The Practical Guide to Breaking Out of a Funk

Photo is the view from my run this morning…that’s worth waking up for.

If I’m being totally honest, for the last few weeks I’ve been in a bit of a funk.

Don’t get me wrong, nothing is wrong, or bad. In fact, things have never been better with my both my business and personal life.

The problem is I’m just lacking the motivation to do much of anything.

I wake up and do the same routine that for the past few weeks has looked like this:

  • Coffee
  • Review Emails
  • Browse Internet
  • Maybe answer a couple emails
  • Try and write
  • Usually more internet browsing
  • Lunch
  • Internet browsing
  • Nap
  • Something social

I’ve fallen back into a trap that I’ve been very proud to have broken out of for the most part, and that’s sitting in front of my computer because I feel like that’s what I’m supposed to do – even if I’m not getting much done.

Now none of this is really a cause for alarm, as it happens a few times a year (like in January)- usually after a big come down. Between WDS and our anniversary promotion, I gave myself some time to just chill – but now I’m finding it hard to get back into all of the habits I usually find both enjoyable and productive.

This post is a reminder for myself and for how to break out of a funk. It’s all stuff I subconsciously know, but I felt that I really needed to write it out in order for things to truly click.

1) Change of Scenery

When all is said and done, I’ll have traveled for a grand total of about 3 months this year – which is way more than the average person does. Yet, since I bought my house, I’ve found that I’m spending more time working here at my house, as opposed to all of the other places I used to often go: Coffee shops, cafes, golf courses etc.

The past couple weeks I really haven’t gone out much since I’ve been both working on the house quite a bit.

It’s that change of scenery that helped kick me out of my funk in January, and it’s what I believe will help now. Over the next month I’ll be spending 10 days in Bend, and two weeks in Scotland, which should be just the refresh I need to get re-motivated.

That being said, you don’t have to fly around the world to bust out of your slump, often a simple change in your working environment can go a long way. I think it’s time to head down to Starbucks…

2) Focus on Basic Personal Habits

To kickstart your creative juices and positive habits, often the easiest way to start is with personal habits.

Things like making sure you’re flossing everyday, drinking lots of water, and exercising is a great example of this.

I notoriously dont drink as much water as I should. However if I have one glass, it makes me want to have another, and another. This translates to wanting to do good, productive things in other aspects of my life as well. It’s usually the days that I drink 8 glasses of water and go for a run, that I also tend to get the most work done, and waste the least amount of time in front of a computer.

3) Don’t Force It

Trying to force yourself to work is a terrible idea. For me it just leads to more pressure and frustration to get stuff done. The last couple weeks I’ve been trying to force it, when I should recognize what’s happening, head to the golf course, and not feel guilty about it.

Sometimes it takes just one day of not even thinking about work to get you back in the game – unfortunately I haven’t allowed myself to do that.

4)  Focus on One Task – Not the Whole List

Much of the guilt comes from my inbox that has been piling up. I can always maintain my stuff, but when I feel guilty for not responding to readers and friends it makes the guilt worse. By recognizing that’s where much of the stress comes from, I could bang out emails, and not worry about the rest until I’ve regained my mojo.

For you, pick the one task that is causing the most stress, and just get that done. Don’t worry about the rest.

Yesterday I had a handful of errands that I’d been putting off for weeks, it was amazing how just getting that done made me feel better.

This leads in to number 5 well…

5) Do Something Productive that Isn’t Work

As with the positive personal habits, by focusing on things that are still productive (but might not be construed as work), I get even more motivated to continue the productivity streak.

Over the weekend I repaired some shingles on the house and hung some shelves we’d been wanting to hang for awhile, with each finished project I became even more motivated to start and finish the next.

Even writing this post, has me thinking about what I can do next to keep the feeling going.

It often just takes one positive action to cause a tidal wave of further actions.

6) Break the Routine

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been following more or less the exact same routine for the last couple weeks. After awhile the internet searching and slacking off just becomes the thing you’re supposed to do.

If this is happening, mix it up. Wake up and instead of throwing on sweats and a pot of coffee, go for a run. Or in my case, I could hop in the shower and go down to a coffee shop to work, where I have fewer distractions.

7) Internet Sabbatical

I think this is a big one that I’ve honestly never really done for any serious amount of time.

I think for myself, and many of us, the nature of these funks is due to our reliance and ease of the internet. It becomes the ultimate time kill, and we get caught checking the same sites on our phones and computers dozens of times a day.

To take a few days and completely disconnect from the internet and just focus on writing, planning, or playing is probably the best thing you could do for your mindset.

UPDATE

I wrote this earlier this week, and now it’s 8am as I’m finishing up the post.

Yesterday I spent the entire afternoon/evening with my friend and business partner Nick Ramil – who is very rarely in Portland. We checked out some of the finest happy hour spots in town, before bbq-ing out on my deck.

He talked about how every single day, no matter how much he doesn’t want to he wakes up and immediately goes on a 2-3 mile run.

He said I should do the same thing.

Of course I had excuses like “I’ve done that and it just makes me more tired.”

“Did you eat anything?”

“No I don’t usually eat breakfast.”

“Of course you’re tired…idiot. You just used all of your body’s energy.”

Ok, I get it.

So this morning I woke up at 6:30 went for a run, came back and made breakfast, had two glasses of water, and now here I sit, having done the things I’d been struggling to motivate myself to do for weeks.

And the odd part?

It was easy.

I’m not saying I’m totally out of the funk, but we’re moving in the right direction.

Tate August 21, 2014 at 9:13 am

I’m a big fan of #5. Fall is my favorite season and I usually do a couple activities. In September I make my annual pumpkin beer. I’ll go all out for this and buy actual pumpkins to use in the recipe.

If you haven’t already, try out cold brew coffee. It takes about 12 hours to make and yields me about 2 liters every time I make it. Stuff is super powerful too. Throw some spices into the mix and you have pumpkin coffee.

I also like to plan a big scene for halloween at my house. I’m going for carving around 50 pumpkins this year.

I like pumpkins.

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Dave August 21, 2014 at 10:38 am

Sean,

I too get in a funk and two things I’ve learned. Shorten the daily list and simply be happy with achieving just one thing on that day ( if in a funk) . The other is never read email upfront in the day. Spend time preparing yourself for the day. Run, read, meditate, eat, – warm up the mind and the body. Email should be only once or twice a day. No more. And my bonus anti funk thing aligns with change the scenery – play, go do sport, meet a mate, be creative whatever – just go play.

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Chris August 21, 2014 at 10:57 am

It must be a funky time of year! Admittedly anecdotal, a handful of friends are going through a funk right now and I myself was just in one. Over the years I’ve never been able to pinpoint what causes my own funks and they just seem to lift on their own. Mild depression? I have no idea. I just try to keep moving – doing yoga, eating well, going to bed and waking up at the same time, checking tasks off my to-do list – and eventually I propel myself out. It also helps to play. Like frisbee. Outside.

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Chas August 24, 2014 at 9:10 pm

I like your reply, Chris. I’ve been in that funk, lately, too. I have to go out and do some work in the yard, or go for a walk at night while the skies are clear and ponder the stars. Anything to change my mindset.

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Mike Goncalves August 21, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Good stuff Sean, meaning your post, not so much the funk you mentioned you’ve been in. I think we all have our moments, days, even weeks of being in a funk…I know I do. I’ve come to accept it’s just part of the process and deal with it as best as I can. I like the suggestions you’ve made here. It’s amazing how picking just one task and getting it done can build momentum to finish the next one, and the next, and the next. This definitely has worked for me. I also like the idea of not forcing it. Sometimes, I just get away from the computer and play guitar for a while. Not only does it relax me, but more often than not, it’s when ideas start to pop and before you know it, I’m up and at it.

Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, is exercising (you knew that was coming). Whether it’s getting a 2-3 mile run in the morning, a 30 min power walk, or even just a series of different exercises at the house to get the blood pumping and heart rate going, followed by breakfast (must eat breakfast), it’s amazing how energized and fired up I feel for the day. If you really want to up the ante, take a cold shower after the workout…it’s crazy how rejuvenated it’ll makes you feel. Cheers!

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Sebastian Aiden Daniels August 23, 2014 at 12:08 pm

I am glad you are able to get out of your funk. I was in a depressive funk for a few days in the past two weeks in regards to business stuff. I got out of it by limiting my social media use and focusing on other offline stuff like you said. AFter two hours of computer time, anymore time after that, that I spend in front of my computer and at home is directly proportional to how happy or sad I usually am.

Moderation in all things!

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Nick Clerk August 24, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Great post, Sean. I can totally empathize. I’ve had this happen to me too, and the only solution that worked was to switch off the internet; switch off “work/business”; and simply do something else.

Every single point you’ve made in your post is valid. Point 7 about taking an Internet Sabbatical, is pure gold.

Nice one.

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Richard Phinneas August 26, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Your entire list sounds exactly like my own. I wonder if it’s a worldwide funk, or motivation goblin that is to blame because it sometimes feels like the biggest chore in the world to just keep plodding on ahead. Turning the computer off and reconnecting with the world outside is probably just the ticket.

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Ellen Bard August 31, 2014 at 7:33 pm

Great advice Sean. I live on a tropical island in Thailand, and sometimes friends and family can’t understand how I can fall into a routine – but it’s easier than everyone things. After all, we take our personality with us when we travel!

These are great suggestions. I think 4, focus on one task not the whole list, is always a good thing for me to do, as sometimes I get so overwhelmed by possibilities otherwise I get ‘analysis paralysis’.

Thanks for sharing…perhaps it’s time for me to ‘not force it’, and get back into the hammock… :-)

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