If you’re a high achiever, you juggle too many things over the course of a day. And despite your best intentions, you’re bound to have days where you feel burnt out or just plain unproductive.
Often, you know in your gut when you’re not being as focused as you would like. There are, however, also a few signs you can use to identify whether you’re primed for unproductivity:
- You’re procrastinating, whether that means scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, or doing something you don’t normally enjoy doing, like working out or cleaning your house.
- You’re staring at a blank document and can’t get yourself to write anything.
- You had a bad night’s sleep and you’re feeling off or tired.
- You’re prioritizing other people’s goals and needs rather than your own.
- You start something — a new project, document or even an email — and don’t finish it.
You don’t have to write off the day as a lost cause. There are lots of ways to recover your time that don’t involve punishing yourself for being less focused than usual. Instead, these strategies take the reality of the situation into account and change the tone for the better.
1. Prioritize what needs to be accomplished.
It’s easy to be unproductive when you have too much to do. Feeling overwhelmed leads to prioritizing inefficiently (or not prioritizing at all) and trying to accomplish too much. If everything is urgent and needs to get done today, you can feel paralyzed.
When this happens, stop. Take a step back and take another look at your to-do list. Identify what items absolutely have to be accomplished that day. Chances are, this whittles down your list significantly, making it feel a lot more manageable. By simply taking some of the pressure off yourself, you’re more able to focus and be productive.
2. Create a productive ambience.
If you can’t seem to focus, take a look around you. Are you distracted by your environment? And if you’re not distracted, are there ways that you could make your environment more conducive to you being productive?
Of course, you don’t always have total control over your environment. At the same time, you’re never totally out of control either.
3. Change up the scenery.
Sometimes, you need to refresh your body and mind before you can be productive. You can change up the scenery by heading to a different place to work, as long as it won’t be distracting. Snag an empty conference room at the office for a few hours. Even if you don’t have a lot of flexibility in your schedule, there are ways to tweak the scenery just enough to give you a fresh perspective.
4. Limit distractions (social media in particular).
Distractions like social media can easily trainwreck productivity, and unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to pull the plug on them entirely. You probably can’t delete your social media accounts (nor do you want to), but you can remove them from your phone. Or, you can put all your social media apps in a folder that’s out of sight. Try hiding your social media apps in a folder with more serious or daunting icons first, like the stocks or your banking apps.
Many of us rely on social media for work, so we can’t just log out and ignore it entirely. There’s a great plugin called KillNewsfeed that allows you access to Facebook but blocks your newsfeed. You can still do your Facebook-centered work, but you’re not distracted by every photo, update or ad that you see.
5. Check in with an accountability buddy.
When we’re unproductive, we often feel shame, despair and frustration. Even though we know these days happen, we end up dwelling in our negative feelings rather than moving forward.
An accountability buddy is someone who holds no judgments and provides a listening ear. It’s someone you can check in with and give an update on your progress (good or bad). It can be a coworker, an industry colleague, a classmate or a friend. Whoever it is, remember that the dynamic goes both ways – they support you and you support them.
Most importantly, acknowledge that none of us are productive 100% of the time. It’s not about trying to be perfect. It’s about how you handle an unproductive day when it comes your way.