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How to Handle Unproductive Days

A flow chart for what to do on those days where you just don’t have it.
COLLABORATORS Aaron Lynn, Preston Ni
How to handle unproductive days

Life would be so much better if you could just go back to bed on difficult days. Instead, you have to drink more coffee, grit your teeth, and face your responsibilities head-on.

Muddling through the workday is never easy, but it might be easier if you follow this flow chart that Aaron Lynn recently posted on AsianEfficiency.com. In it, Lynn (@aaronlynnme) identifies eight common causes of unproductive days. For seven of the eight, he offers a corresponding set of next steps: Some are short-term fixes; others are long-term. But the eighth one has no recourse.

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.”

So, let’s say the reason for your unproductive day is what Lynn calls “depleted willpower.” The short-term fixes are “wait until tomorrow,” “break/nap,” and “nootropics,” which is a fancy word for legal drugs (coupled with the requisite disclaimer about checking with your doctor first). The long-term fixes are “energy management” (eating, sleeping, and exercising properly) and “downtime and renewal” (getting enough time off).

Granted, none of what he suggests is revolutionary. But it’s a helpful reminder that the reasons for having a bad day — at least the ones within our control — usually aren’t that complex. A short nap or a quick walk can go a long way toward making them bearable.



One of Lynn’s long-term fixes for feeling “overwhelmed” is improving your e-mail management. For a primer on how to reduce the stress of an overstuffed inbox, we suggest Preston Ni’s article in Psychology Today, “Too Many E-Mails? 7 Tips for Successful E-Mail Management.” Our favorite: “Answer your e-mails not individually, but in batches.” In other words, if you have coworkers who send many messages a day — related to subjects that are not time-sensitive — answer them only once.

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