Friday, June 14, 2013

Salvaging an Unproductive Day

Let’s face it. Even hard-charging, Type-A, hyper-caffeinated people like ourselves get into a rut from time to time. Sure we’ve learned how to “mail it in” by looking busy, by sending out important sounding emails, by billing some hours and checking a few things off the to-do list. But sometimes, for a wide variety of reasons, that laser focus isn’t there.  The ideas aren’t flowing, the adrenaline isn’t pumping and you’re months away from your next vacation. What to do?

Productivity blogger, Aaron Lynn, recently posted on  nine common causes of unproductive days, including multi-tasking, playing to your weaknesses, constant interruptions and poor energy management. He offered both short-term and long-term fixes. But the main thing you don’t want to do is let a series of unproductive days spiral out of control. Lynn said you want to make sure that if you’re having a series of unproductive days you, want to understand why they occur and be able to get to the root of the problem. Thanks to Inc./Fast Company for bringing this to our attention.
As Lynn explains: “Sometimes, things happen that simply aren’t within our control — weather phenomena, our Internet connection goes down, a family emergency. We can try to put things in place to prevent these things from happening, but sometimes there really isn’t much we can do.”

Suppose the reason for your unproductive day is what Lynn calls “depleted willpower.” Short-term fixes include “waiting until tomorrow,” “break/nap,” and “nootropics,” which are basically legal drugs. More importantly, Lynne offers long-term fixes such as “energy management” (eating, sleeping, and exercising properly) and “downtime and renewal” (getting enough time off).

While little of what Lynne suggests is revolutionary, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that the reasons for having a bad day usually aren’t that complex. A short nap or a quick walk can go a long way toward making them bearable. But in the long term, you have to come to grips with the types of daily annoyance or client/employee irritations that consistently take you off your game and prevent you from doing your best.

Have we mastered those lessons here at HB? Heck no. But at least we’re able to recognize the signs of a potential “off day” by 10 or 11 in the morning and prevent it from ruining the rest of the day (or week).

As my old college track coach used to bark: “Anyone can run fast when they’re feeling great. I’m going to teach you how to run fast when you feel like crap. So when you’re ass falls off at the one-mile mark, go back and find your ass, stick it back on, and get back in the race.” What he was trying to say was that the team needed each and every runner to finish the race and try to score some points even if they weren’t going to set a personal best that day.
A little old school I know. But just try this philosophy for a week and you’ll be amazed at how many many boxes on your to-do list suddenly get checked off.

Index of Business/Entrepreneurship media up

Whether or not you believe all the noise coming out of Washington, one gauge of the economy that we like to use here is the total of advertising pages at business, technology and entrepreneurial magazines. By that lens, things are up 8.8 percent over this time a year ago, according to data we compiled from min/min online. The group we track includes Inc. Magazine (up 30.4%), Forbes (+13.3%), Fast Company  (+7.9%), Wired (+2.6%) and Entrepreneur (down 3.8%).

Macro View

Whether or not you like to play Bernanke roulette with interest rate forecasts, two government reports that came out yesterday shook some sense into the financial markets. Positive news about hiring and spending at retail businesses gave a badly needed jolt of optimism to investors about the strength of the economic recovery.


Like off days in investing, sports, relationships and the weather, bad days are inevitable at work. It’s not so much trying to avoid them or blame them on others—it’s how you bounce back from them, learn from them and understand what could be dragging you down into a continuous spiral of frustration, inertia or wheel spinning.

As heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson once quipped: “Everybody has a plan until you get a punch in the mouth.” You’ll never avoid every jab that’s thrown your way. But you can always get yourself off the mat and back into the fight before the game of life counts you out for that round.

Tags: Aaron Lynne, productivity guru, salvaging a bad day,
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