Even those of us who purposefully set up productive systems and practice good habits struggle sometimes with getting off track. We are human, after all. (That’s part of why I ask this question of every guest, “What do you do to get back on track on a day when everything gets away from you?”)
Getting back on track when your productivity slips
In this episode we discuss getting back on track after you’ve fallen off the productivity wagon, including helpful suggestions from past guests.
What causes us to get off track?
Any event out of the ordinary can throw us off our stride and interrupt our usual routine. For example, an illness occurring in yourself, a family member, or a friend. Even physical changes in our body can change our routine, such as a pregnancy or perimenopause. Big events in our lives such as weddings, divorces, graduations, the birth of a new baby, etc., can throw us off track too. These kinds of events can add new responsibilities and commitments to our lives which can disrupt our routines. Sometimes emotional events, such as a child leaving home or situations within your family can cause you to abandon your usual habits. And finally, unexpected bad news or the loss of a job (or starting a new job) can also greatly affect us.
What can we do to get back on track?
Give yourself grace
A day or week or month of not getting stuff done isn’t a negative reflection on who you are as a person or your value. As Puja Madan (TPW – 119 Balancing Time & Energy) reminded us, “A bad day does not mean a bad life.” What you do matters, but you are not what you do. Productivity itself isn’t an end goal. It’s a means to an end, a way for you to get a life that matters and achieve your goals. Being productive and getting things done is what gets us there.
Take care of yourself
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like things are out of control, self-care might seem like a waste of time, but it’s crucial. You’ve often heard that you can’t take care of anyone or anything until you take care of yourself. This is true!
Get some rest – many of our guests have said when they’re in this situation one of the things they do is take a nap, or go to bed early. It’s nearly impossible to evaluate the situation rationally, let alone come up with good solutions, when you’re exhausted.
- In episode TWP158-Ruthless Prioritization, Michelle Pfennighaus stated that she has realized how important how she eats is to how she feels, so eating right and getting enough sleep are top priorities for her.
- In episode TPW269-Boundaries, Helen Wright shared her tool of taking a “well-being day”. This started when she was feeling really run-down one day after not having taken a vacation for a while. She took a day off, sat in a cafe and read a book, got a pedicure, and went shopping. Basically, she did things she used to do before having kids and had some “me time” to re-charge her batteries.
- In episode TWP152-Making Time for What Matters, Sonia Harris states that she gives herself permission to not worry about what she was supposed to be doing if her day goes off track. Life happens to all of us, and we have to keep that in mind. Instead of filling every moment with back-to-back commitments, we can simplify and learn to say no when it’s appropriate; this then gives us room to function when things fall apart.
Assess your situation
What feels “off” to you? When you say you’re “off track,” what does that mean? Does it mean your home or workspace is out of order? Is your calendar out of order? Perhaps you’ve missed appointments or been late to events? Or is too much going on so you’re feeling overwhelmed, rushed, and exhausted? Your physical well being and health may be declining, perhaps from not eating right or missed workouts. Perhaps an important goal or project you have been working on has been stalled.
In episode TPW128-A Productive Life on Your Terms, Kesha Moore says if she’s feeling anxious, that’s a signal that she has allowed herself to get too busy. So, she examines how she can get out of some obligations that are making her feel stressed and create some white space in her life. She reconnects with her “why”, and asks herself what kind of person she wants to be.
When it comes to feeling off track, think about your situation and assess what is really causing you to feel this way. But as you do this, consider how bad things really are. Are things really that out of control? Maybe you are just being to hard on yourself. You might not be progressing at fast as you would like but is everything really such a disaster?
Get back to basics
Take a few deep breaths and calm your mind.
In TPW146-Productive Days, Shelly Clayton says she has learned to counteract that derailing by implementing a breathing exercise to help her to relax. She even uses it sometimes when she’s driving. For a long time, Shelly felt she couldn’t implement meditation successfully, but she found a guided meditation that is a series of podcasts led by Mary Maddux. The meditations vary in length, so she’s able to customize which episodes she meditates with depending on what’s going on that day (i.e. tiredness, give yourself more grace, etc). She’s found those to be extremely helpful at recentering and weathering the remainder of the day.
In TPW283-Presence and Productivity, Mayda Poc said sometimes she’ll take a walk outdoors to clear her head.
In TPW137-Personalizing Your Systems, Freya Casey mentioned she does the same. She says that being in nature grounds her, and helps her understand how small her problems are, and how she should enjoy God’s beauty and understand that He’s in control.
Get some perspective
In TPW296-Deconstructing Wellness, Kris Rice said when things start to get out of control, her first instinct is to try to control everything. One of the biggest lessons she has learned is to learn to step away. She’s discovered that if she steps away and focuses on something else for a while, a “re-set” occurs and things start to get back on track.
In TPW164-Self-Direction, Maria Bengtson says she chooses to disengage for a time when things get out of control. She might go make some tea, take a walk, and get away from whatever she is doing at that moment. She might call a friend or get out of the office.
In TPW290-Incremental Steps to your Goal, Merrily Orsini talked about a day that got away from her and how she got back on track. Her approach included eating something healthy and going for a hike before digging in to the work she needed to do. She reminds us that the positive simply has to overcome the negative to survive.
Re-establish a sense of control
Sometimes we stall because we feel like things are out of control. Once we’ve taken a step back and gotten some perspective, we can find ways to control what we can, even if it’s something small, like simply getting dressed, tidying up your home, or cleaning up your workspace. (But try not to let yourself get sidetracked by trying to make everything perfect!)
Re-connect with your “why”
Get out a pen and paper and do a little bit of thinking. Remind yourself of your guiding principles and what it means to make a life that matters.
In TPW128-A Productive Life on Your Terms, Kesha Moore says when things get out of whack she will sit with her “vision,” and examine why she is doing everything she is doing. Each year Kesha makes a vision board, and periodically during the year she just needs to sit there, look at it, and meditate. This allows her to reconnect with her purpose. She can cut some things from her schedule that are not central to her mission, which helps her to get back up and keep trying.
We are really good at identifying the things we do wrong. Give yourself credit for what you have done, even if it’s just surviving a difficult situation.
In TPW134-Using Your Powers for Good, Amanda Berlin says she is most stressed when she feels she hasn’t shown up as the best version of herself. When that happens, it’s important to her to regroup and consider what did go well that day. She tries to remember those moments when she has felt fulfilled and proud of herself. She remembers her Mom quoting Gone with the Wind, and saying, “Tomorrow is another day.” It’s a valuable thing to remember. The stakes are not that high, and tomorrow is another opportunity to show up in a way you are proud of.
Write down everything you’re stressing about
It’s important to get this all out of our heads and onto paper.
In TPW113-Being Present and Productive, Alissa Smith states that if she is feeling overwhelmed, she sits back and thinks about what is making her feel that way. Is it her mood, her health, a personal challenge, or lack of motivation? She’s learned to take it easy on herself at those times. She tries to take a break by listening to some music, doing a yoga sequence, grabbing lunch with a friend, having some tea, or even sitting in the sun for a few minutes. She will allow herself a half-hour to relax and then feels like she can get back into work.
In TPW266-Simplicity and Flexibility, Natalie Rodriguez says that when things have gone off the rails, she tries to figure out what’s causing her to feel that way. When that happens, she simply takes out a piece of paper and writes down everything that’s in her mind, prioritizes the items, and starts tackling the first thing on her list.
In TPW272-Fill Up Your Cup, Dallas Heath says she prefers to talk to someone, but if she can’t talk these things through with someone she trusts, she’ll write it out in her journal. It helps her to process it.
Think about the habits that have served you well but that you have dropped over time. Which ones can you reinstitute now?
Now that you’ve taken time to breathe and get perspective, identify what has gotten you off track, maybe even journaled, and taken some time to reconnect with your “why”, it’s time to identify a place to start. Don’t feel overwhelmed because you can’t do everything at once.
How do you decide where to start though? What’s the first thing you can do that will have the largest impact?
In TWP193-Insights from The Organized Soprano, Kay Patterson said she likes to choose the biggest task on her list because she feels most accomplished when she’s done the hardest thing. She can then use that momentum to power through the rest of the list.
What are some easier ways to start your momentum, or the smallest task you can complete to start heading in the right direction? Maybe clear off one countertop, go for just a 10-minute walk, or spend 15 minutes prepping for a work project. Don’t spend a lot of time agonizing over the right way to begin, just pick something and do it. Set a timer and get going! As Alissa Smith said in episode 113, “We need to give ourselves permission to just start, and do that one little bit.” It’s okay to ease your way back in too, as this may be overwhelming. Maybe just spend 30 minutes a day to get yourself going.
Ask for help
Having a support system can make a huge difference. Moral support, encouragement, and practical help is important.
In TWP143-Managing Multiple Roles, Jennifer Fleury talks about the importance of having people you can rely on for support and encouragement. She recommends having someone who can calm you down, listen, and help you.
Puja Madan said in episode 119 that she felt she needed to do everything for herself, but she has realized that asking for help is essential. If she assumes the help isn’t there, then she will never know. She loves having that support with her business and her family and she is always surprised and honored that people will reach out and help her. Puja suggests that women struggle with receiving, but not with giving, and she reminds us it’s important to keep those energies in balance.
We need to receive with deep gratitude and grace.” ~ Puja Madan
In TPW140-Optimizing Your Schedule, Katie Krimitsos says what helps her to get back on track is to talk with someone she trusts–her sister, her business coach, her accountability partner, or her husband–for support. Talking through her frustration makes it seem less horrible and helps her get some perspective. She tries her best to work through it and find a sense of relief, and then just be in the moment, accepting it for what it is rather than fussing because it’s not what she planned it to be. Katie says one of the things that has helped her the most is “planning for the unplanned, and letting that be okay.”
What do you think?
When the day (or more) gets away from you, what do you do to get back on track? Please share your questions or thoughts in the comments section below this post or on The Productive Woman’s Facebook page, or send me an email.
Resources & Reminders
I’ve recently been honored to be a guest on a couple of other podcasts you might enjoy hearing:
- Power to Live More, hosted by Jo Dodds of the UK. This podcast is aimed at business owners and leaders and is all about Productivity, Organisation, Wellbeing, Energy and Resilience (POWER). You can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts or listen via her website.
- Wellness While Walking, hosted by Carolyn Cohen. Carolyn’s podcast is aimed at delivering inspiring, interesting, and funny news and stories about health and life for listening to while you walk! Our conversation was published in 2 parts, Episode 21 and Episode 22.
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Royse City, Texas