All of us have experienced unproductive days at one point in time. Sometimes we feel as though we’re trying to get through everything on our schedule, but the more we get through, the more we have left. Other times we don’t feel motivated enough, so we engage in mindless activities and remove our need to participate in the demands of daily life. But for some of us, those days can turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, eventually finding ourselves going through an unproductive phase; struggling to step out.
I’ve experienced this in all different aspects of my life at one point in time. There have been times where I haven’t exercised or written productive content for an extended period, or simply pass on routine and effort. The longer we’re in an unproductive state, the harder it can be to work ourselves out and live up to what it is we expect of ourselves. On many occasions, I’ve had to remind myself how to be in a productive flow and show up each day to produce meaningful work.
Here are three reminders I tell myself whenever life throws a curveball and I find myself going through an unproductive phase.
1. Identify Your Focus
For us to focus, we’re required to say yes to one option and ignore everything else. Once we decide to pay attention to something worth our while, our brain strengthens. Although we can lose our attention on what matters, the good news is we can move quickly and more effectively in shifting our focus back on what be believe to be essential. Here are ways you can refocus:
Identify the distraction causing unproductivity. Are your energy levels low? Have life events gotten in the way? Think about how much actual time this has cost you recently and use it as motivation to refocus.
Write down your priorities. To maintain our focus, we should hardwire this into our brain. Ask yourself, “What is most important for me this year?”. Is it to get healthier, improve a skill, or improve finances? Write down all your answers and narrow it down to just a couple. Those responses are your priorities, so use them in a way that reminds you to focus on them each day.
Small milestones. By setting the bar low, we can outperform our expectations. This strategy works well when regaining our focus because small milestones help build momentum. If you’re looking to get back into the gym, start by doing just fifteen minutes. If your priority is to read again, begin by reading five pages. The idea is to give yourself the best chance possible to work your way back into focus so productivity can be maintained. If we set the bar too high, we risk feeling defeated and returning to an unproductive state. We handle failure better when we have momentum because of the confidence we’ve instilled in ourselves by reaching small milestones over time.
2. Re-Establish Your System.
We all have something we want to achieve in our lives: Lose extra weight, build a successful business, raise a family, write a book, retire early, and the list goes on. But how do we get there? To be useful in setting the right goals to be productive, we need to evaluate the system that surrounds us. Too often, what we apply doesn’t work well for our goals. When we have an unproductive patch, it generally means we’re going up against an ineffective system, making it harder to perform consistent progression.
Imagine being on board a train. There’s the train, the tracks, and a different stop to reach while travelling. Your goals become the train, where they give you direction on where to go. The tracks become your system, which represent the process on how to get there. Each station you land at becomes a progression point. If you arrive on a different track, you end up in a place where you didn’t intend to go. Without a structured system, there’s no direction, and progress is limited. During an unproductive phase, focus on your system and the process of what you know produces high performance.
3. Examine Your Energy Pyramid
Energy is the battery for all our thoughts and behaviours. The energy pyramid is an effective way to think about the role of our energy, understanding when we’re tired and how to manage it. It dictates when we need to rest and not risk burnout, but simultaneously make sure we are challenging ourselves and pushing our limits towards our capacity in being productive. Four components make up our energy pyramid.
This energy type forms the basis for all levels. To manage our physical energy, we need to look after our physical health, eat well and get enough rest. We don’t have to be athletes or dieticians, but we need to find where we can improve and start building.
Our emotions depend on our physical health. When we’re hungry, we can become agitated and aggressive. Conversely, when we’re tired and need rest, we lack focus. Emotional energy is simply being in a healthy state of mind and not being held down by negative feelings.
Our mental energy is where the focus of our energy goes. It’s taking control of our thoughts as opposed to accepting the first thought that comes into mind. We should focus on using our mental energy to our advantage, using our mental muscles and skills to create focus, confidence, productivity and willpower within ourselves.
Spiritual energy is acknowledging what’s truly important to us. For example, someone who values friendship will make more time for catchups or communication. That person would seek activities and maximize their time effectively, realizing high energy levels when investing their time with friends. Our spiritual energy defines who we are off the back of how physically, emotionally and mentally sound we are.
During an unproductive phase, It’s essential we understand our energy levels and how they affect our work. Energy is the battery for all our thoughts and behaviours. We can use the pyramid as an effective tool in thinking about our productivity output, acknowledging which to work on, and managing it. Our energy levels dictate when we need to rest and not risk burnout, but simultaneously make sure we challenge ourselves and push our limits towards increasing our energy capacity and productivity.
Reaching A Productive State
What I’ve found is without focus, a system in place and management of energy levels, it’s a struggle to perform at peak productivity. When we’re going through an unproductive phase, It’s hard to simply switch our focus and reach our performance expectations. We need to build our momentum back while maintaining our energy levels. Think of It this way: An injured athlete cannot simply come back to perform without building momentum to get there. They’re required to focus on rehabilitation, identify how to get back to peak performance, and manage their energy levels throughout the process.