How to save the day (and your psyche) from a productivity meltdown

Even with a plan (or elegantly organized list of to-do items), days can still go weird – and hey, it can happen to anyone. The next time you find yourself in a productivity slump, use one (or more) of these five tactics to reset your brain and get that next task done. You may surprise yourself by how quickly you can recover when things go awry.
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You know those days that go “Productively Weird?” A meeting you’ve looked forward to is suddenly cancelled. You feel stressed out and stuck in a rut. You don’t have the motivation you know you need to accomplish your tasks. When you’re out of it, do you know how to get back?

It’s important to stay balanced between feeling overwhelmed and being uber-productive; getting things done can’t be the only goal, you’ve got to experience the feeling that momentum provides. You’re engaged, you’re proud of what you’re doing, you’re being the “You” that others can count on.

Even with a plan (or elegantly organized list of to-do items), days can still go weird – and hey, it can happen to anyone. The next time you find yourself in a slump, use one (or more) of these five things to reset your brain and get that next task done. What’s even better is that these work for any kinds of tasks: The creative ones and the more analytical, left-brained to-dos.

After you read through these productivity tips, try adding a sixth that you know will help you to reset and ensure setbacks don’t sabotage your day’s productivity level.

Any of these five approaches can save your psyche for maximum performance at a moment’s notice:

  1. Rethink what you DO manage. (Hint: It’s NOT time.) You don’t finish a day and recount what you did minute-by-minute. Instead, you reflect back on accomplishing a project, presenting information effectively and making a sale, or even hearing back about a budget issue, etc. Managing yourself implies you know what to do next and you’re ready to engage. Mentally, flip-forward to the end of the day and ask yourself, “What are some of the things I’d like to have done?” Think of big accomplishments, little ones and everything in between, and then see if you can set yourself up so that when things go weird you focus on taking specific actions.
  2. Reprogram your breathing. It only takes 10 deep breaths to consciously change your breathing, which in turn changes your mindset and calms you. This practice is performed in biofeedback sessions the world over, and can be done right at your desk or workspace. Breathe in slowly for five seconds, and then out for another five seconds. Repeat this 10 times and note how you feel. This small relaxation technique might be just what you need to clear your head and move on to your next task.
  3. Change your scenery. If a schedule change or a productivity misstep leaves you frazzled, sometimes you just need to walk away. Stepping away from your computer to take a walk around the block or to get some water can refresh your energy to your pre-thrown-for-a-loop levels. If a physical change isn’t possible (or you feel pressed for time), try switching up your tools: If your task is creative, for example, try writing with a legal pad instead of using the computer. Or, combine these two suggestions by printing out your latest draft of a project you’re working and taking it with you to an area of your workspace where you can see sit in a comfortable chair or look out a window.
  4. Reach out and vent. Getting rid of the negative vibes that unforeseen circumstances create can be a recipe for renewal. Sometimes all you need is a five-minute conversation with a trusted friend or colleague to vent your frustration. Just be sure to keep it brief (so as not to ruminate, causing further negativity), and be careful not to disclose any confidential information. With your mind purged of all your reactionary feelings, you’ll have made room for positive feelings about how to readjust your day.
  5. Take a TV timeout. Before you get the wrong idea, I’m not suggesting you make some popcorn, put your feet up and watch a movie marathon to escape (and ignore) your frustrations! Rather, think of how athletes are required to take a quick break in the action during live sporting events; make it mandatory for yourself to tackle a task that you can easily achieve in two minutes or less: Send a couple of follow-up emails, make a phone call or archive some files. This will not only allow you to quickly shift your focus to another topic, but it’ll also give you the confidence you need to get your head back in the game.

Try any of these five techniques, one at a time, and see which resonates with your work process. Allowing a break in focus when you need to re-calibrate, refocus and reengage in what needs to be done next on any given day will elevate your productivity status — and your mindset — from sabotaged to successful.

Once you’ve mastered these, try taking things to the next level: step outside your comfort zone and start a new project that you may have been putting off because it seemed challenging or overwhelming. You’ll realize that even if you experience setbacks along the way, you’ll be prepared to not only face them but to move on and achieve something great.

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Jason Womack

About Jason Womack

Jason W. Womack, MEd, is the founder of www.WomackCompany.com, a productivity-training firm based in Ojai, Calif. He also founded www.TimeToGetMomentum.com to coach a global community of business leaders in the skills necessary to thrive in business and in life. Womack is the author ofYour Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More(Wiley, 2012).