6 Ways to Recover From an Unproductive Day

I know you’ve been here before.

You wade through email and people and meetings.

You struggle with pointless tasks.

You look at the clock and it’s 2:38 P.M.

You’ve done nothing all day.

Will you throw up your hands, grab some coffee, pull up YouTube and call it a day?

Or will you do one of these things?

#1 - Take out the (mental) trash

When I’m procrastinating, it’s often because I’ve been rushing around taking care of other people’s priorities. At that point, I do this exercise:

Step 1: Make a list of things that matter to me

Step 2: Make a list of things that don’t

Step 3: Only do things in Step 1

Usually “productive” is relative. You won’t feel a day is productive until you spend it on things which matter to you. Get out of the weeds and get back to your work.

#2 - Remember — it’s just work

Sometimes, people in Corporate America do this funny thing where we all pretend what we’re working on is the most important thing ever.

“We aren’t making money — WE’RE SAVING LIVES!”

“We aren’t creating a product — WE’RE CHANGING THE WORLD!”

“We aren’t providing a service — WE’RE FIGHTING THE DARK FORCES OF THE UNIVERSE WHICH PROBABLY DEFINITELY INCLUDES HE-WHO-MUST-NOT-BE-NAMED, SO BUCKLE UP!”

I get it. We all need to feel significance. We need to feel like what we’re doing is important. But the line between “this is important” and “this is most important” often gets blurred in a work day. Stress clouds your brain and narrows your focus.

Find some perspective and stretch in the freedom. What you do or don’t do is not the end of the world.

#3 - Take out the (actual) trash

I haven’t worked it all out yet, but there is a distinct connection between manual labor and the feeling of significance. I don’t know, maybe it’s a hangover from when we were all building houses out of rocks or something.

Whether you work in an office environment or at home, movement is key to brain activity. It’s part of the human condition.

Change the toilet paper roll. Offer to refill someone’s coffee (or make a new pot). Clean up your desk.

Making an impact in your physical environment almost always carries over into your mental environment.

#4 - Just do 5 minutes

On my desk is an hourglass with the words “5 minutes” written on the top. During crappy days, I’ll put it in front of my face, flip it over, and tell myself I only have to work until the hourglass runs out.

The results are predictable — I almost never notice when the sand has all reached the bottom. By the time I glance up, I’m already too involved in what I’m doing to stop.

Protip: If you’re going to use an iPhone timer for this, use the Stopwatch, not the Timer. You only need a trigger which tells you when to start, not when to quit.

#5 - Make a list

Lists are clearly addicting. Trust me, just yesterday I watched “Top 10 French Bulldog Tricks,” and read “5 Books to Read Before You Die.”

I do not own a French Bulldog. Nor do I plan on dying any time soon.

Instead of consuming another list, create one.

Writing lists has a way of pulling you out of a stupor and into reality. I make lists all the time in my Micro Journaling practice. Not only does it get my brain moving in the moment, it opens up possibilities for the rest of the day.

#6 - Remember — Good work can happen any time of day

This is a real conversation I heard:

“Hey Carol* how are you?”
“Oh, not so great. It’s just a crappy, crappy day.”

*Name changed to protect the innocent (sorry for the Carols reading this)

I looked at my phone. It was 7:46 A.M.

And Carol already determined she was going to have a bad day.

Often, we forecast what has happened in our life onto what’s going to happen. This is not the case.

Do not write your future before it happens. Do not prophesy over your day. You don’t know the future. Do not resign yourself to misery.

Get up, go forth, and make your own destiny.

Oh, and have a good day :)


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