How To Do A Productivity Reboot

Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.

Photo by Patrick Hoesly

It’s amazing, isn’t it, that someone who spends so much time talking about productivity, and reading about productivity, should fall flat on her face in productivity, right? At least it is to me. (We’ll talk about expectations in a future article)

It was about a month ago, and I hit a wall. I didn’t want to do anything. My task list was overwhelming, teeming with all the minutiae of stuff I just didn’t want to do. None of my projects excited me, and I avoided doing anything.

If this had happened to my computer, where nothing worked, the first thing I would have tried would be to reboot the thing. Power all the way down, let it sit for a bit, then start it up again.

I needed to do the same thing with my life: a productivity reboot.

Recognizing When A Reboot Is Necessary

We all have slumps. Low energy, temporary overwhelms and sudden demands can slow us down. These are usually temporary, though, and we recover in a week or so. The internet is loaded with tricks on how to snap out of these, and get ourselves back on track: new systems, timers, filing methods, purges, brain dumps.

When slumps stretch into weeks, and nothing can budge our massive resistance, it is time to assess if a reboot is necessary.

Rebooting Your Productivity

Stopping the Programs

The first thing a computer does when you reboot is to stop everything it is doing quickly. Some things it handles gracefully, asking if you want to save, and preparing for you to pick back up when you are ready.

In life, it’s a matter of wrapping up the things that can’t wait. You can do as little as necessary to bring it to completion, as long as it ends.

Sometimes a stubborn program doesn’t want to close, and the computer will ask if you want to force it closed. And as a programmer, I can tell you that sometimes it is necessary. Things can become so snarled in memory that you just need to walk away.

In life, this would be like walking away from things that are sucking you dry. It’s always good to go for a graceful close, but honestly, sometimes one needs to drop the ball before it will be picked up by someone else.

Taking A Break

When I did phone support, I would always instruct people to count to 10 before powering on their machines again. This would make sure that everything had a chance to stop before it started up again.

The same thing is necessary with a productivity reboot. A space of time needs to happen when you give yourself a break. It may be an hour, an afternoon, or a couple of weeks.

Starting Up Again

When a computer starts up, it generally checks everything out, makes sure all is in order, and then loads a minimum number of programs, usually ones that are critical to the machine, and things you have chosen to run.

The same should happen after your break: check everything out, make sure you know where everything is, and then start up again on critical items, and the ones you feel are important.

My Reboot

I don’t recollect that I thought I was doing a reboot at the time I started it. I just knew that something had to give.


I started by clearing my task list of those things that had deadlines, in a manner that was easy and fast. My niece and oldest nephew had birthdays soon and I had to get a card and gift out to each. I would have preferred to do nice gifts suited to their interests, but I see them maybe once a year and have no clue as to their preferences. The easy way out was to send personalized cards with checks.

Similarly went things with Girl Scouts: I submitted Family Partnership a month eary, even though not all families had turned in their paperwork. I wanted to get it done, and it had already been in the works for 6 weeks. Other commitments also went this way.

There were no things I had to completely walk away from this time. (The last time I did this, back in fall of 2008, I jettisoned 2/3 of my commitments. This meant walking away from various volunteer positions, and some I didn’t wait to transition to other people.)

The Break

I gave myself permission to do nothing on any of my projects for two weeks. That meant two weeks off from planning Girl Scouts, writing blog articles, and from working through an online course.

This was very difficult.

There were nights when I wandered the house, lost, unsure of what I wanted to do.

But after a week, I felt up to tackling a major issue with the blog (moving hosts), as well as clearing out some craft projects I had wanted to get to. But still there was no pressure. I made myself not write posts, and not program anything at home.

The Restart

When I went to restart everything, I realized that my life had tilted somewhere along the way. I was no longer putting the things first that my heart believed were most important. My daily readings and journaling had fallen by the wayside back in October. My spiritual practice had slipped, and I couldn’t remember the last time I actually meditated.

Worst of all, it was silent. For years music has soothed, guided, uplifted and energized me. I previously always had some music going. But for the past few months, I have walked, driven and bathed in silence. Not a good sign for someone who considers music to be essential to life. (Albioni is currently playing as I write this).

So what are the minimum things for me? Time to read, write, reflect, and listen. Time to dream. Time to create.

So now I am here, writing the first post after my break. I feel better than I did two weeks ago. And as I undergo this change in my life, expect to see more posts about it.

Photo by Patrick Hoesly


  1. says

    This such a wonderful post that talks straight to me LJ! I have been low on energy for my ‘life’ & needed to see a process written out (& trialled) for me to follow. I can see so much of what you say & have done makes sense. It is the ‘permission’ bit that I find so difficult though. I may be popping over to ask you to give it me!

  2. says

    I have very similar experiences. Collecting everything, putting it into my system results in long lists of items that I would, should, ought to do. It’s very daunting image.
    Then I fall of the wagon and let almost everything to slide.
    This is one of the reasons Getting Things Done methodology is so useful. Even if you fall off the wagon it’s very easy to climb back on it. With little effort your key list are back in shape and you can start making progress.
    Again, thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • LJ Earnest says

      I’m glad you find Getting Things Done helpful. I found that it was a good way to waste time as I searched for the real “next action”. But that’s just my take on it.

      I agree with you that any system we use has to be able to account for those times when we completely lose control of our productivity and vegetate. Anything that has a significant startup time is just counter-productive!

  3. Nihara says

    What a terrific idea! Sometimes we are so “fried” (for lack of a better word) that we just can’t keep going (and going . . . and going . . . and going). The power of just “vegging out” and giving our minds a chance to recharge without a set agenda or a thousand things to do is highly underrated.

    While I’d love to take two weeks off from my major commitments, having three little ones makes that next to impossible. But the next time I am feeling too overwhelmed to breathe, I might try to take a partial two-week break by cutting myself plenty of slack in all departments and limiting our activities and obligations. Will keep you posted!

    • LJ Earnest says

      Sometimes I think it’s OK to go into minimal mode, especially when you have small kids. I basically offload anything that doesn’t absolutely need to get done. So I still feed the family (although it may be a rotisserie chicken or pizza), and only basic housework.

      I hope you get your break! I think you’ve got the idea. :)