We all have those days: we have a to-do list a mile long, most of it with a fast-approaching deadline, and all we want to do is sleep, or read, or watch TV or scroll Facebook. We know we need to work, but we just don’t feel like it. How can you be productive on a day like that?
The truth is, while it may not be easy, you actually can be productive on those days. It helps to have some ideas already in mind before those days hit. Take a look at this list and see which ones might work best for you.
Most days, I play music or have sitcom reruns going as background noise. They allow me to not feel so “alone” while not distracting me from my work. For some people, though, they would be very distracting.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all major distractions for many people. YouTube can be as well. The stack of mail on the corner of your desk, or the stack of unread magazines or books you’ve been meaning to get to can also pull you away from your work.
Try eliminating as many distractions as you can. Physical items, like books or mail, can be moved to another room (or go ahead and go through the mail – that’s being productive!). Social media can be blocked with an extension on some browsers. Noise-cancelling headphones can eliminate distraction in the form of noisy kids or construction outside.
Knock out some smaller tasks
Sometimes a lack of productivity comes not from not wanting to work but from not wanting to work on a larger project. So start with some smaller tasks instead. Go through your to-do list and find several tasks that will only take a few minutes to do: checking emails, scheduling social media for the week, respond to comments on your business website, or clear out subscribers on your email list who haven’t opened your last few emails.
By completing these smaller, quicker tasks, you give yourself the feeling of productivity and start building some momentum that you can use to tackle the bigger jobs.
And if you’ve got a really big project that still feels overwhelming? Break it down into smaller tasks, and then just do one smaller task on it at a time. Don’t worry about the overall size of the project – just focus on the single task you’re working on.
Take an exercise break
A few minutes of yoga, a short five minute walk around the block, or a few minutes spent jumping on a mini-trampoline can boost your energy levels for hours. Higher energy levels will make it much easier to start attacking that to-do list.
But exercise can also clear your mind and make it easier to focus. In fact, walking has been shown to help improve creativity. By engaging in an activity that is relatively mindless (you don’t have to put a lot of thought and attention into walking), you free your brain to come up with solutions that you might not have thought of otherwise.
When you come back to your desk, you might have fresh ideas. You’ll certainly have some new momentum that can help you get started.
Shake things up with a change of scenery
Your home or office might be a very beautiful and relaxing place, but sometimes that can also make it boring and uninspiring. Staring at the same four walls every single day gets old. You start to feel stagnant, stuck, and in some cases, even lonely.
Pack up the laptop and whatever files, pens, notebooks, and other things you might need, and get out of the house for a bit. You might simply move to your backyard patio. Or maybe you’ll head to a coffee shop where you’ll be surrounded by people, soft music, and the scents of coffee and doughnuts. Perhaps you have access to a co-working space that you’ll utilize.
Wherever you go, the change of scenery can shake things loose and help you get started. If nothing else, you’ll feel guilty that you’ve gone to all the trouble of moving your stuff (and maybe used some gas to drive to a new location, and spent some money on food or drink you wouldn’t have at home) that you’ll buckle down and get more done just to alleviate the guilt.
Hire a virtual assistant
Yeah, I know. This looks like a plug to get you to hire me. And sure, to a point it is. But the reality is a lack of productivity can result from being overwhelmed with too much to do. When you have too much to do, you don’t know where to start, so doing nothing feels easier.
By hiring a VA, you can get rid of some of the more mundane tasks like email and social media management or managing your website’s blog. They can also handle things like project management or client care. This frees you up to work on the bigger projects and the work that requires your personal touch.
Try something new for time management
Maybe you currently put everything in a time slot on your digital calendar, estimating how long each task will take and filling up your day with different colors and tasks. Or maybe you use time-blocking, where you set aside so many hours for errands, for phone calls, and for other various tasks grouped in ways that make sense to you. Or maybe your time management system is just a bunch of sticky notes with jotted reminders to do this and that.
Whatever your current time management system, if you’re finding that productivity is starting to be a consistent problem for you, it might indicate that it’s time to try something new.
You might try the Pomodoro Technique, where you spend 25 minutes working and take a 5 minute break (a variation on this is to work for 50 and take a 10 minute break). You might try batch scheduling, where you batch work together: all your writing on Mondays, all your social media on Tuesdays, and so forth.
If you change up your time management system, it is important to give it enough time before you decide it’s not working and switch to something else. I recommend giving any new system at least two full weeks, but a month is even better. You want to allow ample time to see that a problem you identify in the first week is truly a problem and not just a matter of that one week being a bit off.
Sometimes you have to push yourself
The thing about productivity is that it’s a lot like inspiration: you can’t always wait for it to come on its own. Sometimes you have to go out and grab it for yourself.
I’d love to know which of these tips worked for you. If you have another tip that’s not listed here, I’d love to hear it, too.