How to Hit the Reset Button on a No-Good Unproductive Day


You know the kinds of days I’m talking about. The days we wake up, pour a cup of coffee, and suddenly it’s 11am and where did the morning go? The days when it’s dark, cold, raining, and we’d much rather huddle under the duvet watching the latest Netflix craze than get up and do our daily creative practice, let alone anything else. The days where it feels like we’ve sat staring at our computer screen forever and are making zero progress towards that important thing we needed to do today.

These days happen. We can set up our lives in a way that makes them less likely, but they still happen. Maybe we’re feeling under the weather or didn’t sleep so well, perhaps we’ve over-committed, or maybe we’re just experiencing a little analysis paralysis around all the things we want to do.

Whatever the case, the day isn’t over until it’s over. If you want a do-over, here are a few simple but effective ways we can hit the reset button on a no-good unproductive day:

Cleanse your to-do list

I used to thrive on to-do lists, but they mean nothing if you’re writing the same old uncompleted items day in, day out. When I’m in a rut, experiencing unproductive day after unproductive day, I know I usually need to throw everything on that old list out and start again with things that matter.

In his book Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about doing a “core dump.” This involves taking a blank sheet of paper and spending 10 minutes writing everything that’s on your mind right now. This includes things you need to do, things you need to remember, commitments, ideas, things you’d like to try, things you need to pick up from the supermarket—everything. If it’s in your head, get it down.

Then, divide this list into the different areas of your life (I keep it simple, starting with “Work” and “Personal” then creating sub-categories and projects from there). Start with 1-3 most important things on your list; that is your to-do list for today.

Create a “to be” list

Doing is only part of the equation. And we don’t “do” well unless we’re in the right frame of mind. One way to hit the reset button is to create a “to be” list instead.

What qualities do you want to embody as you live and work today? Perhaps these include:

  • Patience

  • Tenacity

  • Open-mindedness

  • Lightness

  • Flow

  • Ease

  • Focus

I find it helpful to focus on positive objectives rather than what I want to avoid. For example, “keeping my eyes on my own work” instead of “not comparing myself to other people.” Even with “not” in front, the focal point is still the comparison. It’s like if you tell yourself “Today I will not think of a white bear” you’re immediately thinking of the white bear. If you’re having an unproductive day, start focusing on what you do want rather than on what you don’t.

Do that one thing you’ve been putting off/dreading

Most of us have these things: the personal habits we’ve been meaning to start or restart since forever but have yet to actually do; an email we really need to respond to; a looming deadline that seeps into our thoughts at every available opportunity; that favour we said we’d do but never got around to.

Those things take up mental space. They are the piles of old magazines in the corner, the dirty cups and plates left untouched by the sink, the “miscellaneous” pile of old mail and packaging you said you’d sort out later three months ago.

Just as those things all take up space and offer distraction in our physical environment, they do so in our mental house too. Every time we think “I should really do X,” that’s time and energy we’re wasting thinking about X without actually changing anything. We might justify not doing X because we don’t have enough time or have other things we need to do. But we often end up spending more time thinking about X than it would take just to do it.

So just do it. Ride that wild donkey. Get it done. Think of all the mental and emotional space you’ll free up as a result. Think of what else you could spend that time and energy on. It might feel uncomfortable, complicated and difficult but more often than not it’s not as bad as we think it will be. The more you can hit the reset button when you notice the “shoulds” creeping in and just do what you’re thinking about, the easier it will become and the less unproductive days you’ll have. We both know you will feel so much better afterwards.

Take back control

Do you control your day, or does your day control you?

In reality, the answer is always the former, but it’s easy to get caught up in feeling like we’re living the latter. If you feel you’re living at the mercy of your to-do list, your commitments or other people’s wishes, it’s time to hit the reset button internally and recognise you’re not.

There is nothing you have to do. Sure, there are undesirable consequences to not doing certain things, but you still have a choice. For everything you’re telling yourself you have to do, stop and switch it to “I want to” or “I choose to.” Does that sit right with you? If yes, why would you want or choose to do these things? If not, why not?

The more you feel like a victim of your circumstances, the less likely you are to change them. When we’re in this place emotionally, we feel helpless and out of control so we act like we’re helpless and out of control, which creates a vicious cycle. We end up like a castaway, sitting in a little rowing boat with no paddles, being tossed in whatever direction the waves take us.

No one is dictating your schedule and your commitments but you. Remember: you the captain of your ship. Where will you steer it next?

How do you hit the reset button on a no-good unproductive day? Leave a comment and share your suggestions.

 Photo by Sara Farnell on Unsplash