How to Get Productive Again After an Emotional Meltdown
Or why productivity is like a bottle of ketchup
Pouring yourself ketchup with the original Heinz glass bottle is a humbling experience. Have you noticed how the bottle forces you to be patient? It doesn’t matter how hard you smack the bottom of the bottle. There’s always a delay between when you want ketchup and when you get it.
Just with ketchup, you can’t expect your productivity to flow right away when it has run dry, especially after an emotional meltdown. However, this delay can be shortened, and you will discover how in a few lines.
When your productivity dries up
Have you experienced an emotional meltdown lately?
This is what happened to me. I was in a dark place, productivity-wise. Due to some personal hardship, I felt depressed and spent my days numbing myself in a vain attempt to escape reality.
You know what I mean - when you lay in bed all day long, binge-watch movie series, or browse online videos aimlessly. It’s striking how time flies as the YouTube algorithm takes you for a ride from one catchy topic to the next, such as exploring the world with a unicycle or hunting down pythons in Cameroon.
Eventually, you get out of this black hole as the emotions ease off. But then you realize that you have entirely lost your momentum.
Stuck in the status-quo
When your productivity dries up, you might find yourself in a grim situation. The contrast between “before” and “after” can be shocking.
Before I fell into my depression, I used to progress consistently on my side hustle.
Back then, I had developed a habit of writing one inspired Twitter thread per week. I was an avid reader. I hung out with great writers, and I started running Microsoft ads to test one of my product ideas.
This was partly thanks to a productivity method I’ve used in the past few years: the practice of doing productivity calls with an accountability partner.
I followed it religiously as it was shown in a 2007 study by Gail Matthews that reporting your progress to a supportive person is more effective than simply writing down your goals.
However, after I got cured of this depression episode, I noticed I could not get back immediately to the same level of productivity I used to have. And this surprised me.
You realize that productivity is not a magical switch button. You can’t expect to turn your productivity off, then back on again with instant results as it takes time to build productivity habits again. That’s why the ketchup metaphor works better to illustrate this incompressible delay.
How to make your ketchup flow?
This realization that you have to wait to be productive again can be daunting.
For me, it was even embarrassing: I had resumed my productivity calls with my accountability partner, and despite my goodwill, I was unable to act on the action steps I had carefully set for myself. Time and time again, I would miss them.
However, the simple act of doing these calls set me in motion. I could not see the results right away. But something was at play in the background. I had smacked the bottom of the ketchup bottle, and sooner or later, my productivity juice would return.
The key here is to get introspective and review your goals from time to time. Personally, I like to do it with an accountability partner, but you can also do it with a personal journal if you want.
Most importantly, don’t be too harsh with yourself. Try to trust the process. Thinking about what you should do to get productive again is a significant first step. And eventually, you will find some exciting ways to get unstuck.
Three little steps to get productive again
As an example of a strategy you can use, here are three things to help you get productive again…
1) Appealing to your natural curiosity
Curiosity is a powerful force.
A couple of studies have shown that curiosity activates the dopamine reward circuitry in the brain in a similar way to food and sex.
Which explains why I watched so many intriguing movies and videos!
To counteract the appeal of these distractions, the trick is to direct your curiosity urge to something more productive.
In my case, I figured out the best way was to do something for the first time.
So, for example, I decided to buy bitcoins and pay in bitcoins for the first time in my life! This was not for the sake of investing but just for fun.
2) Small wins
Secondly, you can leverage the power of small wins.
According to research by Teresa Amabile from Harvard Business School, people who track their small achievements every day enhance their motivation.
In my case, I did not attempt to do hard things, but I instead focused on little achievements. The most important was to get back in motion, not to score impressive feats just yet.
So I focused on simple, specific things. For example, I set a goal of dumping 15 objects that lay in my house each day. This was an attempt to become more minimalist.
3) Healthy habits
Lastly, it helps to develop healthy habits.
One of the most powerful habits you can build is to exercise regularly. It is one of the most proven ways to fight against depression and anxiety, as demonstrated in a meta-analysis based on 398 studies.
As for myself, I mainly focused on back straightening and yoga exercises.
Eating early is also essential to avoid adverse negative effects on your sleep.
This is why I always ensure I eat at least two hours before bed.
Lastly, waking up at the same time each day is one of the most effective ways of avoiding insomnia, as demonstrated by the London Insomnia Clinic in Bloomsbury.
This is why I now wake up early each morning to write.
If you deploy this kind of strategy, you will be on the right path to a swift recovery.
For me, after two weeks, the pieces finally came together, and my productivity juice started to flow again.
Most notably, I managed to score this article, which is a feat for me as I am a French native… and I can tell you the first versions were horrible!
Publishing this article is also the first time I have posted a Medium article in my life, and I am widely enthusiastic about joining this writer’s community!
Right now, I feel I have gained momentum, as I also completed two additional draft articles in the past week.
Most importantly, I now feel ready to achieve more challenging goals, like working on my community project around the practice of doing productivity calls.
To summarize, here are the key points to remember:
After an emotional meltdown, it takes time to get productive again. Productivity is not like a switch button. Just as pouring yourself ketchup, there’s a delay that you can’t avoid. The good news is you can reduce this delay by following a couple of steps.
First of all, you can talk about your goals with an accountability partner or journal about it, which will make you reflect on what strategy to adopt to level up your productivity.
Then you deploy your strategy, for example :
1) Using curiosity-driven tasks such as doing something new to counter the appeal of distractions.
2) Celebrating your small wins each day.
3) Building health-related habits such as exercising, leaving enough time between your dinner and bedtime, and waking up at the same time each day.