Let’s say you’ve been feeling unproductive for a while. You’re frustrated that your tasks are piling up, bills are left unpaid, and you’re feeling tired all the time.
When this happens, people keep doing the same things hoping for a different outcome. They think “it’s just temporary” and that “things will get better soon.”
But when they keep procrastinating and don’t find a way to be productive again, they all of a sudden find themselves out of shape, feeling down, and stuck at their careers.
In behavioral research, there’s a concept called “Optimism Bias” that explains why we keep doing the same things. It’s the false belief that negative outcomes will probably not happen to us. We assume being unproductive has no negative consequences.
But we all know being unproductive for too long can destroy our lives eventually. I’ve been there many times in my life. I’m not talking about having one or two bad weeks — we all experience those temporary moments of being low on energy.
I’m talking about when you’re unproductive for weeks or months. What’s the best way to turn things around when that’s the case? Try to raise your productivity TODAY.
In this article, I share ten ways you can do that.
1. Turn off non-essential notifications
This is one of my go-to moves. And if you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve already read about this by now. But it’s so important because our smartphones are the biggest source of distraction right now.
The important thing here is that your phone doesn’t use you. Don’t let other people’s agenda become your to-do list.
2. Use the Pomodoro technique
I do a lot to control my attention, and yet, my attention can be all over the place at times. Whenever I notice that I just can’t sit down for 10 minutes to do some work, I use the Pomodoro Method.
It works like this: Take a 5-minute break after every 25 minutes of work. And use an app like Be Focused so you can see the timer on your screen.
There’s a lot of science behind why that technique boosts your focus. One reason is that your brain finds it very difficult to focus on a single task.
When you use the Pomodoro method, you force your brain to focus for a short amount of time. And that works better.
3. Work out every day
When you’re feeling tired, the best cure isn’t to eat a candy bar “because I need some sugar.” No, working out gives you more energy than a sugar rush. Multiple studies even show that exercise boosts your energy and mood.
That’s why I aim to work out every day. And though that might seem like a heavy commitment, it’s actually easier to execute than, say, committing to a thrice-a-week workout routine.
The problem with not working out every day is that your brain keeps making decisions: Monday, Wednesday, Friday? What about Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday?
You think, “I’ll skip today and do it on X day instead. I’ll still hit my three-times a week commitment anyway.” The next thing you know, you’re skipping days.
Stop all that. Just aim to exercise every day. It’s much simpler that way. And if you’re injured or sick? Rest up so you can get back at it again.
4. Meditate twice a day
Meditation is great, we all know that by now. You know what’s better? Doing it twice a day. Doesn’t have to be 20 minutes each time. I do 10 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening.
Meditation is an excellent way to improve your focus. In Mindfulness for Beginners, the pioneer of mindfulness in the United States, Jon Kabat-Zinn, talks about how it improves something called “Experiential Focus.”
He says, “Training in mindfulness can actually influence how the brain processes experience.” It makes you more aware. And that will help you to get peace of mind.
5. Use affirmations
I’m not a fan of old-school affirmations. But there’s a practical way to do affirmations. You just have to do it in a way that doesn’t make you cringe. Affirmations are all about strengthening positive beliefs. They’re a validation of your core values.
Affirmations don’t work if you’re trying to affirm something you don’t really believe in. So don’t lie to yourself. Don’t say things like, “I’m the greatest person on earth.” Instead, think about positive statements that affirm your self-integrity. You can check out a couple of examples here.
6. Listen to music you love
Sometimes it’s nice to throw all of those productivity tips out the window and put on some good music.
Remember a time you felt great while listening to music? For me, it was The Doors. When I was in college, I loved listening to it. So I occasionally go back. I put on Back Door Man and instantly get a boost.
7. Clean up your workspace
My workspace really affects my work. I don’t need a big home office or anything like that. I worked out of my bedroom for years. I just want an empty and clean desk so I can focus on my work.
When I see a lot of crap around me, it clutters my mind. If you’re like that as well, it helps to always keep your workspace clean.
8. Get rid of your to-do list
Look, I get it. People love lists. Their lists keep them sane and give order to their lives. If that works for you, that’s great.
But I don’t like to-do lists because it doesn’t work for me. I think it’s much more effective to put tasks on your calendar instead.
We all have limited energy and time. And you can only do 3–4 things effectively in a day. If you cram too many tasks, you’ll end up with two results: frustration that you didn’t do everything you set out to do, or burnout.
9. Journal for five minutes
Journaling has many benefits: To get clarity, release stress, improve your decision-making, etc. To me, it’s a great productivity technique because journaling helps me to stay focused.
Despite the millions of articles and videos that talk about journaling, a lot of people can’t keep a journaling habit. They set the bar very high and say, “I should write 5 pages today.” And if they can’t do that, they simply give up. But that’s not what journaling is.
Just say to yourself: “I’ll journal for 5 minutes. Just 5 minutes. If I feel like writing more, then I’ll continue. But if not, then as long as 5 minutes is up, I’m done.” Just taking a few minutes to write down what’s on your mind will help you to focus on what actually matters.
10. Set a new and exciting goal
Sometimes, when you’re feeling down and unproductive, the best solution is to shake things up in your life.
What’s something you want to achieve in the next year? Start a side business? Write a book? Run a half marathon? Travel to a certain country? Do deadlifts with a certain amount of weight?
The point is to give yourself something good and exciting to look forward to. And commit to achieve that goal.
When I’m unproductive, I have a harder time doing my work. I procrastinate a lot. We all have these types of moments in our lives.
And if you’ve been stuck or unproductive for a while, it doesn’t only feel like you’re stuck in a vicious cycle — you actually are. It’s very difficult to break that negative pattern. You need to exert a lot of force to turn things around.
So we need to do something that shakes our system up in a big way so you can get back into a productive state of mind. And you can do that starting TODAY. You have to act. You can’t wait for a magic moment where things will just work out.