Do you ever have one of those days?
Of course, you do; we all do. The question is how to deal with them. If you’re like me, you waste most of the day banging your head against the wall, trying to push through it. But nothing seems to work.
I write a lot about productivity, so it might be strange to be writing about days when you are not productive. But whether we want to admit it or not, those days happen, so like any other problem, it’s best to have a plan. The trick is to recognize those days when they first start shaping up and execute your plan early.
But first, I should clarify what we are talking about. There are days when you are unproductive because of bad health. If that’s the case, then you only have one thing on your to-do list; get well. There are days when everything is totally out of your control. I have found on those days, it is much better just not to fight it. If something outside your control is hijacking your day, go with the flow. If you can’t control it, you can’t control it; let it go.
No, I’m talking about those days when you first look at your list and feel overwhelmed. Or you grab the first thing on the list and just can’t get started. Or you get started but never finish anything.
Or everything just plain goes wrong.
It’s time for plan B. What is plan B? Well, that’s for you to decide. I have several that I will use depending on the circumstances. Here are mine. You do you.
If you can’t get anything done, do nothing
This one doesn’t work all the time, and you can’t use it often, but it is the most effective. I have written in the past about the benefits of planning a mental health day. But if you have one of those days when you can’t get anything done, maybe it’s time for an unplanned mental health day.
Look at your to-do list for the day. How many of those things absolutely must get done today? Probably not that many. Bring up your week’s view and start sliding everything you can into the future. Don’t just push everything into tomorrow; that just guarantees that tomorrow will be another bad day. Look at each task’s importance and urgency, along with your workload for the next 5–10 days, and shift things around.
Ideally, you will be left with a blank slate. Now, don’t you feel better already? But, you still have a day to do something with; what do you do? If you are retired, self-employed, or a stay-at-home parent, take off. Plan a fun day. Phone a friend, or grab your kids and just blow off the day. You needed a break, or you wouldn’t be in this shape.
If you can’t do that, try and find some busy work. Some menial, mindless tasks you have been putting off anyway. Cleaning out your desk drawers or organizing your filing cabinet. Get your email down to inbox zero.
Or just sit for a few minutes, take some deep breaths, and enjoy the moment. What will happen next a lot of the time is, now your day doesn’t seem so bad. Maybe, just maybe…
If you can’t get everything done, just do one thing
Trying to do everything can be a daunting task. Thinking about doing everything can be overwhelming, push you into complete inaction. So, what do you do when that happens?
Stop thinking about everything. Stop looking at all the things you have to do today. Take a modified approach to the first method. Pick one thing off of your list and commit to getting that done. Tell yourself, that’s all you will do today. If you need to, use the method above to push everything else off your list.
Now, you only have one thing to do today. You can do one thing, can’t you? Of course, you can. Focus on that one task and forget about everything else. Chances are, that will free up that logjam in your mind and allow you to get that one task done successfully.
And once that happens, maybe you will be able to do just one more.
If everything goes wrong, do something right
Those days are the worst. No matter what you try, it goes wrong. You forgot to save that spreadsheet you worked on for two hours, you emailed the wrong report to your boss, and you mistyped your password so many times, you’re locked out of the system. Everything is going wrong, and you are afraid to do anything else.
So, just do something right. Think of one thing, one small thing, you can do right now and do it right. It can be as simple as filing some paperwork or sharpening your pencils. Think of one task, the more mindless, the better, that you absolutely can’t fail at. Do that thing.
Once that is done, stop and breathe for a minute. Everything was going wrong, and now it isn’t. That thing went right. You did that one thing without making any mistakes. Maybe you are ready to attempt the next thing on your list.
If you keep tripping over the top of your list, go to the bottom
Yesterday, you did your daily review and put everything in order for tomorrow. Now, tomorrow has come, and you start down the list. But it’s just too much. Or you screw up the first couple of things, and you are afraid to move on to the next one.
Skip to the bottom of the list and do something from there. It’s on the bottom for a reason. Either it’s not that important, or not that urgent, or both. The pressure is off. This is a low-level task you just threw on the list if you had time to do it. It’s probably been on the bottom of the list for days.
Do that thing.
Once you accomplish one thing on the list successfully, then your day will turn around. It’s all mental anyway; you just need to shift your mind into a different gear. Kick it into neutral for a bit, tackle the last thing on the list, and then come back to the top.
If your tasks are overwhelming, tackle the most underwhelming
This is similar to that last tip, but this time, you get to do some cherry-picking. Take a look at the whole list. What is the easiest, most underwhelming thing you need to do today? Do that thing. Forget the high-pressure, urgent, do or die stuff for a minute and focus on something easy. Again, once you accomplish one thing, anything, the rest will fall into place.
Bonus Tip: Involve Other People
Okay, you’re going to think I’m crazy for suggesting this one. But, if you can’t get anything done, do nothing with other people.
Call a meeting!
I know, right? Most meetings are a waste of time, and right now, you need to waste some. So, come up with some lame excuse for a meeting (aren’t they all, anyway?), grab a few coworkers, and head to the conference room. After an hour of that, you will be dying to get back to your list and actually get some work done.
Trust me, there will be days when you can’t get anything done, or everything goes wrong. Don’t just keep trying to push the boulder up the hill, Get out of the way and let it roll to the bottom.
Tomorrow is another day.