How To Turn Around An Unproductive Day

We've all had those days where we gaze despairingly at the clock, waiting for work to be over so we can start fresh tomorrow.

I've definitely been there. As someone who relies heavily on routine to stay productive and engaged, if I get off course, I have a hard time course-correcting. I can usually pinpoint my ineffectiveness to distraction, trying to juggle too many things at once, or just good ol' creative burnout.

What unfolds from there is a self-destructive cycle— I feel bad about myself for being unfocused, which just further distracts me from what I need to be working on. Until recently, I've been of the mindset that I might as well call it a day and use tomorrow to REALLY kick ass.  

mike-marquez-579692-unsplash-min.jpg
EVEN IF IT IS 7PM, 10PM, 11:30PM, TODAY IS NOT OVER YET. IT’S ALWAYS POSSIBLE TO END THE DAY ON A POSITIVE NOTE.
— Alexandra Franzen

A few weeks ago I listened to a "Being Boss" podcast titled  "Keeping Perspective with Alexandra Franzen (a writer based out of Portland, OR). Alexandra talked about about how to stay motivated as a creative, experimenting with online platforms, and learning from criticism and disappointment. My main takeaway from the episode was her simple motto: 

"Today is not over yet". 
 

Whatever the situation is - boredom, burnout, distraction or exhaustion - there are a few strategies to reclaim the day and end it on a worthwhile note. 


1. Prioritize the Important Tasks:

I LOVE lists. They keep me organized and on track. If you don't use a list (either written or digital) I highly suggest starting! Once you've made a list of what you need to accomplish, give each task a number 1-3. 1 represents high priority and 3 represents low priority. Separate your tasks and give your focus to the most important items at hand for the rest of the day. 

AVOID: Multi-tasking. Why? Research shows that switching from one task to the next takes a serious toll on productivity AND that by trying to complete many things at once, each individual task can take up to 40% longer. 


2. Remove Distractions:

My distractions come in the form of cleaning (which is really just my way to procrastinate), email, and social media. They are all huge time sucks and make me feel like I'm doing something, but it's not something productive. Maybe your distractions come in the form of slack, co-workers, or cute animal tube videos. Whatever it is that seeks to detour your focus, get rid of it. Here are a few ideas!

  • Turn your phone on airplane mode
  • Change your screen to grayscale (former design ethicist at Google Tristan Harris suggest enabling grayscale to combat phone addiction. It might not cure addiction completely but social apps are way less appealing in black and white). 
  • Wear headphones (even if you're not listening to music) while at work as a signal that you're not available 
  • Turn off notifications or set your status to "busy" on work chats like slack or G-chat
  • Don't have more than one or two tabs open at a time 
  • Use Toggl to track your time on tasks

3. Take a Break: 

At my previous job at a digital marketing agency, my energy levels always slumped around 2pm. To combat lethargy, a friend and I would schedule a walk to grab coffee around that time. We would take 30 minutes to catch up and talk about things outside of work, and the walk and caffeine helped wake my body up for a few more hours of work. A mid-day break from my computer is now a necessary component to break up the workday and give my brain a rest. 


4. Batch Tasks: 

If you're not working under a deadline and need to prioritize certain items for the day, try batch tasking. Batch tasking is the process of combining similar tasks into batches and then performing all the tasks in a batch in one sitting. Sounds easy right? You can batch task emails, phone calls, writing articles, or promotion. Let's take writing for example. The hardest part about writing is often just getting started, typing out those first few sentences, getting the s$it@y first draft out of the way, etc. For me, once I get going (sans distraction), I can find a flow state where momentum builds and words come easier. My quality of work improves as I keep going and I can usually bust out multiple articles in a day.


5. Be Kind To Yourself:

Sometimes our energy is off and we really can't seem to regain focus or clarity. That's ok.  If these strategies don't work and you just keep banging your head against the wall than stop and give yourself a break. If nothing is pressing (as in, absolutely HAVE TO get it done today) shut your computer down and listen to what your body and mind need. Take a mental health day to care for yourself and recharge.

Do you have different strategies to help you hit the reset button on an unproductive day? Let me know if the comments below.