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Have you ever been in a productivity slump?

It’s nice to think we’ve got everything under control. That we’re on top of our game. That our business is running like a well-oiled machine.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

There will be times when everything just piles up. You feel tired, overwhelmed and have no idea how you got to that point, or how to get out of the hole you're in. You feel stuck with no obvious path out. You’ve found yourself in a productivity slump.

You see, the problem with running a business is you want it to succeed. I know that sounds strange. If only we all had the problem of a successful business. Right?

But success is addictive. The more we succeed the more we crave it. To the point where we take on so much work that it tips the balance and all of a sudden, success is no longer an option.

It’s at that point that things fall in on us and we experience that feeling of being overwhelmed and we're unsure what to do next. Oftentimes that feeling of not knowing what to do next leads to a productivity slump and you end up not doing anything at all.

Perhaps you can’t relate to that scenario. Perhaps your business is doing well, but you haven’t yet reached that level of success I’m talking about. That doesn’t mean your immune.

Sometimes a productivity slump hits us for no particular reason. You sit down at your computer, or tablet or easel, but you just don’t feel motivated enough to actually work. Instead, you doddle around for a bit, look to see what’s happening on Facebook, watch a few Youtube videos, you use every excuse you can to avoid work. This is also a productivity slump.

Maybe you're taking on too many projects all at once, causing some of them to fall behind or take longer than you originally anticipated. This can also lead to a productivity slump.

Regardless of the path that led you there, being in a slump is no fun. And if you don’t find a way out of it the problem could compound.

So what do you do?

Here are my suggestions.

First off, in order to get out of a productivity slump, you need to know exactly what got you there in the first place.

Take out a pencil and paper and write down everything that is contributing to the problem. Every project that feels out fo control, every task that needs doing, absolutely everything, including other parts of your business other than working on client projects. Don't forget to write down priorities from your personal life as well that may be adding to the issue.

Are there bills that need to be paid? Do the kids have medical appointments you need to make? Does the car need an oil change?

The more you write down, the easier it will be to sort through everything.

Now look at your list and categorize it.

  • Is there anything on the list that you can simply forget about? If so delete it.
  • Is there anything on the list that can be put off until a later time? If so reschedule it.
  • Is there anything on the list that someone else could do instead of you? If so delegate it.

Don’t forget, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Find someone equally as good, or perhaps even better than you and have them do the task for you. Back in episode 45 titled “It’s OK for Graphic Designers To Ask For Help” I discussed this exact scenario of finding help.

I myself have a virtual assistant that helps me with simple things like making sure all the plugins and themes of my clients' WordPress websites are kept up to date. Passing this task on to her has freed up so much of my time to do other things.

Once you've completed your list and narrowed it down. All you should be left with are the things that you need to concentrate on. Prioritize them from most to least important.

Now, look at each item on your list, and break it down into smaller tasks. Things that can be done in one sitting. If you can’t complete it in one sitting then it’s not a task, it’s a project. Big projects can be broken down into smaller projects, and those smaller projects can be broken down into individual tasks. The trick is to break them down and make them more manageable.

You need to realize that most of the time, a productivity slump happens when we’re feeling overwhelmed. Which happens because we’re thinking too big. We’re looking at projects as a whole instead of their smaller tasks.

Once you start looking at the individual pieces it becomes much easier to knock them off your list one by one.

Say for example you’ve been hired to brand a new startup company. The client wants a logo, stationery, marketing material, a website, and a whole bunch of other things. That’s a big project. Thinking of it as a whole can feel overwhelming. But each part of it is a smaller project within the larger project. If you look at them that way, they suddenly seem more manageable.

Now, let’s look at the logo design as it’s probably the first one you’ll work on. How can you break the logo design project into smaller tasks? You need to choose a font. You need to decide how to use that font in the design. You could design an icon or symbol to go with the logo. There are colours to consider. And so on and so on.

When I design a logo, I almost always start by determining the font. I’ll spend an hour or more sifting through my font library, writing down the ones I think would best fit the logo. Once I have the fonts chosen I type out the logo's text in Adobe Illustrator, duplicate it, and apply each font to one of them for me to compare. This allows me to view all the fonts I chose in one document and helps me narrow down my selection until I'm left with just two or three fonts to use in the logo design. That’s one task I can scratch off my list. Choosing the font. I’m now one step closer to completing the logo.

I can then move on to the next task in that same project or move on to a completely different task from a different project.

Simply work at each task one by one until you climb out of your productivity slump.

“That’s great Mark, but what if looking at all those smaller tasks still leaves you feeing overwhelmed?”

I’m glad you asked. Here are some tips for you.

Change your environment: If you work on a laptop, try a different location to work for a while. Maybe play some music or try a different style of music. If you don't use a laptop you could still try completing tasks away from your computer. Searching for stock images for a client job is just as easy on an iPad as it is on your computer and you can do it anywhere.

Change your routine: Do you do the same thing every day? Get up, have breakfast, catch up on some news and social media, then get to work? Try changing it up a bit. Go out for a walk before work. Do some chores around the house. Heck, watch a movie before getting to work.

That’s the great thing about being a home-based designer. If your routine is part of the problem, simply change it up. We have that privilege.

Simply remember that where or when you finally sit down to work, choose one task to work on and don’t get up until you’ve completed it.

Once it’s done, scratch it off your list and move on to the next one. I promise you, you’ll feel both physically and mentally lighter with each task you scratch off.

Just like any good battle plan, the simplest strategy is to divide and conquer. So go divide your projects into manageable tasks and start conquering them one by one.

What's your way of getting out of a productivity slump?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from an anonymous designer, they ask…

My business has come to a stop because of my mothers health issues and I have found myself having less and less time to attend to my business. This is really out of my control and once I was self sufficient financially , now I am finding there is no income coming in. I really do not have much options as far as having someone help with my mothers illness, currently into my 4th month visiting her in the hospital in a different town.

I can go on and on, but what do you think one can do to pickup business or return to what it was. My friends tell me nothing is forever

I know many business owners do not talk about their weaknesses but possibly this topic is something that many people are facing and your opinion would be valiable.

To find out how I answered this question you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week The Productive Woman podcast

This week's resource is The Productive Woman podcast. A podcast intended to help busy women find the tools and encouragement they need to better manage their lives, their time, their stress and their stuff, so they can accomplish the things that matter to them.

However, don't be fooled by the title guys. Laura McClellan, host of The Productive Woman offers great advice that we can learn from as well. In fact, it's one of my most anticipated podcasts to listen to each week. Check it out by visiting theproductivewoman.com

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I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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