Everybody gets in a productivity funk from time to time.

We’ve all had days or weeks when we just can’t seem to get much done, and as more and more work begins to pile up, things can easily spiral out of control. We don’t know where to start, we feel bad that we’re in this funk to begin with, and the world looks bleak.

I was helping a student work through a productivity funk the other day, and I put a few ideas down on paper. The next time you’re feeling unproductive, see if you can improve your situation using one of these strategies.

  1. Focus relentlessly on what you can control. You can’t control the past, so let go of your unproductive morning/day/week and turn your attention to the present. Later, if you want, you can do a post-mortem on your funk and extract some lessons from it. For now, though, put the past out of your mind.
  2. Create structure in your schedule. A lack of structure is often at the root of productivity funks. Being in total control of your time often backfires, so beware of the wide-open morning or the blank afternoon schedule. Creating some structure in your day is a great way to force yourself to do something, and you’ll probably feel like doing something else after that.
  3. Identify and replace irrational thoughts. It’s easy to feel like we have so much to do that we’ll never get caught up. We know this isn’t really true, but our bummed-out brains want to believe it anyway. To combat irrational thoughts, the key to develop a standard replacement thought. If you frequently feel like you’re drowning in email and will never reach inbox zero, don’t just vaguely tell yourself that you’re overreacting. Create a mantra, a phrase you can repeat to yourself each time you experience feelings of hopelessness. Something like “I am capable of managing my email.” Or something way less lame than that. But anyway, come up with a standard phrase you can use.
  4. Remember past successes. When have you pulled out of a productivity funk in the past? When have you felt burned out, and how did you shake it? You have been through many episodes like this. Everyone has.
  5. Start small. Start impossibly small. Start with something tiny. When you’re overwhelmed or paralyzed with indecision, you need to temporarily lower the bar.
  6. Start now. It may seem like you need to think your way out a productivity funk, but that probably won’t help. Oftentimes, too much thinking is what got you there in the first place. Instead of ruminating, take immediate action. Do something small to help your situation right now.

And as always, there’s no need to do everything on this list. Pick the idea that appealed to you most, modify it if necessary, and put it into practice.