How to get out of a work slump
Updated: Apr 11
Most of us, even those who love their jobs, go through a slump sometimes. This is normal and most of the time there is nothing you have to worry about. But if a work slump drags on for weeks or months, the negative feelings can spill over into other areas of your life and seriously impact your wellbeing.
The first step is always to figure out what is causing the problem. You may automatically think that your job itself is the reason for the slump, but that’s not necessarily the case. Circumstances in your private life can also play a part; from going through a relationship crisis to worrying about your health, or simply not getting enough sleep. Think back to when and how it started and try to identify the contributing factors.
If you have established that work itself is actually the cause, dig deeper to find out what is bothering you exactly. Without knowing what is causing your slump, it might be difficult to get out of it. Having said that, here are a few things you can try that might bring back your motivation and put things into perspective.
Notice the positive
Even under normal circumstances, we tend to overlook or forget the positive and focus more on the negative. Neuropsychologists call this our brain’s “negativity bias”. Using the words of Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness:
“Our brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for good ones.”
So when you’re demotivated and lacking a sense of purpose, it’s easy to get stuck in a negativity spiral. To counter this, you need to consciously remind yourself of positive things. One simple way to do it is this:
Every day when you finish work, take one or two minutes and write down all the positive things that happened that day. Include seemingly small things like a friendly chat with a colleague or a minor achievement like finally finishing a task you’ve been putting off.
Doing this regularly will provide you with a more balanced view of your current situation. (If you have no experience in journaling, this simple mindfulness exercise is a great way to start.)
Shake up your routine
True, there is evidence that people who follow a steady daily routine tend to be happier than those who don’t. However, when you’re already lacking motivation and energy, your routine can make you feel stuck. If that’s the case, do different things - or do the same things differently.
Work from a different space; try working from a different part of the office or head out to a cafe or co-working space, even just for an hour or two.
If you are working from home, go to a different room. Change your commute; take a different route to work, or get off one station earlier and walk to the office from there. If you usually take your lunch in front of your computer, head outside for your lunch break.
Sometimes a seemingly simple change can make a big difference in how we feel. There are countless ways to mix up your daily routines and habits. Try different ones to find out which ones have the most positive effect on your mood and productivity.
Offer to help
There is plenty of scientific research that shows that helping others is rewarding and makes us feel good. Reason enough to give it a try when you’re lacking a sense of purpose at work.
There are many ways to support others, depending on your work environment and company culture.
You might simply ask your colleagues if they need help with anything. Larger companies sometimes have programs where employees can become mentors for more junior staff. In my previous company, we had a system where all staff members were involved in taking care of the interns.
Or speak with your manager to see if you can work alongside another team or become involved in another project.
You might even learn something new - which is another great way to regain motivation and create a sense of achievement.
Learn something new / Skill up
If you’ve been doing the same job for many years, it can easily feel like you “have seen it all” and that you’re not growing anymore. Chances are there are still things you don’t know or aspects related to your work that have changed and evolved.
Set aside a certain amount of time every day to learn something new. Staying up to date about what’s happening in your industry/field and increasing your knowledge can make certain aspects of your job more interesting again.
Another reliable way to get out of a slump is learning new skills. With so many free online courses available you don’t even have to go back to school necessarily or invest a lot of money.
Upskilling not only makes you more attractive to your employer and potentially leads to new opportunities in your current job (such as added responsibilities or even a promotion), it also increases your future job security.
And when you learn new skills you may discover new passions and end up finding a new career path that you like.
Whether it’s expanding your knowledge or acquiring new skills, learning new things can have an incredibly positive impact on your life. It has been widely documented by researchers as “the single variable tied most directly to improved health, well-being and happiness”.