We’ve all had those days when we have a million things to do, but can’t seem to get ahead on any of them. Not only do unproductive days detract from your business’ success, it can also have an effect on your well-being, affecting your mood and stress levels. While simply throwing in the towel, heading home and returning to the office refreshed the next day may seem an attractive option, there's still a chance to turn around your day and boost your productivity.
Follow these six steps and rescue your unproductive day:
Clear the clutter. A desk overflowing with paperwork can cause you to continually interrupt yourself, preventing you from getting anything done. "You start looking through the piles of clutter to find something, then you find other things that you forgot you had and you get distracted and start working on something else," says personal-productivity expert Peggy Duncan. While clearing off your desk may appear too enormous a task or even something you’ve been putting off for a rainy day, sometimes simply getting up and making even minimal progress on a task can spark the brain into productivity mode and get you started on your real to-do list.
Cross off the easy stuff first. You can gain momentum on your to-do list by checking off a couple of easy tasks first. When glancing at a lengthy list, Duncan will often write down a few simple things that weren't even on the original list, just so she can check them off. Seeing a couple of checkmarks can fill your brain with feel-good endorphins, which may be just enough of a rush to help you move forward with the rest of the activities on the list. Duncan warns, however, not to avoid the large-ticket items. “You don’t want to spend your entire day on the small things,” she says. “I always recommend people prioritize tasks that will get you paid."
Choose one task. Performance-improvement expert Les Taylor says a to-do list does nothing but maintain the status quo. He recommends swapping the “to-do list” with the “success list.” Ask yourself: “If I could only accomplish one thing today that would move my business forward, what would it be?” Then focus your attention on that one thing, turning off email reminders and social media to avoid interruptions. Highlight this priority task by placing it on a sticky note beside your laptop, for example, to ensure that the things that are of the greatest benefit become the focus of your entire day.
Change the scenery. Simply getting out of the office and moving to another setting can help you shift into a more productive mindset. Take your laptop to a coffee shop or a closed meeting room and have a clear goal in mind of what you want to accomplish while there.
Set a 15-minute timer. Give a project your undivided attention for only 15 minutes. You’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish in such a short period of time. That small accomplishment can motivate you to fast-forward your way through the rest of your to-do list.
Keep a positive mindset. Taylor says starting your day on a negative note is the fastest way to ensure an unproductive day. He recommends developing a library of books or CDs that stimulate the mind with healthy, productive thoughts. Avoid starting or ending the day by watching the news, for example, as news reports tend to be flooded with negative emotions. Instead, use the first few moments of the day to energize your mind with positive thoughts and the last few to review the accomplishments of the day, setting yourself up for a productive tomorrow.
Related: 6 Steps to Becoming Hyper-Efficient