How to be productive when your body says “no”

Unless you’re a robot, you have an “off” day every now or then. You know – when your body says “no, I don’t think so” to everything your mind suggests. Or when your mind is too scattered and unfocused to even think about being productive. Or when you’re tired, not feeling well, unmotivated, don’t have enough spoons*, feel ill or sick… But you still gotta do stuff, because such is life. How do you still keep up with your to-do list and do what needs to be done, even when you’re not bringing your A-game to it? (Or even B-game, for that matter…)

    1) The first suggestion is a classic one: caffeine and/or sugar. Countless professionals rely on these substances to get them through their days. Of course, as with everything in life, overdoing it is bad for your health. Try to use them only when necessary and set yourself some sensible limits. Doctors recommend no more than 4 cups of coffee per day and no more than 200 calories from added sugars per day.

    (You might be tempted to try some substances in the gray area of “not quite legal”, “really unhealthy” or “morally dubious”, but only go there if you can deal with the problems they bring! To keep things simple, stick to stimulants that are legal, widely available and not outrageously unhealthy.)

    2) Do only what’s necessary. Conserve your energy and give your body and mind some rest. Skip chores, ignore optional tasks, cancel unnecessary obligations… It would be great if we could check off all the things on our calendars and to-do lists every day, but we’re not robots. There aren’t many truly important and urgent and necessary things to do in a given day. (How to decide what is truly important and urgent? And how to prioritize several important and urgent things? I’ll write more on that subject in another post!)

    3) Keep a list of low-hanging fruit: easy tasks that don’t require too much effort. Things like updating your to-do list or calendar, tidying up, sorting your mail, decluttering, archiving, preparing things you’ll need when you actually start working on a task… All of these tasks need doing at some point, and you might as well do them now, because you’re probably not working on something more demanding.

    4) Just do something, anything, no matter how small. This might give you just enough motivation and forward momentum to help you tackle your to-do list. And if not… well, at least you did this one thing!

    5) Try using the Pomodoro technique. In short, set yourself a limited amount of time to do some work (usually 25 minutes) and then take a short break (usually 5 minutes). This interval is called “a pomodoro”. Repeat 4 pomodoros and then take a longer break (usually 15 minutes). While working, focus only on your task – this is easier because you only have to be focused for a short while. If 25 minutes is too long for you, try a shorter interval, like 15 or even 10 minutes. The only important thing is to be truly focused while you’re working. You can accomplish a lot in 10 minutes of focused work! And knowing you only have to keep at it for a limited amount of time makes it easier to stop procrastinating and start doing.

    6) Even if you don’t use the Pomodoro technique, take frequent short breaks. Go outside if you can or just walk around the office if you can’t. Take deep breaths and stretch. Look at something other than your office desk, computer screen or any screen at all. Try finding something green and natural to look at, or have a short chat with a coworker. This will help you recharge both physically and mentally.

In the long term, make sure you’re taking care of yourself. If you happen to have more and more “off days”, it might be a sign you’re not sleeping or eating as well as you should be. Or maybe that it’s time to look for another job!

*What spoons, you ask? These spoons!

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