7 Ways To Save An Unproductive Day

Rose Kennedy
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Rose Kennedy share some top “suggestions from career coaches and experts in time management and human behavior [who] can help you reclaim an unproductive day.


So you had a bad day — or at least an unproductive one.

Low productivity can be a problem for any older adult, whether you’re fully retired or need to complete certain tasks pronto to receive a paycheck this month.

Remember, you may be busier in your silver years than you were at the peak of a career or parenting full time — or when you did all of that and took care of older family members.

“Managing an abundance of time is as challenging as managing a scarcity of time,” Laura Vanderkam, author of “Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done,” told Kiplinger.

Part of the issue revolves around unrealistic expectations, Harper Spero originally wrote for Career Contessa.

“If you’re a high achiever, you juggle too many things over the course of a day,” said Spero, a business coach who works with entrepreneurs. “And despite your best intentions, you’re bound to have days where you feel burnt out, or just plain unproductive. This can lead to a self-destructive cycle – you beat yourself up for being unfocused, which further distracts you from what needs to be accomplished.”

But you can salvage an unproductive day, whether you’re working in a cubicle or standing at the kitchen sink.

These suggestions from career coaches and experts in time management and human behavior can help you reclaim an unproductive day.

Note the signs
While you may already realize you’re not accomplishing what you need to, these are a few indications you may need to get out of unproductive mode, according to Spero:

Procrastinating: Scrolling on social media or doing something you don’t typically enjoy, such as cleaning or exercising.
Feeling tired due to a poor night’s sleep.
Beginning something and not finishing it, whether it’s an email or a new project.

Shift your thinking
“In the middle of a bad day, you’re prone to making catastrophic statements like, ‘I feel so stupid,’ or ‘Nothing is going according to plan,’” Hunter College Human Behavior professor Melody Wilding wrote on Inc. “Unhelpful thinking is common, but you can unhook from it with reframing.”

Instead of saying that you’re frustrated with yourself for messing up, for example, Wilding said to lower your stress level by rewording the statement as “I’m having the thought that I’m not accomplishing enough, and I’m feeling frustration because of it.”

“Once you identify your automatic negative thoughts, tweak your self-talk to be more balanced and realistic,” she said.

Get a change of scenery
When you’re midway through a day of zero accomplishment, change your surroundings if possible.
“Sometimes, you need to refresh your body and mind before you can be productive,” Spero said. “When I feel unfocused…I’ll go for a walk, do yoga, or meditate — anything that gets me out of my chair and stops me from staring at my computer for an hour or so.”

If you frequently have trouble focusing, take a look at your work setting and consider distractions.
“My ideal environment includes atmospheric music without lyrics, natural light, a light snack, a drink like water or tea, and a comfortable seat,” Spero said. “If I have all these elements, I’m much more likely to spend my time productively. I can really zone in and focus on what I’m doing.”

Set priorities
“Feeling overwhelmed leads to prioritizing inefficiently (or not prioritizing at all), and trying to accomplish too much,” Spero said. “When you feel stressed by your to-do list, you’re more likely to mismanage your time or even just give up. If everything is urgent and needs to get done today, you can feel paralyzed.”

To avoid that sinking feeling, triage 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,” Spero said. “By simply taking some of the pressure off yourself, you’re more able to focus and be productive.”

Once you’ve given productive jobs their allotted time, revisit the list. “Determine what tasks should be a priority for that week,” Spero said. “By thinking realistically about your list for the coming days, you set yourself up for days that are more focused and less overwhelming.”

Resist the urge to isolate
“When you’re having a bad day, it’s tempting to retreat and wallow alone,” Wilding said. “We all have that one buddy who puts a smile on our face, no matter what, so see if you can arrange a quick coffee date with this person — or, if he or she lives far away, send an email or text.”

Own your emotions
Air your negative thoughts instead of tamping down feelings about your inability to complete or begin productive work, Wilding said.

“Give yourself permission to release any feelings of anger, guilt, or self-blame so that you can move on. Remember, you’re human, and like the rest of us, you’re bound to have moments when you’re not performing at your best.”

Move forward
Once you’ve bounced back, it’s a good idea to add structure to your day to avoid creating a pattern of unproductive days. This is especially the case if you’re adjusting to retirement, according to medical assistants Lawrence Robinson and Melinda Smith in the blog for the non-profit

“There’s comfort in routine. Even if you’re still figuring out what you want to do with your retirement, try to establish a loose daily schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, allow yourself to linger over breakfast or to read the newspaper, for example, but schedule times for exercising and socializing with friends.”

It’s important not to be too rigid.

“Keep things in perspective,” Tom Sightings, author of “You Only Retire Once,” wrote on U.S. News and World Report. “It’s more about setting goals and priorities, (and) then making sure that you accomplish what you set out to do.”

Try to list ideas for each day or week, not every hour.
“That way you know that you exercise on Tuesdays and Thursdays, have class on Wednesdays, and play cards on Fridays, without having to rush from one activity to the next,” Sightings said. “Don’t over-manage your schedule or your days will feel like drudgery. But we all need some general framework, or else time passes without our even noticing it.”

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