It happens every year in December.
The world starts to slow down as people anticipate the well deserved break on the horizon. But once we ring in the new year, it’s time to get back to work. In theory.
The problem is, memories of turkey, sleeping in late, and the endless carbs we got to enjoy continue to dance through our minds all of January.
As an added bonus, for many of us, it’s still dark, cold, and coated in snow.
I find it so hard to be productive this time of year. My brain feels like soup, I can’t focus, I can’t get up on time, I can’t come up with creative ideas, and nothing I write makes sense…which is not good for someone who makes a living as a writer.
The good news is, I know how to get back into the flow.
Find a Reason to Get Out of Bed
No, I don’t mean looking for some grand existential purpose that drives you to work hard. That’s way too abstract and way too much damn pressure for first thing in the morning.
I mean, create a morning ritual you love. Something that makes the prospect of leaving your cozy warm blankets a little less daunting.
In the spring and summer, it’s enough for me to think about walking my pup (pictured below). The sun rises on us while the birds sing good morning. I feel like a modern-day Cinderella.
But in the middle of the winter, when I have to take 15 minutes to bundle up and brace myself for the cold, dark, icy mornings, staying in bed seems like a much better option than my morning walk.
So, I took time to think about what would motivate me to toss off the blankets. And this morning, I got up, made myself a coffee, and drank it slowly while reading an article from one of my favourite blogs.
I haven’t felt this ready to get to work in a long time!
(And don’t worry, I actually got up early enough to do this and walk the pup at the same time I have been every other day).
It could be reading the morning paper, working out, or taking time to connect with friends. Whatever it is, take at least 30 minutes in the morning to do something for yourself. There is no better way to go into the day with a positive attitude.
However, there is a caveat.
Make sure it’s something that gives you energy, not something that sucks you into a vortex.
Sure, I would enjoy sitting on my couch with a blanket watching YouTube, but if I did that, I would still be there at nightfall.
You have been warned.
After a long break, it can be difficult to immediately get back to work. I mean, I already wrote and scrapped two articles that really weren’t any good. It’s so frustrating!
So I stopped writing for a bit and started reading things I was interested in. This had a couple of benefits:
- I started to build back up my ability to focus after a long break.
- My brain started considering complex issues and I felt inspired again.
I would recommend reading articles or books related to your industry, but if you are in a deep enough rut, even reading a few chapters of a good book can be enough to get back in the habit of concentration.
But note that watching TV, even a stimulating documentary, doesn’t have the same affect. It’s too passive. You need to find a non-intimidating task (so you actually do it) that requires some level of focus.
People tend to think that creativity is this illusive gift bestowed upon you by the gods. Not true.
You can exercise your creativity at will and strengthen it like a muscle. You just have to provide yourself the time to do it.
It’s actually really simple.
Come up with a small problem that needs solving. Maybe you need a few ideas for articles, maybe you need to send out an email that sounds good, who knows.
Set a 15 minute timer and write down as many ideas related to your problem as you can.
Don’t put pressure on it.
The first time you do this, you may only come up with 3 ideas…maybe less. But take some time to do it every day. I promise that each time you do it, you’ll get better and better at it.
Move Your Body
I don’t know about you, but over the holidays, I spent significantly less time moving and significantly more time curled up in a blanket, watching Netflix and stuffing my face with ginger cookies.
While I relished every second of this time, the unfortunate thing is that few activities have as much of a positive impact on the brain as exercise.
According to a Harvard article, exercise can directly improve memory and thinking by reducing insulin resistance and inflammation, simulating growth factors and the development of blood vessels, and by helping new neurons survive.
There are also indirect benefits like improved mood and sleep, as well as reduced stress and anxiety.
Sounds great, but how do you get started?
If you’re like me and it’s been awhile, start slow. You will never find a suggestion of starting off perfect in the new year on this blog. There are going to be bumps in the road. Mentally prepare for them at the beginning of getting into a new habit.
Just aim for a certain number of steps to take every day for the next couple weeks.
When that becomes second nature, add some cardio, then body weight exercises, then lifting weights.
Or, if those methods of moving aren’t for you, find whatever is. Join a sports club, a running group, whatever you need to do to keep yourself accountable and in habit of moving your body.
Leave the Sugar and Processed Junk Behind
If exercise is the best thing you can do for your brain, consuming high levels of sugar and other processed foods is the worst.
But once you get into the habit of indulgence, it can feel impossible to break.
I, for one, am still experiencing concentration-killing carb cravings every afternoon.
If you think you have the stomach for it, feel free to go cold turkey on the treats, but from years of experience, I know that is not the path I am destined to walk.
Instead, I plan to substitute where I can and do a little better every day. So far, I have gone from eating a mound of chocolate and cookies each day to one cup of coffee, one cup of hot chocolate, and a few crackers.
There is no set time to aim for. Just aim to eat a little better than you did the day before. Slow and steady wins the race.
To make things as easy on yourself as possible, try to prep some healthy foods at the beginning of the week so they are at the ready when temptation strikes.
If I missed any tactics you love, please help other readers (and me) by letting us know in the comments below.
See you next week, but until then, good luck choosing to make life a little better!