Why I Lost My Productivity and How I Got It Back

Photo Credit: Kai Lehmann via Compfight cc

Summer 2015 was the least productive one I have had for many years. Yes, I know, it's already October, so you might be wondering why I’m only telling you about my summer now. Well, hold on, since this post contains a lot of important lessons about if you ever lose your productivity and how to get it back.

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But first, you have to understand what happened to me before the summer this year; in the spring, I hit the “virtual wall.”

In other words, I worked so much that I couldn’t look at my computer anymore. In fact, looking at my Mac started a rejection reaction and I just couldn’t do the work I planned to do.

Now, I wouldn’t call this reaction a burnout. Still, the reaction of looking at my computer and feeling this way was a sure sign from my body to stay away from it, at least for a while. And this is exactly what I did.

So What Actually Caused This to Happen?

You may be wondering why this strong reaction occurred in the first place. The answer to this is very simple: I was on execution mode all the time.

Learning and writing about productivity has always been fun, but all of a sudden, the joy had gone thanks to me setting rules that were too rigid for myself.

For instance, I decided that I wanted to set a daily word count of 1,000 written words every day. At the beginning, this was all fun and I was able to hit the target easily. In addition, I got a lot of work done, so things looked very promising.

But quite soon I noticed that in order to reach this daily goal, I had to write anything down just to reach the 1,000-word mark. I was still able to do that, but I wasn’t happy with what I was producing.

Finally, the daily word count, combined with plenty of other daily goals I set to myself, led into a situation where I just had to raise my hands up and say: I’ve had enough!

This happened in April.

The Summer 2015

After hitting the wall, a couple of months passed without me making any progress on my projects.

For instance, I had to postpone a book writing project because of my aversion to my computer. Instead, I had no difficulties finding time for things like mowing the lawn or spreading a new layer of sand into our yard.

So while I wasn’t overly productive on my projects, there was also another factor that gave me much less time for my actual work. Our son’s daycare was on a summer vacation for almost two months, so I had a lot less time for my projects.

Then, I stopped for a moment and gave my current situation some proper thought. While doing the normal work was out of the question and since the time was limited anyways, I decided to focus on educating myself with a course (non-affiliate link) I had bought some time ago.

But besides studying the material and implementing the lessons, I didn’t do anything else. Then again, I found that taking it easier for a couple of months was important, because it helped me to recharge my batteries and it continued the healing process that was going on.

The Change for the Better

Then, at the end of August, an event occurred and it put the healing process into the fast lane.

First, an online buddy of mine contacted me about a joint-project. After having a Skype call with him, I felt really excited about our project and I wanted to take action right away (rest assured, I’ll let you know more about this project when the time is right!).

On September 10th, there was another milestone in the recovery process. I took a look at one of my earlier writing pieces and that very draft was eventually going to be refined as my next book. But after looking at the draft for a while, I knew that this was not going to make it to Amazon – that’s how terrible the writing was!

This draft was done exculsively in the “execution era,” when I had the obsession to reach the 1,000 word mark every day. And although the book was almost ready, I decided to split the book into five different titles.

I realized that I want to work on projects that I’m really excited about. For this reason, I “killed” the draft and started a new project from scratch on a topic that I’m very excited about (how to wake-up earlier).

Finally, something else happened and this was also a very important part of the healing process. I’m not sure why this occurred, but I now understand that this was necessary, in order to get back to a regular productivity groove.

I’m a fan of Mike Vardy and his blog Productivityist. I also follow Craig Jarrow’s Time Management Ninja and I felt very inspired about productivity again when I started reading their blog posts. Something inside me said, “I want to be like these guys. They have super-successful blogs and they are also successful in the very same area I’m operating in.”

So after reading their articles, I got another boost to my creativity. In fact, it opened the floodgates of my writing.

You see, I hadn’t updated my blog for a while, but I finally understood something important - even if I wasn’t able to write articles all the time which were spread on social media like a virus, I still had to continue writing, to improve my writing skills.

So thanks to Mike and Craig, I started updating my blog again. And oh, when I say write, I really mean that: In one day, I finished three blog posts (this one you are reading and two others) and two newsletter items - all in one day (Note: in two weeks, I have written now 17 blog posts and the first draft of the new book is ready).

When the floodgates of writing opened, I finally knew it: I had fully recovered from the crash that occurred in the spring.

So What Healed Me?

Sorry, I can’t give you an exact formula for how you could recover from an emerging burnout or how long it’s going to take to take to heal (for me this “episode” lasted from the 16th of April till the 15th of September).

Still, there are certain tips you can follow:

  • If your body sends you strong message of staying away of your computer, do so. Don’t force productivity; let it come to you naturally. For me, I took a few months off from the regular work.

  • Read inspiring blogs and learn new skills.

  • Forget rigid goals. For me, this meant not messing with the 1,00o words daily count anymore. It-just-doesn’t-work-for-me.

  • You will know when the time is ready. For me, this took me five months. For you, it might take shorter. But what I realized is that you shouldn’t rush your recovery. You’ll just know when it’s time to get back into your groove.

  • Work on the projects that you love.

  • Do physical work, where you can see the results instantly. For instance, in my first book project, raking the leaves on the yard was both a meditative and stress-relieving experience, since I saw the results instantly.

Leave a comment: Have you “lost” your productivity? How did you get it back?

  • Thanks for this article Timo, which really makes some one be very caution to his work-life balance. Yes, it can be somehow devastating when you feel yourself you are not willing to do anything. Keeping the balance will not only keep the work moving, but also ones motivation and enthusiasm towards the work. Glad you got your productivity back :-)

    • Timo Kiander

      Hi Abder!

      Yes, sometimes things go overboard, but luckily you learn from those mistakes.

      I now know what type of work I should be doing and at what pace.

      Cheers,
      Timo

  • Hi Timo,

    I discovered your work smarter book and subscribed to your newsletter.I often avoid them lol. I understand the productive struggle! As a single mom, blessed with add and a desire to do everything at once. My intense ambitions and random ideas run amuck while I learn the tools to tame them into some productive useful projects. I feel the maintenance gets in the way of the flow, I loose interest and stress the work I know claim for the new task at hand. Anyway this is my way of building that disciple and recognizing the importance of organizing tasks within projects to make ideas reality. Also my just doing stuff is better for me than overplanning and asking for help or insight keeps me here on earth :) thanks for your contributions.

    • Timo Kiander

      Hi Jessica!

      You are welcome!

      What I learned from my experience is to listen to myself carefully and slow things down if necessary. And since I didn’t do that early enough, that resulted months of lost hours in my work.

      Cheers,
      Timo

  • Timo: My goal will be 250 words per day, but it could include thoughts, notes, research, etc. Thanks for an inspiring post! I hear your! ;)

    • Timo Kiander

      Hi Martin!

      Thanks!

      Sure, that way you get the 250 words easily and the goal doesn’t become a burden.

      Cheers,
      Timo

      • Funny Martin, I set the very same goal for myself :) I’m at 100 days already! Most days I exceed it, but I agree with Timo that it takes the pressure off! Sometimes I just write something freestyle, for my girlfriend, or to myself, that’s never published anywhere. That is also a good way to get out of “execution mode”.

        Good to have you back Timo, nothing like a boost of inspiration from fellow entrepreneurs right?

        Keep up the good work!

        • Timo Kiander

          Hi Niklas!

          Yes, indeed!

          Keep those daily goals small and you reach them, almost by accident :)

          Cheers,
          Timo

  • Wow, it’s the exact same thing that happens to me right now. I write code and almost year ago I started to code every single day to develop my skills. Now, after 293 days streak I feel like it’s a burden. It lost the meaning. Probably it’s time to finally take a break.

    • Timo Kiander

      Hi Krzysztof!

      I understand what you mean.

      I think that for me, I had no other option than just take a break. I just hope this kind of situation doesn’t happen to me anymore.

      If you feel that things are too intense, then taking it easier will help.

      Cheers,
      Timo

  • Wow – great article!! I find that the term “burnout” get’s thrown around far too casually than it should… Burnout is a very serious ordeal, it is downright scary to go through, and very difficult to recover from. Especially on your own, most need therapy to find their way back, and even then it’s not an easy thing to do…

    I am so happy that you were able to pull yourself through it – the fact that you are back and writing about it shows that it can be done, and I’m sure that your story will provide an insurmountable relief to others who are experiencing how detrimental it can be.

    I just found this site today, and have found so much insight, info, resources, (and much needed relief as well) in what I have already read! I will be coming here often in the future! Thanks for all you do!! :)

    Cheers!
    ~Kelley

    • Timo Kiander

      Hi Kelley!

      Thank you!

      Like mentioned in the article, I didn’t call my situation as burnout, because that would have been way more serious condition. What happened instead was a gentle reminder from the voice inside of me, to slow down and take a break.

      I’m glad that I made things easier for myself a while, because that helped me to get back to normal rhythm some months later.

      Cheers,
      Timo

  • Bakebread

    Wow… thank you for the tips. I’ve been stuck for years, not because I don’t have something to write, but because I can’t. So, I just keep notes for those ideas, and do nothing. Now, I know what to do. Thank you so much…