Monique Valcour, writing for hbr.org:
If you feel defeated, two things will help you move forward and feel more in control. The first is to accept where you are and have compassion for yourself. When you admit to yourself, “I’m stuck. This feels awful,” and let that admission sit in your awareness without fighting it or using it to berate yourself, it loses its power to derail you. Treat yourself with compassion by recognizing your strengths, recalling challenges you’ve overcome in the past, and affirming your capacity to solve problems.
This really resonated with me. Acceptance is a very powerful thing. When I’m able to accept a situation, I’m liberated from it and able to move forward.
Then move forward by experimenting and reflecting. I encourage my clients to check in with how their work process feels at different points throughout the day and make adjustments to improve the quality of their work experience. Being flexible helps. If one approach isn’t working, try another rather than continuing to hammer away fruitlessly. Frustrated sitting at your desk? Take your work outside or to a coffee shop for a couple of hours. Computer screen making your eyes go buggy? Switch to working on paper or using voice recognition. Perhaps you’re determined to complete something before lunch. But if frustration is building, stepping away, taking a walk, and getting something to eat may be exactly what you need to facilitate smooth and rapid completion of the task after lunch.
An understatement if there ever was one: Being flexible helps. This is one of those truths that, in my experience, applies to all aspects of life. You’re a parent? Being flexible helps. You’re in a meaningful relationship? Being flexible helps. You work closely with clients? Being flexible helps.
Sometimes, even when I break big projects down into small tasks, I struggle to get started. Maybe my tasks aren’t small enough, or maybe I’m still thinking about finishing the project rather than making progress. It’s a lot easier to start doing something if your goal is simply to make progress, rather than to finish.
A useful tool to fend off distraction is an inquiry into the costs of giving in to it. Surrendering to distraction, while temporarily soothing, will later generate feelings of regret and even incompetence. On the other hand, making progress boosts the wonderfully self-affirming sense of mastery. In the face of temptation to give in to distraction, ask yourself the following question: “What are you saying no to right now?” When you take stock of the fact that tumbling down an internet rabbit hole means letting go of the reins and giving up time for the things you really want to do, you may well find the strength to focus.
Things that are “temporarily soothing” have plagued me my entire life. By associating regret and incompetence to an activity that is “temporarily soothing”, I’m able to push it aside in favor of the meaningful work I should be doing. The next time you find yourself knee-deep into something meaningless, remind yourself that feelings of regret and incompetence are right around the corner, but so is self-affirmation and a sense of mastery if you begin important work.
The best response to a few hours given over to distraction is not self-recrimination, but self-compassion paired with curiosity. Regardless of whether your focus has been ideal or not, take a few moments at the end of each day to note what you accomplished and to set yourself up for a smooth downhill start on the next day’s targets for progress.
I am reading more and more about the benefits of self-compassion. I think it can be good to push yourself and to be your own strongest critic, but only if there’s an expiration attached after which you forgive yourself and move on. Blame sucks—forgive yourself and move on.