Picking yourself up after an unproductive day

Picking yourself up after an unproductive day

Picking yourself up after an unproductive day

Today’s post answers a reader’s question and is one that I think many will be able to relate to at the moment. You can read previous answers to readers’ questions here.


How do you pick yourself up after a low day. I get frustrated when I waste time or am not productive then feel down then am even less productive. I find it hard to break that cycle. Related, do you let yourself have days or weeks when you just forget the routine / cut some slack on the to do list eg if you are feeling tired or low?

Bad/unproductive days are a reality of life. I certainly have my fair share of them! There are days when I lose focus, find it hard to stick to the task at hand and allow myself to be distracted by my phone or other non-essential activities. Like the reader who sent in the question, when this happens I tend to feel frustrated or unhappy with myself at the end of the day.

Over the years I have worked out that dwelling on a day like this doesn’t help me. As I finish up for the day, I will reflect on it and look to see if I can determine if there was a specific reason for my behaviour. For instance, I know that:

  • If I am over tired, I am much more likely to be unproductive.
  • If I am disorganised, I am much more likely to be unproductive.
  • If I have a task that I am finding extremely challenging, I can sometimes use busy tasks to avoid doing the real work I need to complete.
  • If I have not had proper breaks – weekends/holidays etc then eventually my productivity starts to decline.
  • If I haven’t set myself up for success, I can easily fall into wasting time.

It is key for me to work out why I was unproductive during the day so I can do my best to prevent it happening the following day. I shift my mind from the past to what I can do now to make sure tomorrow is better. I remind myself that I am human and it is not possible to always be at your productive best and I can try again tomorrow.

Often the best thing I can do to make sure I break the unproductive cycle is to get a good night’s sleep and start afresh in the morning.

Setting yourself up for a productive day

Setting yourself up for a productive day actually starts the night before. I have an established to do list process that I use which involves writing out my three key tasks for the next day when I finish up work. (You can see this process here.) But when I have been unproductive I make some changes to my to do list process to help me get back on track:

  • I will write out the three key work tasks and home tasks I need to do for the day.
  • I will write out a detailed schedule for the day allocating tasks and breaks so there is no thinking required I can just look at the list and get going. Each task is alloted a time frame for it to be completed in.
  • I make sure that the hardest tasks are allocated in the morning – that is when I am most productive each day so do not want to waste this time doing tasks that do not require as much cognitive load.

When I wake up in the morning after I have been unproductive the day before, I am conscious to start the day well and set myself up for success:

  • I make sure I have any distracting tabs or apps on my computer closed off.
  • I put on music that I know helps me concentrate and work well. Two Spotify playlists I like at the moment are Ambience and Classical Concentration.
  • I will avoid being on social media before I have completed my hard tasks for the day.
  • If my work commitments at the time allow, I will place my phone in a different room.
  • I stick to my schedule for the day and make sure I take the breaks as they are critical for me to keep my productivity levels high.

Then there are the basics that I pay more attention to as well:

  • Getting good sleep
  • Eating well
  • Staying hydrated
  • Exercising regularly
  • Taking time off from work
  • Having an organised workspace (this can look different for everyone!)

These basics are the foundations for me being able to be productive over the long term. It is easy to cut corners on these for periods of time but it eventually catches up with you. When I have found myself in a productivity funk, it is often because these basics are not being met.

Do I ever go off routine?

The second part of the reader question was about whether or not I have days or weeks when I simply forget my routine. And the answer is sort of! For example, I am writing this post during school holidays and over the school holidays I don’t do meal prep on the weekend as I usually do in the school term. But I still stick fairly close to my morning and evening routines, the times I do things might vary slightly and I may sleep in a little more but I still get up and do my exercise and other morning activities. And the same goes for my night time routine.

Occasionally I will come home late from somewhere and not do my evening routine and I always regret it and it reinforces to me how integral these activities are to my organised base. If I have had a few later nights during a week, I might choose to not set an alarm to go running and run at lunchtime but I find I always feel slugging in the morning when I do this and don’t really like it. All current research around sleep shows that you are much better off having consistent waking times as a fluctuating schedule keeps you from getting into a rhythm of consistent sleep.

When I go away for holidays I definitely stay up later and get up later and will follow a more basic version of my morning routine including going for a run. I love running and to not run feels like a punishment to me. I always run on Christmas Day, Birthdays, Easter, Public Holidays etc as it brings me joy.

Most of the things I do in my morning and night time routines are there because they make my life easier and I like doing them so it is rare for me not to do them. They key to routines that work and you don’t want to deviate from are to create them so they support your goals or purpose. I don’t always want to tidy up at night before I go to bed but I know doing it make the mornings smoother and it allows me to fit in activities that are important to me.

There are tasks and activities that I do like to drop from my routine whenever I can like housework, cooking dinner every night, laundry etc. However, the reality is if I was to drop them during a regular week the work would just build up and I would have to do it eventually anyway!

How do you pick yourself up after an unproductive day?

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