Last month, I would say that everything was firing on all cylinders. By that, I mean I knew exactly what I was doing. And, I was getting those things done. Here are ways to get back on the productivity rails when you fall off.
As a result of getting things done — I felt super-productive. But, then, just like that, it was gone. It was most likely a combination of reasons, such as watching too much news and losing sleep over business concerns.
Whatever the exact cause, my routine was shattered. I couldn’t focus. And, I welcomed distractions since they were an excuse not to work.
Definitely not good. But, before things got worse, I used the following five tactics to get back on the productivity rails quickly.
1. Schedule habits into your life.
“Our habits form our character and drive our lives,” notes Francisco Sáez, founder and CEO of FacileThings. “They consistently—and often unconsciously—are reflected in our daily behavior and our response to any situation. Ultimately, our habits are what define how efficient or inefficient we are.”
In short, when it comes to personal productivity, it’s all about habits, such as:
- Surrounding yourself with the right tools and people.
- Establishing a morning and evening routine.
- Not always grinding it out.
- Decluttering your workspace.
- Trimming down your to-do-list.
- Being physically active.
- Leveling up your skills.
- Reflecting and learning from mistakes.
- Learning how to delegate and outsource.
But, to make these habits stick, you need to first schedule them into your life. And, according to James Clear, there are two ways to achieve this.
Option 1: Put in your calendar.
“Want to get back on track with your writing schedule?” he asks. “9 am on Monday. Butt in chair. Hands-on keyboard. That’s when this is happening.”
“Want to bounce back with your exercise habit? Give yourself a time and place that it needs to happen,” Clear adds. “6 pm every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’ll see you in the gym.”
Option 2: Tie productivity to your current behavior.
“Not all of your habits will fit a specific time frame, but they all should have a trigger that acts as a reminder to do them,” Clear states.
“Want to floss? Every day after brushing your teeth. Same order, the same way, every time.”
“Want to be happier?” asks Clear. “Every time you stop at a red light, tell yourself one thing you’re grateful for. The red light is the reminder. Same trigger, same sequence, every time.”
“The bottom line is this: it might be nice to tell yourself that you’re going to change, but getting specific makes it real and gives you a reason and a reminder to get back on track whenever you slip up.”
“Soon is not a time, and some is not a number,” he writes. “When and where, exactly, are you going to do this? You might forget once, but what system do you have in place to automatically remind you the next time?”
2. Conduct a self-audit.
“People tend to develop behavior patterns that they repeat, often without realizing it,” says Lyn Christian, founder of SoulSalt Inc. “By noticing your own bad habits, you may recognize how to pull yourself out of a rut and get back on track.”
How can you go about this? Christian recommends asking yourself the following questions:
- When has this happened before?
- How is this time similar to other times?
- Is this indeed a pattern, or is it a singular incidence?
- How many times a year does this pattern play out?
It’s always important to remember that “when you’ve gotten off track, it’s not always self-inflicted,” she adds. “You also have patterns in how you respond when life throws a wrench into your plans.”
“You can apply these same questions to audit your patterns of reacting to change and crisis,” adds Christian. “Are you proactive or reactive? Do you overreact and panic, or shut down and do nothing?”
Since most of us have difficulty being honest with ourselves, we should seek feedback from others. It could be your spouse, best friend, business partner, or mentor.
“Ask them to share their impressions,” advises Christian. “If you sense the cause of things going awry is a bigger deal than just a coincidence, find a professional, such as a coach or therapist. They “can assist you in breaking harmful patterns.”
The main takeaway? If you want to turn things around, don’t just do it by yourself. “After all, if you could have turned things around on your own, you probably would have already.”
3. Don’t put yourself down; build yourself up.
It is incredibly easy to beat yourself up — particularly when it comes to losses, mistakes, or performance. It’s also the case when we aren’t as productive as we would like to be. I think we’ve all cursed at ourselves when we’ve procrastinated or failed to meet a deadline.
But, why are we so hard on ourselves?
“The problem? This creates a snowball effect “until you don’t really know who you are or why you are doing what you are doing,” adds Dr. Cleere. Even worse? If this becomes the norm, “you’re coming from a fixed mindset and will never be good enough or able to enjoy what you are doing.”
Instead of being unkind to yourself, use setbacks as learning experiences that can help you grow. Preferably, focusing on what went right and what went wrong.
Additionally, find ways to rebuild your self-confidence. Some ideas to try out would be:
- Reflecting on past accomplishments.
- Telling yourself every day to “awesome.”
- Learning something new and sharing it with others.
- Surrounding yourself with a positive support system.
- Enhancing your existing skillset.
And, most importantly, start being kinder to yourself. “In research studies, people who have greater levels of self-compassion tend to be more motivated, less lazy, and more successful over time,” notes Susan David. One way to cultivate self-compassion is by ending the tug-of-war inside yourself.
This simplest means not viewing emotions and experiences as either “good” or “bad.” So, the next time you face “a challenging emotion like sadness or disappointment,” don’t berate yourself. Instead, say, “I’m feeling sad.”
And, follow that up by asking, “What is this sadness a signpost of? What is it pointing to that’s important to me? What is it teaching me?” advises David.
4. Make a change.
Want “a simple and effective way to spur your productivity?” asks Angela Ruth in a previous Calendar article. “Well, why not spruce up your workspace? After all, your workspace has a direct impact on your productivity.”
That actually gels. I mean, how productive are you going to be if you’re working “in a dark, dingy basement?” Or, if “you’re surrounded by piles of paperwork and empty coffee cups?”
And, that’s not even getting into distractions like the TV, noisy housemates/co-workers. “No wonder that 46% of professionals indicated that their existing workspace influenced their productivity,” adds Angela.
The good news? Even if you’re on a limited budget or don’t have too much room to work with, there are ways to spruce up your workplace. Examples include:
- Purchasing ergonomic furniture.
- Organizing and eliminating clutter.
- Personalizing your workspace with art and photos.
- Introducing live plans.
- Choosing the right colors. For example, blue affects your mind.
- Embrace natural lighting, keep the temperature between 68-76 degrees Fahrenheit, listen to white noise, and adding aromas.
Besides shaking up your workspace, you might want to change-up your schedule. In a perfect world, your schedule would be based on when you’re most productive. So, if you’re a night owl, it doesn’t make sense to force yourself to wake up at 5 am.
5. Strip away complexity.
Have you ever tried to lose weight, only to get derailed? It happens to most of us. After all, it’s a challenge to overindulge or work out less during the holidays or summer vacation.
What’s your response to this, however? Do you immediately plan to hit the gym two hours each day and try out every diet until one stick? The thing is, trying too much too quickly is unrealistic and overwhelming — which means you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
The same is true when it comes to your productivity. Rather than overdoing it will tools and hacks, go back to the basics and work yourself up from there. Getting back on track might be something as simple as prioritizing your time, turning off your phone, or single-tasking.