Getting out of bed in the morning is an act full of hope. Anything is possible. You could be on the road to a great day. And sometimes, the dream of an engaging and completely productive day is realized.
But, some days the wheels come off the cart quickly. You get to work to find a fire that needs to be put out. A colleague has not finished a key part of a project, and you’re stuck in a holding pattern. You get dragged into a meeting you didn’t really need to attend.
And suddenly, a.m. has turned to p.m., and you haven’t gotten anything done yet. How can you snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?
Reset your mood
A lousy morning lowers your mood and saps your energy. A lot of research shows that you are more creative and more productive when you’re in a positive mood than a negative one.
That means you need to reset your day.
Before you get back to your desk for the afternoon, do something you really like. Take a walk. Read a little from a book you like. Talk with a colleague. Think about something you have done recently that has gone well.
The main idea is that you don’t want to carry a negative mood from a morning that got derailed into the afternoon. Otherwise, you can let a lot of time slip by and turn a bad morning into a wasted day.
Find a win
The positive mood helps, but you also need some motivational energy to immerse yourself in work. A good way to get yourself energized after a tough morning is to succeed at something small to get yourself rolling.
Run through your to-do list and find something that won’t take long to finish, but will take care of something nagging at you. Maybe you need to finish drafting the agenda for an upcoming meeting or look over the numbers on a proposal. The key is to put in 20-30 minutes of work on something that actually lets you check an item off your to-do list.
Completing a small task like this has two benefits. It boosts your mood, which continues your quest to put your morning behind you. It also provides a flow of energy (or what psychologists call arousal that can propel you toward the next task. Now, you’re ready to pick off a bigger task from your list.
If you’re really struggling to concentrate on your own work after a bad morning, get social. That doesn’t mean hang out with colleagues. It means find a task you can do that will assist a colleague in some way. Because your brain is wired to cooperate, you may find you are more productive working on something jointly than trying to go it alone. This mode also lets you draw energy from other people on days when your own supply is tapped.
Check your to-do list for any task that might require you to interact with a colleague to finish something. Worst case, walk over to a colleague’s desk and offer your help on what they are doing at the moment.
There are days where you feel like–left to your own devices–you will engage in a lot of fake work. You can hold yourself accountable by helping a helping a colleague. As an added bonus, your cooperative spirit will lead colleagues to be more willing to lend assistance when you need it in the future. Not only have you made your afternoon productive, you have generated some good will that will pay off when you have a big project in the future.