How to Beat Mental Blocks to Do Your Best Work
Mental blocks...we’ve all had them and they always show up at the worst times! So what do you do when you hit a mental block, but you still have hours left in your workday and a to-do list that’s too legit to quit?
To get to the root of the problem, we first have to address the elephant in the room.
Why do we hit mental blocks in the first place?
While there are physical disabilities that cause mental blocks, for the majority of us, they have a lot to do with the inability to focus. We are living in a time where being crazy busy is not only glorified, but perpetuated by a 24/7 society. Most of us are being held hostage by a tiny tyrant that lives in our pockets or purse during the day and sleeps next to us at night (Creepy, right?).
According to the latest report from IDC Research, which examined habits of smartphone users, 80% of users check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up and 79% of adult smartphone users have their phones with them for 22 hours a day.
It’s like having a demanding, nagging, tyrannical toddler that you can NEVER get away from. Facebook alerts, email notifications, text messages, Instagram direct messages, voicemails, apps beeping at us, smartwatches sending us marching orders...all day...every day!
Couple that with the latest craze to have an Instagram-worthy life, an enviable career, and a “do all the things” mentality...all the time. Yep, it’s a recipe for MENTAL BLOCKS (and let’s be honest...mental breakdowns!).
Here’s the problem. Our mind needs rest to recharge. It isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. And while time is fixed, our energy isn’t.
So before we dive into what to do when a mental block hits, let’s talk preventative maintenance.
Preventing Mental Blocks in the First Place
Schedule “offline” time every day on your calendar. This isn’t just about not being on your phone or computer. We are talking about quiet time away from your work and ideally away from people. No radio. No podcasts. Just quiet. Just you. Studies show that some of our most creative ideas or thinking breakthroughs come from times of quiet. Schedule it and don’t break the date with yourself.
Example: Put on your calendar from 11:45-12:00 - Walk
Build constraints into your day. This was one of our biggest takeaways from attending Michael Hyatt’s Focused Leader Intensive. Constraints (or boundaries) give us real freedom.
Here are a few examples of the types of constraints that you might set up:
I won’t look at my phone until after I have my coffee, spend some time reading/meditating, and go for a walk in the morning.
I won’t start work before 8:30 am and I will finish work by 6:00 pm every evening.
I will close the door to my office every day at 3-4 PM and let my team know I am doing focused work and ask to not be interrupted unless there is an emergency.
Train for focus by creating daily startup rituals. This signals to your brain that it’s time to do your focused work. Our brains are crazy powerful and a simple routine or ritual gives your brain a map of what’s to come. It’s a little automation hack for the mind.
For example: Grab a cup of coffee, close your office door, and put on the same focus Spotify playlist.
Schedule longer blocks of offline time throughout your month, quarter, and year. These are periods of two or more days where you aren’t working...not even THINKING about work. It’s a time to recharge your batteries doing something you love, connecting with someone you love, or just resting.
Schedule less and leave marginal space. This one is a tough one. I’m shaking my finger at myself as I write this to you. Sometimes we all need a little reality check on what we really can accomplish well in a day. When putting things in your calendar allow marginal room before and after tasks that require a lot of mental energy.
When the Mental Block Hits
Lauren and I wanted to get insights from our team on how they deal with mental blocks. Below we’ve compiled our best ideas:
Barbara: First ask yourself, is this really a mental block or is this just more difficult work that requires a new level of focus? Note: Many of us have gotten so used to jumping from task to task that when a more difficult task is in front of us, rather than hunker down and focus, we jump to a more mentally pleasing task that’s gives us a quick hit of feel-good dopamine. If you’ve ever checked Instagram in the middle of a tough task, you’ve been guilty (I’m over here raising my hand too!). According to The Harvard Business Review, 44% of interruptions are self-inflicted. Give yourself a tough reality check!
Lauren: Get comfortable swapping tasks with your team. Sometimes I find mental blocks come when I’m not working in my “desire zone” or “proficiency zone.” We all at times have to do work that maybe isn’t our favorite, but if you have a teammate that excels in that area, you can trade or just ask for insights.
Start with something easy as a warm up that takes little to no brain power.
After your warm up, try to batch things that are similar and knock them out in categories. Don’t try jumping around. Learn more about our batching strategy.
Set time goals, something like I’m going to do this in XYZ amount of time. Pressure helps us do our best work.
Camila: BRAINSTORM! Throw all of your ideas/thoughts onto a paper or doc and don't think about organizing anything in the moment. Just leave it all on the paper. Take some time away from it and come back with fresh eyes. Choose your best ideas/thoughts and bounce them off of someone else who you trust.
Cierra: I had a block on how to present info in a spreadsheet - I talked it out with Amber and it helped me narrow down what was important...I have to *talk it out* with anyone who will listen and it helps me get to the point.
Rebecca: Get someone else’s opinion. I have done designs that I don’t feel jazzed about, but everyone else does. Sometimes your meh can be someone else’s wow.
Ana: Take a walk or focus on another task. You’ll keep thinking about it in the background and the solution might come to you...like when you can’t remember the name of that one guy in that one movie and you end up blurting it out later!
Amber: Don’t force it - you will not get the best results. Give yourself permission to take a step back and regroup.
If you are finding that hitting mental blocks is becoming the norm for you, it might be time to take a much-needed pause. Sometimes you have to momentarily slow down so that you can eventually speed up.
Hitting the occasional mental block just means you’re human. Keep our list of helpful tips handy to strike back when one camps out in your brain. Then you can say, “Not today, mental block. Not today!”
If marketing and retention at your community is causing you mental blocks (or headaches), schedule a minute demo to see how the Sprout Membership can fix that. Pick at time that works for you here.