Feeling stuck? Switch modes

What do you do when your energy or attention levels don’t fit with the activity you’re engaged in? Do you keep going and end up even more stuck or frustrated? Try switching modes instead.

At 3pm yesterday I was chatting to a co-worker in the kitchen while making a cup of tea. Both of us had hit a block with the work we were doing. We acknowledged that mid-afternoon tends to be the time of day when our energy dips and attention wanes.

Taking a short break, getting up from the desk and walking around can sometimes help shift things. You sit back down ready to get on. You may go back to the same piece of work, or switch things up and find a task that suits your energy.

But what if that strategy doesn’t work? What if you’re in a cycle of low energy or focus and you’re constantly finding friction with the things you’re trying to do?

In Live like a hydra, Buster Benson talks about having a series of modes that we can switch to instead of trying to force ourselves into a mode we aren’t in:

The purpose of these modes is to offer a selection of alternatives when one strategy isn’t working. Rather than beating my head against the wall because I’m trying to be social when I’d rather just organize my finances, these modes allow me to switch to the circumstances, and be productive within the mode that I’m currently in. If you’re feeling stuck, switch modes. Try another head.

Buster’s modes account for periods where energy and attention levels vary. They include:

  • Recovery mode when “trying to be productive is pointless”
  • Novelty mode where he aims to “channel the desire for distraction into seeking novelty”
  • Work mode which is when he works on “things that don’t require much creativity or thought to do”
  • Flow mode where he spends “quality time with a deep interest”

Do you recognise any of these modes? I certainly do, even if I might describe them a little differently. And for me, switching modes requires a sub-mode or transition mode, that’s similar to what Buster calls self mode. I’ll do an activity that allows me to feel progress, washing up for example, but that allows me to check in with myself, evaluate my mood and identify which mode I need to switch to.

What modes would you add or adapt to account for your own cycles of energy and attention?

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