5 Ways To Rescue An Unproductive Day

It’s not like you don’t have things to do–some days just never get off the ground.

5 Ways To Rescue An Unproductive Day
[Image: Flickr user Josh McGinn]

Some days you’re on fire. And some days, you’re not. Every time you try to crank out a report, you wind up on Facebook. You haven’t heard back from anyone whose input is necessary for a project. You have a million things to do but you aren’t doing any of them.


Should you just write the day off?

If you want to take a break, go for it. Breaks are productive! But if you’re determined to get things done, snatching your day from the jaws of non-productivity is possible. The key insight is that progress–of any sort–is surprisingly motivational. Generate some progress, and you want to make more progress. Here’s how to get the snowball started:

1. Break it down.

You’ve got big projects looming, but you don’t feel like starting. Instead, enlist your inner organizer, and write down every single thing that needs to be done. Break these steps into their constituent parts until you find a handful of tasks–maybe sending a few emails–that don’t require much mental energy. Do them. Now you’re on your way!

2. Start in the middle.

When I’m staring at an amorphous mass of quotes and ideas I’m trying to string into something coherent, my problem is that I usually can’t think of a brilliant opening paragraph. But I often have at least one portion of the article I’m clear on, perhaps somewhere in the middle. Why not start there? Write down whatever you know, however small it seems, and then build around it.

3. Solve a different problem.

You can’t make progress on today’s issue, so spend time thinking about something unrelated. What would you like your career to look like in five years? Could you find an accountability partner to help you achieve a personal goal? What new people should you invite to your annual Cinco de Mayo party? By the time you’ve drawn up the guest list, you may decide to tackle today’s to-do list, too.

4. Change your geography.

Good things happen when you get up and move. You get more energy, and the random stimuli of the world gets your brain turning in interesting ways. Go work in a coffee shop, the library, a park bench. Try not taking your phone. By the time you return, people may have finally returned your emails and phone calls, and you can take the next step with their feedback.


5. Clean your desk.

It has to be done occasionally, and if nothing else is happening, at least you can end the day with organized files.

How do you rescue an unproductive day?


About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at