I like collecting things like this, so far throughout my life this has been a pervasive problem for me causing me years of depression and suicidal thoughts when I start to feel like I just can't get anything done. It's my hope that at least some of this can be useful to others. I don't expect anyone to read all of this, because I certainly wouldn't (I'd skim, ha) so let's throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.
Stress, Anxiety, and Mindset:
The first and most important thing is to not beat yourself up too much about this. It will only serve to discourage and de-motivate you, when what you need most right now is movement in your life. It's not productive.
— As always, easier said than done.
It's most important during these times to keep perspective. Don't compare yourself to other people, instead compare where you were to how far you've come and where you are today. Don't say, "this isn't as good as what [Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, successful friend on Facebook, etc.] is doing." Say, "this is WAY better than what I was doing 2 years ago!" (I recently had run-ins with several old friends from HS. It was very surprising that despite always feeling 'behind schedule', I seemed to be doing better than all of them.)
For me, usually it's a single source of stress that's preventing me from doing the rest of the stuff I need to get done. e.g. "I'm broke, I need to get to the bank to deposit this check... CRAP, I forgot my car still won't start!..." A major source of stress like this can sometimes put me in a loop.
Realize that as stress and anxiety builds around the objective, the actual work required will begin to seem overwhelming. It's not. The only way to make an overwhelming project seem less overwhelming is to actually start working on it. When this happens, you experience a nice benefit of being able to say, "...that wasn't so bad!"
Tips and tricks you can actually 'do':
Small-chunk the work. (and let the Zeigarnik Effect take over)
- Say it's a stack of papers that you must process. Take a small stack off the top, and place it in front of you. Now tell yourself, "all I have to do is finish this small part then I can go on to something else."
- What if it's just one big chunk of work, say like a software project? Pick a close stopping point – a spot easy to reach and easy to continue from – and tell yourself the same thing, "At this point I can move on to something else if I like."
This is because the hardest part of any task is starting. Once you've committed to starting, the rest pretty much handles itself. You must "always be starting" as Neil Foire puts it. Start on the finishing touches, start pt. 8 of the long grind, just keep starting.
Include small breaks. — For example, set a timer for 25 mins. After 25 mins of wrok, take a 5 min break. After four 30-min cycles, you've earned a full 30 min break. (this compliments the Zeigarnik Effect) (Pomodoro Technique)
- Tell other people about it, (or not) (After some more months of personal experience I've realized how powerful this is. Essentially, over time I get an energy buildup inside me that can be expelled two ways: socially, or on the source of the problem. If I purposely refrain from socializing about it, the pressure from the energy buildup pushes me to expel it the only other way possible: working the problem itself.)
- Remove distractions. If there's people talking, wear headphones. If too many people walk by, find a space where people normally don't go.
- Take a walk – take the time to air out your lungs, air out your mind, change the scenery a little bit, get your body and your brain out of being stuck in the same place. The spiritually-calming effects of the most simple stroll around the block are so profound and subtle that it must be tried to be believed.
- Play time is sacred – schedule it into your day. Do not let work or any other project violate your well-deserved daily guilt-free play. Making play time sacred will give perspective on work time and actually make you more productive. (The Now Habit by Neil Foire, "Unschedule")
- Dress for the occasion — I've never read this anywhere, but have noticed it through personal experience. Say when you make a commitment to working out after you get home, you rarely feel like doing so when the time comes. But if you only promise yourself to put on your workout clothes... well after I've donned my 'getting sweaty' clothes, I kinda feel like getting sweaty. Sometimes I have friends over who want to go out, though I don't feel like it... but if I don some nice 'going out' clothes and clean up, well I start to feel in the mood to go out. When I feel it's time for relaxin' to the maxim', I put on sweat pants. Now all I've done is expand this to the work setting: If I'm working my budget, I put on a clear green visor cap, yellow lens glasses, get ready an ashtray and chew some bubble gum. If I'm studying for certifications or working my server lab, I always prefer wearing a lab coat and putting my hair into 'mad scientist' mode. If it's just regular ol' work, put on a nice work shirt – something you'd interview with.
- Change locations. — If you're not getting anywhere, try changing scenes to a new room, or say to a coffee shop. If a busy coffee shop has too many distractions, maybe a nice quiet park or library will do. Make it a place you want to work at, and once you've found a good one keep it consistent. I've read a study about rooms having a persistent 'vibe' to them, such as a room where a group meets every day for a week to have a group meditation session, and a control room where nothing takes place in it for a week. When a brand new group with different people tries to have a meditation session, they have more success in the room used for it before than in the control room. I imagine it works the same for study and work, i.e.: don't do it in the living room, where TV and videogames dominate a "play" scene, and not in your bedroom where you may instead want to cultivate a "lounge, sleep, rest" vibe. Whatever room you choose to make your 'work area', keep it consistent, and the more you pay into the 'vibe' of the room with a strong work effort, soon you may be able to just walk into the room and be overwhelmed by a sense and urge to get s*** done.
- Clean. — Mostly, clean your desk. Try make it as blank as a minimalist would, give everything else a place. If your desk is already clean but you really should clean your bathroom, go clean your bathroom. Anything is forward progress at this point, but more importantly, I notice human beings seem to act happier in clean spaces. Happier human beings are usually more willing to work.
- Lighting – Happy human beings again. I dunno much about being human, but I've noticed bright outdoorsy spaces seem to leave most people in a cheery, relaxed mood, even myself. If it's daytime, try to work near a window with a view (and if the more primitive outdoor life looks more tempting compared to your work, maybe turn your back or try to flank it). If working into the night, make sure you have a desk lamp and a floor lamp in addition to your regular lighting. Make your space look very occupied, in-use. Not (only) so much for the eye-strain, but just to make your job that much easier and that much more comfortable to do, so you can get it done quicker.
Meditate. — If you haven't read any of the several studies out there about the positive benefits of meditation on the mind and body, you should. Doing meditation is simple – yet as always easier said than done, it's harder than it looks. The purpose is to clear your mind and remain at a blank slate, no stray thoughts flying about – easy, right? If you find them creeping in, simply let them pass; don't fight it. "Whatever you resist, persists." Experiment and find out what you like. You can meditate sitting in a chair, lying down, sitting against the wall, etc. Try to remain present and in the moment. And overall, screw anybody who tries to tell you 'this how you're supposed to do it,' listen to your body and do what you like.
Meditate. — The purpose is to completely clear your mind and remain at a blank slate so that you have no stray thoughts flying about — sounds kinda easy, right? – yet as always, easier said than done, it's always harder than it looks. — If you find stray thoughts creeping in, simply let them pass. "Whatever you resist, persists." Experiment and find out what kind of body positions you like, you can do it sitting in a chair, lying down, sitting against the wall, etc. Try to remain present and in the moment, and remember, it's mostly a mental experiment, . And overall, screw anybody who tries to tell you 'this how you're supposed to do it,' listen to your body and do what you like.
Good luck be unto you!
I will update this and change things continually as I experiment with strategies, maybe even remove some things. Mainly I started with rehashed points from other online articles, but as I've had time to experiment with these things, I now have first-hand experience with the results of certain strategies myself. Experience > Theory is what I've been taught (and proven, ha) so I want to mainly keep this about real-life results.