How do I get my work mojo/enthusiasm back through a stressful period?
June 28, 2018 11:49 PM   Subscribe

UK academic suffering from maybe the equivalent of writers block, in a toxic work environment and finding it impossible to concentrate or do creative work; running out of ideas to reclaim motivation, and looking for suggestions.

I can’t elaborate on the toxic workplace in detail but is basically a nightmare manager who may end up leaving in an HR/metoo disaster, but I can’t wait for that to happen so I am actively pursuing other options, applying for jobs, etc.

In the meantime, my passion for my work has absolutely vanished. I don’t think it helps that it’s difficult in UK academia at the moment, the broader political picture is grim, etc etc, but this does seem to be confined to my work rather than a more general depression or ennui.

I am not letting anyone down, I am not failing to do my job – exams are getting marked, seminars are being given, meetings are being chaired, things I’ve promised to write are getting written. But I’m acutely aware that I am absolutely tuned out most of the time. I am constantly seeking the easiest, least mentally challenging task to do, I spend a lot of time not working while at work, and I often start a task (such as reading), feel like I’ve spent ages doing it and look up to find only 15 minutes have passed.

In short, my concentration and motivation are utterly shot; I can do all the routine parts of my job, but my ability to research, write, read, create is utterly gone. Part of me thinks maybe this is fair enough given my situation and I should give myself a break; but also I know that I am at heart a very lazy person, and I am concerned that if I don’t recover at least some of my work energy a temporary ‘down’ will become a permanent sub-par situation (which eventually will have an impact on my desire to get a job somewhere less toxic).

I have tried:
1. taking actual breaks/vacations, both short and long
2. spending time with more enthusiastic people or people who will help me recover the love of my subject, including doing outreach-y activities e.g. talking to school kids or doing public events.
3. trying to build up my reading concentration time gradually using timers or, when I am desperate, candy rewards.

These have not worked.
posted by anonymous to Education (4 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to recommend a vacation...

Feynman writes about a similar situation teaching physics. He started using his physics for fun things unrelated to academics, like figuring the speed of baseballs, etc. to get re-inspired / bring fun back to his discipline. Maybe you could research a topic you don't need to or write an essay you don't have to? Maybe even do a couple of things just for the fun of it regardless of whether or not they are related to your discipline?

My other piece of advice is to try exercising, which can seemingly cure anything. Meditation as well.
posted by xammerboy at 12:34 AM on June 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

A coach may be able to help you with some of this. Few targeted sessions to see whether your motivation is recoverable, or whether it's time to bail.

Memail me if you want a recommendation, I know a good one who's familiar with similar environments & challenges.
posted by rd45 at 1:21 AM on June 29, 2018

My suggestion is pretty similar to Prof. Feynman's. Look into something which you never considered because, though interesting, it's not aligned with what you can publish.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:04 AM on June 29, 2018

Yes you sound really burned out. I like the idea of doing something different related to your field (pop academic book?), but I like the idea even more of doing something un-related to a field. A friend of mine who is a doctor at a very busy GP practice in a deprived part of London started waitressing at nights at a restuarant she loved to learn more about food and wine. She loved it and the change, and while she had zero interest in being a waitress full-time, it really re-energised her. I would look for something really, really different to try for a while on your own time, a hobby or running a marathon or volunteering at a night shelter or earning a sommelier certificate -- but unrelated to your job. It takes some courage, of course, but that's what makes it energising.

(Also, the UK is just in an awful mood right now and lots of people I know feel this way. Hopefully it will get better.)
posted by heavenknows at 7:55 AM on June 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

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