Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” ― Seneca

If you’ve ever worked from home for more than 6 months, you’ve likely experienced a work from home slump.

Precisely because remote work is so coveted — it can feel like a “first world problem” to suddenly find yourself lonely, unmotivated, or unproductive when working from home.

But the slump is real. And it’s frustrating.

So I interviewed Laurel Farrer, CEO of Distribute Consulting and Founder of the Remote Work Association, to get some insight into how to crawl out of a remote work slump. Here are her responses:

Q: What is a work from home slump?

Slumps manifest differently for different types of workers.

You can feel a lack of creativity, physically tired, mentally distracted, or emotionally undervalued. Essentially, it’s just a severe lack of motivation. You’re probably in a slump if you’ve noticed your productivity and ambition decline.

Though remote workers often complain of loneliness, they still often interact with other coworkers or colleagues who work remote.

If you’re trying to spot a slump in someone else, look for a consistent change in performance, such as being late to meetings, delivering low-quality results, expressing apathy when asked for ideas, etc.

“We don’t have the janitor turning out the lights at 6:00, so it’s easy to just keep checking ‘one more thing’ off of our to do list, then burning out after several 12-hour days in a row.”

Q: What factors contribute to productivity slumps? 

Lack of structure

Without the structure of office hours, it is common for remote workers to work much more or much less than they are expected to.

We don’t have the janitor turning out the lights at 6:00, so it’s easy to just keep checking “one more thing” off of our to do list, then burning out after several 12-hour days in a row.

Or, inversely, we take advantage of our schedule flexibility to run a quick errand during our lunch break, and end up being gone the entire afternoon. 

Difficulty gauging performance

Imposter syndrome is also common in remote work. In offices, there are lots of environmental elements that help us track our success, such as moving into a big corner office when we get promoted.

In home offices and coworking spaces, however, our environments are casual, so we frequently forget how formal and important our work is. 

My personal story is a perfect example: when I started working remotely, I was just a girl on a couch with a laptop and an idea. Now, my career has exploded and I’m honored to work with some of the most reputable brands in the world… but I’m still just a girl on a couch with a laptop and an idea.

The level of work that I do often feels surreal because my environment hasn’t changed in these 13 years. I mention this because sometimes we might feel like we’re in a slump, but we’re really not. (See my “trophy case” suggestion further down.)

Q: What are some strategies for getting out of a slump?

Slump solutions start with self-awareness. Take the time to evaluate when you’re feeling the most blocked, try to identify a root cause, then design a solution. 

Are you feeling lonely and isolated? 

  • Join a coworking space or start a social hobby. 

Are you burned out from working late hours? 

  • Set a standing appointment unrelated to work every evening to enforce a quitting time. 

Even something as simple as buying some new office equipment can revive your enthusiasm for your work. 

Alternatively, maybe you notice a pattern of what does energize you, more than what doesn’t.

Then just plug more of that thing into your schedule. It’s a simple, but profound, process. 

Q: What are some quick resets to try?

1. Exercise (go for a short walk, do some jumping jacks / push ups, stand up and stretch, etc.) 

2. Take a shower and change into more professional clothing. 

3. Set and enforce strict “office hours” to prevent overwork, underwork, or distractions. 

4. Move your workspace to a different room.

5. Silence all notifications on your laptop and put your phone in a different room.

6. Break your workloads up into small chunks throughout your day, set a timer, then share each win with your team or a peer for support and accountability. 

Q: What are some larger, more structural resets to try?

1. Dedicate a room or area exclusively for work to help your mind shift between “work mode” and “personal mode.”

2. Talk to your boss or mentor about changing your job description to include other skills or tasks that you feel more passionate about.

3. Practice a new hobby during personal time to strengthen work-life balance. 

4. Spark new conversations about your role by starting a new Slack channel, joining or opening an ERG (employee resource group) at your company, or joining a local networking group. 

5. Curate a “trophy case” of accomplishments to hang in your workspace to remind yourself of your successes (examples include mementos from successful meetings or events, a growth chart of your salary, motivational quotes, photos of coworkers or influencers, logos of big brands that you’ve collaborated with, etc.) then look at it whenever you need a pep talk.

6. Celebrate freedom from a cubicle by designing an environment that is uniquely exciting to you: play your favorite music, paint your walls your favorite crazy color, and set up your desk near a window with an inspiring view. 

7. Schedule one day a week for deep headspace — no meetings, no deadlines, no notifications. 

“Remote work is incredibly liberating, but it’s a lot more freedom than most people realize.”

Q: How do you stay disciplined when you’re in a slump?

Remote work is incredibly liberating, but it’s a lot more freedom than most people realize. They underestimate the amount of responsibility that falls on their shoulders when they leave the infrastructure of an office environment.

Many of us have been trained to be productive when we see our boss hovering near our cubicle or notice a coworker producing better results.

In remote work, we don’t have external elements like that, so self-motivation is critical. We need to be disciplined enough to be in control of our time, our tasks, and our energy, because we’re usually only accountable to ourselves. 

Follow Laurel’s work on Linkedin or Twitter.