I'm writing in August, in the heat of a dry California summer. It's the doldrums. The doldrums initially referred only to a windless area in the ocean. Back in the days when ships required sails, a windless area was bad news. It meant you were stuck. In these days, when ships don't need wind to move, the doldrums has come to mean a state or period of inactivity, stagnation, or depression. Often, the phrase is used in reference to economic activity (or lack thereof).
Other times, the phrase is used to describe a personal, psychological condition. For those of us in business, the doldrums can refer to a combination of both: an economic downturn leads to a period of personal inactivity or depression. We stare at the screen, waiting for the document to write itself; or we stare at the phone, waiting for the latest lead to announce itself, without any effort on our part. We're adrift in the doldrums. We don't feel like doing anything. But do we ever actually not do anything? Even at our laziest, we tend to do something – just not what we need to be doing. Instead of writing, we read random things online. Instead of making business calls, we call a friend to grouse and gripe. When we're in the doldrums, even though we don't feel like doing anything, we usually do something. The trick is to fool ourselves into doing something productive when we think we're avoiding doing work. It's finding the 'do' in the doldrums.
For instance, if a deadline for a project is coming up, and you can't seem to generate the energy to get it done, you can do some brainstorming instead. Find a cool, quiet place in your house or your office, sit or lie down, and let your mind drift. You'll likely end up bumping up against some mental flotsam that you can use later.
Perhaps you prefer to do your brainstorming outside. It may be hot out, but you can probably find a breeze somewhere, and some shade, where you can set a spell and do some thinking. Gardens and parks, I find, are perfect places for brainstorming.
Or follow the example of our elders, and take a few turns around the air-conditioned shopping mall. Just make sure you have a notebook and pen with you to jot down notes, or bring your smartphone with you to capture your thoughts verbally.
Maybe you have a slew of calls to make, either on the phone or in person, but you can't seem to move a muscle. It is often helpful to start with just one call. When you reach that person, instead of getting right down to business, invite him or her out to lunch. Then you can do some business in an informal, friendly way.
Doing this will make it easier for you to call your next prospect, and you can set up another date for lunch, or for coffee or even a stroll through the cool shopping mall.
You might find that you can get a lot done when you're not really trying to. There's a lot you can do in the doldrums, even after you've pulled your sails and let your ship drift.
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