't it. Yet, that's what so many of us are tempted to do when our reliable system for getting things done breaks down.
For the last month, my engine hasn't been starting. I've let things pile up. I've got no get up and go. Are you in the driveway with me? Let's look at potential reasons our productivity has stalled:
- We're run down. The most likely reason for a vehicle failing to start is we've left something on (because a door is open) all night. Or so many things are drawing energy from us, that we can't keep up. Not getting enough sleep and giving out emotional energy to lots of different people and situations is a recipe for a run-down battery. I've been way too busy and have dealt with many difficult emotional situations to boot this month.
- Poor connections. When connections with your battery are loose or corroded, you won't get the fire you need to get started. The connections we need to get things done are the relationship we have with the Lord and with people who love us. If you haven't been spending adequate time with these vital connections, you will shut down. Although I have had time with the Lord, I haven't had enough time with encouraging people lately.
- Equipment failure. Sometimes I've had a car with a bad starter. And sometimes our bodies aren't functioning optimally. If we are ill, going through hormonal shifts, or are depressed, we will have difficulty feeling motivated. Sometimes equipment failure comes as a result of poor maintenance. Maintenance for our bodies comes in the form of proper nutrition, exercise, and physical exams. I had let my exercise intensity slip and as I felt more sluggish, my nutrition was suffering as well.
Notice that none of these diagnoses demand a new car. In the same way, if you are struggling to accomplish things, the answer is not likely to be a new time management approach. When I get into a slump like I did this past month, I am tempted to surf the web looking for new productivity ideas and apps. Past experience leads me to believe, however, that there is no app or approach to getting things done that is going to put me in gear and keep me there. My current approach to managing my time and tasks is actually quite reliable. And furthermore, even as I have let things go, nothing catastrophic has happened. I lost a few dollars in library fines, but that's it.
So if a shiny new productivity system isn't the answer, what is? A jump start. Nine times out of ten, when my car won't start, a jump will do the trick. Here's how I have gotten my productivity jump start:
- Get a jump start right now. Typically, when I go out to my car, I need to get somewhere. Now. The priority is to take action immediately. When we're in a productivity slump, we need to focus on the moment. Avoid thinking about how you'll handle everything tomorrow, next week, or next month. Make a fresh start right now and decide what you will accomplish in what's left of today.
- Open the hood. It's hard to jump start a car if you don't do that. Yet we often expect things to magically get better when we're in a slump. Open up your calendar, your to-do notebook, or task software. Clear away the cobwebs–the stuff that is already outdated. Likewise, move tasks that don't need to be addressed soon to a different list, context, or date. Often, just looking at your list will motivate you.
- Recharge. Sometimes cars that need a jump start have batteries that have been run so low that they need time to be plugged in and recharged. I recognized what had been draining me and I did something about it. I made plans to have lunch with a friend who encouraged me. I slept in. I made myself exercise and eat right even when I didn't want to. I took more time for prayer and Bible reading. And I unplugged from people and issues that were draining me.
- Choose a destination. Having a car that starts isn't much good if you don't know where you're going. In order to make best use of your jump start, choose a short-term goal that will get you up and moving. A friend of mine and I made a list of seven projects we wanted to complete in the next two weeks. Then we started sharing our daily progress with each other via iDoneThis.
I'm happy to report that my productivity engine is running smoothly again. I pray that something I've written will be the spark you need to get going, too, without a new system!
I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. (Nehemiah 2:18)