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5 Ways To Reset An Unproductive Afternoon

One or two hours of lost productivity shouldn’t ruin your whole workday. Here are some ideas to reset your brain and start fresh.

5 Ways To Reset An Unproductive Afternoon
[Photo: Rawpixel]

We live in a world surrounded by distractions. If you work in an open office, chances are, you have to fight them on a daily basis–whether it’s your coworker who talks loudly on the phone, or that little notification box at the bottom of your screen. Sometimes you’ve just had a rough morning, and doing anything productive feels like moving a mountain.

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But just because you had an unproductive stint during your workday doesn’t mean that your entire afternoon is doomed. Take a deep breath and try one of these methods to get you back to work mode in no time.

1. Do Something To Disconnect

If your work allows for flexible hours, one of the best things you can do is leave the office and do some sort of activity to recharge. Elizabeth Grace Saunders, in a previous article for Fast Company, recommends getting some exercise or running an errand so “you still have some personal time to recharge and get back to your desk refreshed and focused.” If it’s toward the end of the day (and you don’t have any after-work obligations), you might even want to come back when everyone is starting to leave, so that you can get your work done with minimal interruptions.


Related: Here’s How A Month Of Exercise Affected My Brain 


2. Outsource Your Worries

Sometimes, you’re distracted by your own thoughts, and no amount of decluttering can help your concentration. This feeling is even more crippling if you’re already feeling lonely, Lisa Evans previously wrote for Fast Company. An effective remedy is sharing your worries with someone. You can confide in a coworker you trust, or step outside to call a friend or family member. Edward Hallowell, a leading expert on attention-deficit disorder and author of Driven To Distraction At Work: How To Focus And Be More Productive, told Evans, “The minute you talk to someone, your feeling of vulnerability goes down.”

3. Think About The Bigger Picture

It’s easy to get bogged down in little to-dos when you have a long to-do list, but if lack of motivation is the reason why you’re distracted, you might want to turn your mind to your “role” priorities over your “task” priorities, Jane Porter previously wrote for Fast Company. This means thinking about whether the items on your to-do list move you forward in your role, or whether they’re merely admin time sucks like emails that probably bring out very little value (and don’t yield much results). When you can identify how your immediate tasks contribute to a much bigger goal, you’re more likely to want to make progress, which increases your motivation level, Porter wrote.

4. “Observe” Your Mind Wondering

Sometimes fighting distraction is a lost cause, and the best way to get your focus back is to let it happen and move on. When your lack of focus is due to lack of inspiration, this can be especially helpful. Shelley H. Carson, author of Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps To Maximize Imagination, Productivity And Innovation In Your Life, previously told Stephanie Vozza that being open to distraction “allows for the ability to take bits of information and combine them in novel ways that are useful or adaptive.” However, to reap the benefits, Carson said that we have to “look at them in a non-judgmental way.” Instead of beating yourself up about not being able to focus, embrace your busy thoughts and see what creative solutions it might bring.

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5. Do Something Else For A Little Bit

Multitasking gets a terrible rep, but sometimes it can be a great tool when monotasking is just not getting you anywhere. As Saunders previously wrote for Fast Company, “Some situations just aren’t meant for long stretches of unbroken focus.” The trick is to experiment what form of task switching helps you best. For Saunders, task switching motivates her to work through small and boring tasks. She gives herself permission to toggle between writing business emails and looking at her calendar tasks, or she’d alternate these administrative tasks with more “exciting” work (such as book marketing). Saunders wrote, “The promise of soon being able to do something fun helps me quit procrastinating on what’s not fun.”

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About the author

Anisa is the Assistant Editor for Fast Company's Leadership section. She covers everything from personal development, entrepreneurship and the future of work

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