4 Ways to Stay Motivated When You’re in a Rut

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It’s the Monday after Thanksgiving, and we’re all feeling the same thing today: “It’s been Saturday for about 3 days and thus, I’m not prepared for Monday.”

We’re still full of turkey, in that beautiful, lazy groove of having had a few days off, and it’s the kickoff of holiday season — a wonderful time of the year, but one that can have us counting down the hours of the day until we can head off to the evening’s holiday party.

So, yes, you’re probably going to be dragging a bit today. I know I sure will be. (Tell me on Twitter how you’re getting through the day at @timherrera.)

But that’s O.K.! Whether holiday-induced or not, the occasional sluggishness of having to put in effort at work when you’re not feeling it is a perfectly natural part of having a job, like feeling burnout or feeling stalled in your career. No one bats .1000, and no one is motivated every workday of the year.

The situation isn’t hopeless, though, and don’t write off today as a loss. Even if you’re not feeling 100 percent, there are ways to structure your day today — or any day you’re feeling a lack of motivation — to maximize your productivity. (Or, at least, minimize your losses.)

Start (extremely, microscopically) small

This is an area we’ve covered before in this newsletter: we call it micro-progress, or the magic of just getting started.

The idea is this: If you just can’t motivate yourself to get started on something today, slice it up into the smallest possible units of progress and attack them one at a time. Stop obsessing over what you’re going to write in the email you just can’t bring yourself to write, and instead just click the button to open up a new email. Type in the recipient’s address. Click the subject line window. Write a subject line. And so on.

This isn’t just gimmicky so-called life-hacking: Studies have shown that you can trick your brain into increasing dopamine levels by setting and achieving, you guessed it, micro-goals.

Be accountable

Confide in a favorite co-worker that you’re feeling off today, and ask them to gently check on you to make sure you’re staying on task. Find someone you trust who can give you a helpful nudge that won’t feel invasive, but is just a little something to keep you on track.

Take breaks

After a long weekend of food and festivities, maybe you’re just feeling a little exhausted today. Again: That’s fine!

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I have long been a proponent of taking regular breaks (and naps!) at work, and these are especially important when you’re feeling off. A study published in Nature Neuroscience found that taking a brief nap — between 20 and 30 minutes — can stop a deterioration in performance, and an hourlong nap can even reverse that deterioration.

Even if you can’t catch some quick Z’s, just walking around a bit can help get you back on track: “Standing up and moving around improves blood flow to the brain, which enhances cognition,” wrote Phyllis Korkki in our guide on making the most of your workday.

Be kind to yourself

So you’re having an off-day. Accept it, do the best you can, but don’t beat yourself up.

Self-criticism “can lead to ruminative thoughts that interfere with our productivity, and it can impact our bodies by stimulating inflammatory mechanisms that lead to chronic illness and accelerate aging,” Dr. Richard Davidson, founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told The Times earlier this year.

You’ll be back to your best self in no time.

Have a great week!

— Tim

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This week I’ve invited writer Kate Andrews to teach us about holiday-party uniforms. (We are big fans of uniforms around here.)

It’s the time of year for cocktail parties and cookie swaps, and aside from the usual introvert-based worries, we all have the same dilemma: what to wear.

This is why a holiday party uniform is a lifesaver. It’s less a full outfit and more a coterie of accessories to add to your work clothing before heading to a party. A sparkly scarf, a cool patterned tie and pocket square (see Prince Charles for inspiration), or velvet blazer can make all the difference — and, most important, can make it look like you had a plan.

Decide early in the party season what your look will be, then stash your item(s) away at work or in your car so you can easily slip them on as you head out of the office to the evening’s festivities.

This year, my party uniform includes a pink shawl with big dangling pompoms and a light-gray velvet jacket. For special occasions, I have a flapper-inspired gold headband with a tall black feather. With an accessory like that, everything else is almost an afterthought.

“But what if someone notices I wore the same thing twice?” you might be thinking. Two things: 1. No one is paying close enough attention to your outfit to notice, and 2. Who cares!

That said, it’s not a bad idea to have another festive item of clothing handy for those times when you spill crab dip or red wine all over. (We have some help for all of those holiday stains here.)

Now you’re ready to dazzle at holiday parties all season long. But you’re on your own for the ugly-sweater parties.