Here’s Why Getting Back to Work in 2024 Is So Hard—and How You Can Get Over the Slump

Welcome back! Another year is here, and if the mood at your office is like the one at WIRED, things are a little sluggish. Maybe it was all the spiked cocoa over the holidays, or the travel, or the midnight movie marathons, but 2024 is off to a sputtering start, and lots of folks, it seems, are on a quest to overcome a lethargic January.

Everyone isn’t fortunate to have extra days off at the end of the year, but those who can take time to unwind might find it jarring to come back, logging on to find that all of that promised circling back in the new year is actually happening. No matter the reason for your lack of early-year motivation, remember these tips to feel more energized and focused at work.

Start With Compassion

Here’s a wild thought: How about prioritizing kindness to yourself? Alyssa Ames-Sikora, a clinical psychologist at the Columbia University Medical Center, encourages proactive self-compassion. “You might be slower to recharge your batteries,” she says. “That’s OK. It does take time.” Avoid making negative comparisons with your colleagues, and focus on finding a workflow pace that feels manageable.

Remind Yourself of Core Goals

Take time to think about what you want out of your job, from the daily experience to future growth potential. “After a long break, it can be helpful to remind ourselves of those goals—be they specific work goals or goals around the broader purpose of your work,” says Brian Lucas, an assistant professor at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself big “why” questions and investigate what motivates you the most.

Picture a Positive Morning

As difficult as it can be in stressful situations, a positive mindset is critical to scrounging up more motivation. Sounds impossible? Try imagining what a stress-free weekday morning would look like. “What do I need to do the night before in order to set myself up for success?” asks Jordan Etkin, an associate professor at Duke who studies goal setting. “Make getting started in the morning as seamless as possible.” Your mornings may feel less hectic with thoughtful preparation.

Don’t Push Too Hard

Be confident, but be real at the same time. “Try not to set expectations for yourself that are too high and really difficult to meet, like getting through all of your emails that first day,” says Ames-Sikora. There’s a whole, entire year ahead of you. A long-term mindset is much more sustainable for success.

Rack Up Small Wins

“Take a look at your task,” says Lucas. “See if you can organize some easily achievable small wins at the beginning to get that motivation going.” While not appropriate for every situation, a little gamification can spice up the drudgery. In a notepad or a digital document, keep track of your accomplishments, big and small.

Find the Perfect Time

Are you in the zone first thing in the morning, or do you achieve even more pristine results after a mid-afternoon Diet Coke? “Pay attention to times of the day when you perform optimally,” says Ames-Sikora. “Schedule difficult tasks for when that is.” If possible, leave less burdensome tasks for whenever your motivation ebbs to its lowest point during the workday.

… And Block It Off

It’s important to identify goals at work, but don’t forget also to give yourself enough time to achieve your grand ambitions. “Make sure you save and protect the time to do those things,” says Etkin. “If something is really important to you, make sure you put it on the calendar and assign time to it.”

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