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5 Ways to Turn an Unproductive Day Around

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unproductive man

The way you start your morning sets the tone for the rest day. Waking up and starting the day productively, most likely results in a productive day. But…start a day with a bad mood and it can spiral out of control and you’ll get nothing done at all.

We’ve all been there.

I used to believe that it was impossible to turn an unproductive day into a productive day until I discovered these 5 techniques.

1. Meditate

My go-to fix is to meditate. I’ll comfortably sit in my chair, close my eyes and do the breathing exercise that’s taught in the Productivity Blueprint. The basic mechanics are very simple: you breathe in for 3 seconds, you breathe out for 6 seconds.

Continue to repeat this for about 10–15 minutes and you’ll feel a huge sense of relief and have a mind void of noise. You’re literally changing your state when you’re meditating and this relaxed state allows you to get back in the game. Give this a serious try the next time you’re feeling unproductive (especially those of you who tend to be very scatter-brained).

2. Change Environment

Sometimes our direct environment is not helping us get into a productive mood. Kids might be running around. There’s construction going on next door. You’re getting cabin fever. Whatever the case may be, an easy fix is to simply get out of that environment.

You could go for a walk and then come back later to try again. Or you can simply grab your stuff and start working at a coffee shop, co-working space or any other environment that allows you to get work done (see our special tips for working at those places right here).

Personally, I like to go for a walk around the block whenever I’m not feeling it. There’s plenty of science available that shows that walking (or going for a quick run) can change your mood, which allows you to be productive again.

To avoid cabin fever (since I work from home) every Friday I work either at a coffee shop or at Whole Foods. I particularly like working at Whole Foods since it’s a like one big refrigerator whenever I’m taking a break.

3. Take It Easy

One day I randomly discovered this trick that helped me turn around unproductive days.

I noticed that whenever I felt stuck, I would automatically go to my OmniFocus and find tasks that took less than 5 minutes to do. Then I would just start doing them and slowly but surely it helped me build momentum. After completing a couple simple things like “file X-document” or “empty trash” I started to feel better about myself. All of sudden I was in “doing mode” and then naturally I would shift back into doing the “hard things”.

Do the little things. The easy things that don’t require much effort and before you know it, you’re back on track to get the big things done. And if you don’t, then at least you got rid a lot of excessive tasks that have been laying around collecting dust.

4. Set a Timer

A strange but effective way to get over the slump is to set a timer ala the Pomodoro Technique. It’s this external accountability that pushes you to move forward.

So instead of your boss throwing the whip at you, you have a timer that’s ticking away and for some strange reason it really works. I usually do this as my last resort when I really need to finish something and my favorite timer is Vitamin-R.

The next time you feel stuck, set a timer for just 25 minutes and see what happens.

5. Talk To A Positive Person

Everyone has that ONE friend that is always positive and happy up to the point where it’s really annoying sometimes to see this person always being happy.

Call that friend whenever you’re stuck and not in the mood to get stuff done!

If you don’t have that friend then talk to one of your co-workers or your parents (they always love hearing from you anyway). Getting that social energy will help.

Don’t ask me why it works. But it does.

Pick One

There you have it – 5 easy ways to turn an unproductive day around. The next time you’re feeling unproductive, pick any of these five techniques and you should be back on track in no time.

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Posted by Natalie  | March 24, 2014 at 10:06AM | Reply

Great post! I often underestimate how effective meditating is. I have an app on my phone, and it really helps me collect my thoughts at the beginning of the day and helps me unwind before I sleep. Another thing that really helps is taking a walk or working out.

Posted by TCI  | March 25, 2014 at 8:04AM | Reply

When you are working for yourself you feel the pressure to produce more than working for someone else. I have an attention span of a five year old. I get distracted very easily. I like your tips and most of them are original ideas I haven’t tried before. Thanks. I usually browse around the internet for a bit until I feel I can get back to work again. Now, I feel good knowing that I am not alone feeling the guilt.

Posted by Kosio Angelov  | March 25, 2014 at 11:54AM | Reply

Cool advice, especially the Take It Easy part. I would also add taking a shower and hitting the gym (or going out for a run) to the list. All are great ways to get unstuck, get some clarity and get back to being productive.

Posted by Joanne  | March 26, 2014 at 2:49PM | Reply

I love all of these ideas, especially meditating (which I was never a proponent for but a huge poster child to do!) and setting timer. For me, if I need to work on something that is difficult, knowing I’m only going to work on it for a short, finite amount of time can help me kick it into gear.

Posted by Casandra Campbell  | March 26, 2014 at 5:51PM | Reply

Setting a timer works for me. For some reason it helps me zone in and focus. Plus it’s such a short time commitment with Pomodoro, I really have no excuse to do it.

Posted by Cuong Nguyen  | March 26, 2014 at 7:18PM | Reply

I tracked my work productivity for a month and found that it is also very helpful to block access to social network sites. My productivity decreases by 40% on days I treated myself with only 5 minutes on Facebook between breaks. Use browser extensions such as StayFocusd (for Chrome) to prevent access to Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc before 8 p.m. everyday. It really helps.

Posted by Peter Strugatz  | March 28, 2014 at 9:29AM | Reply

How did you get so smart so quickly!
When I took my first David Allen GTD course almost 20 years ago, I discovered something that I aspired to. Only with the additive effect of Asian Efficiencies did the connective tissue take hold and my whole system has leaped forward with a new focused productivity.
P.S. dusting off the mediation pillows..

Posted by Madeliene Rose  | March 28, 2014 at 3:54PM | Reply

Sometimes what feels like an unproductive day is just your mind asking you too allow it to ramble and be distracted. A pattern is bad but an easy day after days of work can be a good thing to set off one’s imagination…

Posted by Douglas Cassan  | April 6, 2014 at 12:57PM | Reply

My good buddy Carrol taught me one of my great life lessons for turning my day around: when something really screws up allow yourself 2 hours of self pity then put it aside and get on with life. I have reduced that to 20 minutes by my watch with no reduction in effectiveness. Since she is one of the most positive people I know, I take every opportunity to chat with her. Oh, and I now own 3 kitchen timers.

Posted by Samantha  | April 28, 2014 at 12:43AM | Reply

Firstly, thank you for such a useful post!

As someone who freelances, I find it very difficult to switch off. It’s not a typical 9-5 job and you have to be super disciplined in order to get your work done. But we all have those days where you just can’t into the swing of things.

The two tips I’ve found most useful are: a) use a timer and b) change your environment. Using a timer somehow snaps me to attention – I take my deadlines seriously, so working to a timer creates that urgency immediately. On a similar note, changing my environment somehow tricks my mind into thinking the day has somehow reset. I find that if I sit somewhere different or work outside for a change, I’m able to focus a lot more easily than if I were to just stay in the one place.

I came across some tips for creativity that people struggling with creativity and unproductivity mind find useful: It encourages people to get out and about, to basically refresh themselves in order to spark more creativity.

Posted by Rose  | August 27, 2016 at 10:57PM | Reply

Thank you so much for this post! An unproductive day can just end up being a snowball of yuck if we don’t pull back as soon as we see it going in the wrong direction.

Meditating and setting a timer have been a HUGE help for me when it comes to working from home & studying. I get distracted (easily) and often end up working on more than one thing at the same time so I have to stop to focus (and meditate) on what I want to accomplish and how to get there.

This is my first time at your website and I am loving it!

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