If you have taken on a task, only to be found at the same place hours later, with nothing to show for it, you are not alone. After all, not everyday is a productive day.
My friend Clarke called me the other day, fretting over how he got almost nothing done at his job the previous day, even though he was at his desk all day. The reality check came when out of habit, he indolently skimmed over his to-do list at 4 Pm to see if anything else needed his attention. He was alarmed to see that he had only crossed off 4 out of 15 tasks for the day.
I completely sympathized with him since I am forever engaged in an uphill battle with my seemingly incessant to-do list. I remember a time not too far back, when even a soft ping of my phone would distract me, one thing would lead to another and before I knew it, it was the end of yet another workday, with pending tasks staring me right in the face.
Does all this ring a bell? What do you feel when having started your day with a zest, you somehow end up disgruntled after a highly unproductive day? Mentally exhausted? Overwhelmed by the approaching deadlines on your calendar? Guilty for not checking off all boxes on your to-do?
Of course, you want to steer clear of this flood of negative emotions. After all, such negativity can make you lose momentum, triggering a ripple effect that can rain over your productivity parade. Over the years, I have strived to establish good habits and create a productivity plan that works for me, so that I am able to get all my important work done in the time that I have. If you are wondering how to have a productive day, I can help you do the same. So, whether you are a corporate worker, an entrepreneur, or a CEO, here is my secret to turning an unproductive day around in to a productive day:
1. Change Your State
Every time you find your focus veering off, hit your reset button by meditating. I understand if you are raising your eyebrows in skepticism right now, but it WORKS. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the first thing about meditation; all that’s important is that you practice focusing your attention. Anytime you find your attention wavering, medication brings it back.
As for me, as soon as things go off the rail, I lean back in my chair, close my eyes, and do a little breathing exercise. It’s pretty straight-forward; all you have to do is breathe in for 3 seconds, and then breathe out for 6 seconds. Keeping it up for even ten minutes will make you feel a profound sense of relief, since it rids your mind of all noise. When you meditate, you essentially change your state, which helps you get back in the game. If you are a scatterbrain like me, give it a try the next time you’re feeling unproductive.
2. Change Your Environment
Whether you have caught a cabin fever, can’t bear the thunder of construction going on next door, or the sight of kids running all around the apartment stealing your focus, you just need a change of scenery sometimes. For a time being, I worked from home, and this is how I would get all my tasks done. I would start in my bedroom, go from coffee shop to coffee shop, visit the local coworking space, or post up at the public library, while using the travel time to reset.
I understand that not everybody has the liberty of constantly changing their work location to get a change of environment. Now, even in my current office job, I have developed a habit of getting away from my seat and taking a saunter around the block whenever I’m not feeling it. After all, we have plenty of scientific evidence to prove that walking (or going for a quick run) can change your mood, which perks up your productivity again. Sometimes, during meetings with remote clients, I pop-in my headphones and have walking meetings. Anytime you need that burst of inspiration for a productive day, this is a great idea as it allows you to change your environment.
3. Be a Slacker (Take It Easy)
If you are not making headway on a big project, try completing something smaller instead of whiling away time. A study has shown that checking off small tasks off your to-do list releases dopamine in your brain, which helps you feel more accomplished. In other words, successfully completing a small task makes you feel good about yourself, which creates momentum for you to keep breezing through a productive day.
If you are looking to work this strategy in your daily routine, I recommend adding a Low-Energy context to your task management system. This will enable you to sort through all your pending tasks and identify ones that don’t entail much effort. Try getting as many off your list as possible, and soon enough, you will be ready to get the big things done. Even on the off days when this fails to work, you will still have gotten heaps of tasks off your hands. Something is better than nothing.
4. Just Start Something
If an unproductive day is boggling you down, just pick a task and get to work. Now, this may seem at odds with what I told you, since we just discussed how completing a task lead to a sense of accomplishment; but hear me out. Often, the mere thought of how big something is, deters us from starting it in the first place. Especially if your day isn’t going as planned, you need to implement what I call the Solar Flaring technique. For it to work, use the phrase, “I will just:”
- Design the login page for this app
- Write only the first paragraph of this blog
- Just do the research for this project
The very word “just” lessens the gravity of the situation, since you are convincing yourself that you won’t be doing anything more than what you just told yourself. Sometimes this is all you need to get started. And once you get in the rhythm, you will find the momentum you create enough to make ‘today’ productive after all.
5. Get Some Help (Talk to Someone)
Optimism is contagious. Its hard to stay lethargic, negative, or gloomy around peppy, happy people. Surround yourself with people who get things done, and soon you will find the motivation to follow along in their wake.
For instance, don’t you simply join a gym when you find it a tough nut to crack to work exercise in your daily routine? This is because you just need to surround yourself with fitness freaks to feel motivated to make good on your health goals as well. No matter how demotivated you feel, the moment you walk in the door, you will feel swept up in the enthusiasm. Social energy can indeed do wonders.
Now, apply this analogy to your workplace. When work from home didn’t quite make the cut for me, I joined a co-working space. While changing coffee shops would give me that change of scenery I craved, it also meant I would get stuck next to complainers and whiners more often than I cared for. On the contrary, the people I met at the coworking space had made an investment to put themselves in an environment that is conducive to work. When I surrounded myself with people who made things happen, I soon started outdoing myself as well.
6. Eliminate as Many Distractions As Possible
Are you struggling to even devote one full, uninterrupted hour to an important task? In order to stay productive at work, bid adieu to distractions that are sapping your focus. This might come down to keeping your phone silent for the better part of the day and perhaps letting it go to voicemail or closing your email folder and leaving it unattended until the end of your working day.
Even if you are surrounded by Noisy co-workers, “talk the talk” and let them know that you won’t be disturbed until you have reached the end of your workday. Even if you are working from home, find a quiet spot and let your family know that you need some ‘you’ time.
For me, social media was one of the biggest workspace distractions keeping me from having a productive day. The slightest ping of my phone would perk up my ears and have me picking it up guiltily. While none of can find it in ourselves to delete our Facebook or Instagram account for good, I grouped together all my social media apps and piled them in a folder that’s out of sight.
For those of you who rely on social media platform for work, you can’t just turn a blind eye to it. Consider installing the plug-in – KillNewsfeed) which blocks your newsfeed, while still allowing access to Facebook. Imagine working on Facebook without the entice of videos, posts, comments, and status updates!