Step by Step: How to Stay on Your Game When Your Day Goes Off Track

How to stay on your game when your day goes off trackYou’re halfway through the day and nothing has gone as planned.

You had it all mapped out – when to do what. You were going to get it all done. You even gave yourself meals and left room for evening reading!

What next?

This depends on whether you have a deadline. If you do, you will blow right through your self-care time and scheduled bedtime and straight into all-nighter-land. Or at least late-night-land. Which makes us very, very cranky. (Please tell me it’s not just me!)

If you don’t have a deadline, you may be tempted to take the rest of the day off, giving up on your plan altogether. There are plenty of emergencies to keep you busy.

In all likelihood you will fall into the bottomless Facebook/Pinterest/Instagram pit and emerge out of there at the end of the day, covered in guilt because you eventually gave up on the emergencies but forgot to tell yourself to go take a real break.

But what if you want to avoid the dark pit of procrastination?

First off, there is no saving grace for the overstuffed schedule – it’s doomed to make you feel as overwhelmed as ever.

But even if you did try to reasonably divide your time and anticipate interruptions, it’s pretty impossible to be exact even with the best intentions.

Some days will go right as planned. Others will derail to a state of flow where getting shit done becomes your middle name (how do you know the G in my name doesn’t stand for that? Hehe)

And then there are those where half the day just seems to get sucked into Facebookville or someone else’s burning problem.

Let’s strip it back to the basics!

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. How much time do you have right now?

There are 3 types of answers here, and that will determine what you will work on:

  • more than half an hour (can make some headway on important creative projects)
  • less than half an hour (time to do admin or prep work, brainstorming, write a listโ€ฆ)
  • 10 minutes or less (just take a breath and meditate! Or finish something – anything youโ€™ve left undone: pick up stuff lying around, do the dishes…)
Step by step

It’s important to ย not let the “more than half an hour” turn into “half the day”. Unless you’re doing something that easily turns into flow and requires days to complete, like coding or design, you’re looking at 2-4 hour max stretches of uninterrupted focus.

Even when our day is completely free, there are always other things pulling us away. Adjust your expectations accordingly. Unless you have a huge deadline and are ordering delivery, you need to leave plenty of time for dinner, errands, e-mails, even engaging in Facebook groups!

2. What’s the most important task I should be working on right now?

If you have less than 30 minutes, focus on something that’s more urgent, or knock out some quick tasks on a project – e-mails, names, etc.

If you have more than 30 minutes, focus on the big task that would move your forward. Make progress on a guest post, prepare a course, write a chapter.

But don’t let it take all day.

After 3-4 hours max, you’re done with that task (unless it’s something you can easily focus on for such extended periods of time). It’s time to switch up!

If you’re working on a big project be sure to record the ideas that come to mind when you’re not working on it – but don’t spend more time than you have to! You don’t want it to become an interruption.

Tip: Set an alarm to ring when you need to be done! That way you can focus without constantly checking the clock.

3. What’s the next step I need to take?

Once you’re clear on what you’re doing for the next while, it’s time to leave all perspective of time aside and focus only on the task in front of you.

If you need to write a draft, close out of anything else or use a distraction-free writer. If you need to send e-mails, be sure not to get sucked in by the internet when looking for that link someone asked for.

Until your time is up, you are “on”.

The only thing you are allowed to engage with is your work. Have your beverage and some snacks (if you need them and it helps you think). Take bathroom breaks when you need to. Play with the cat for 2 minutes. Otherwise, no distractions.

Let calls go to voicemail, or pretend you are in a meeting and call back later (during a designated calling and e-mailing time). Close out your e-mail and social media tabs. Put away your phone! (Am I asking for too much?)

When you finish a step, keep going if you still have time and brain matter left. If you need a change, try taking a (real, guilt-free) break, or changing what you’re working on. Doing the dishes seems to always jumpstart my ideas when I’m stumped!

4. How can I remove all distractions?

It’s not tough to keep yourself going once you’ve gotten started. Inertia is powerful, that’s exactly why this simple reset technique works so well.

But the really hard part is getting started.

That’s because it takes about 15-20 minutes to really get “into” something. It’s during those (painful and extremely distraction-prone) minutes that your brain finally adapts to the task you’re working on and gets the right wheels turning.

If it’s a particularly tough task your wheels may be on strike, so it may take longer to get started.

Procrastination gets 10 times worse if you’re concerned about your work being good. You should be concerned with working, and giving it your all – not just getting it done to get it done.

You are trying to put your best wisdom into a blog post – stop obsessing over whether or not it sounds “expert” enough.

5. What needs to change?

You will get more done during those 2-3 hours than in an entire day of dragging it on. And after those 2-3 hours of intense work (or even just half an hour), you may be on fire or you may be pooped.

Listen to your instinct.

Do you need to take a break? Do you want to keep going?

Tweak as you go to make sure you stay focused on the most important thing.

The magic of this technique lies in the simplicity of choosing a simple thing to think about or do. It doesn’t work nearly as well once you start mapping out the entire day all over again, knowing you’re probably too tired to keep up with it.

When I need a break I normally go “check our Facebook real quick” and, next thing I know, it’s an hour later and I’m not even feeling any less exhausted. I feel like a zombie who woke up from a coma. Not fun!

Before opening your procrastination weapon of choice, take a moment and ask yourself, What single thing would make me feel like a million bucks right now?

Listen to the answer and do what it says.

It’s that simple! ๐Ÿ™‚

Your turn to share.

Are you procrastinating or taking a break? What’s the task you should be working on?

I’ll keep you accountable ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  1. Hi Laura, Loved your post. So true – all of it! I normally am very focused on my work, but I’ve noticed as I venture into new areas that I get lost more often. I appreciate the awareness that there are those out there who understand this as well!

  2. Oh, great post- this used to happen to me all the time! I try and keep a list of tasks in my planner so if I have a free 10 minutes or so, I look there before I go to Facebook or some other time suck ๐Ÿ™‚ I used to let a derailed morning turn into a useless day, but I’m getting better about that!

    • Thank you, Suzi! What a great idea you have with the list of tasks. One of my most productive times was when all I had was a list of roughly categorized tasks for the entire week. I would just focus on crossing off more tasks instead of planning when to do what!

  3. Ouf – I needed this one! I’ll often go to bed with a crystal clear idea of what the next day should hold…and then I wake up in a funk and just aren’t feeling it. Super hard to come back from that – even after a few strong cups of coffee! I think I’m going to pick a few ‘quick win’ items to get myself started each morning, and then ride that momentum.

    • I hear you, Devon! Somehow we never feel as perky in the morning as we imagined we would the night before. I always try to start my day reading something inspiring and taking notes on the book, working through its exercises. I call it my “soul workshop”. I try to follow it with a creative session but either way it fuels a completely different mood. Thank you for joining the conversation!

  4. Thank you for the advice Laura. Actually I always get distracted by doing many things at once, which is not the best thing to do, because you don’t put all your effort in one thing and you perform less than you can, by doing one thing at a time. Also I never thought I could be productive in so little time like half an hour. I realized all I need is to better organize and manage my time. And buy a schedule board, so I can keep on track on myself! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Hi Laura, very good post. It also help we done what is most important to next things because this will help people are doing work to work and can’t stop because they don’t have right plan to do and see results. People must discipline done something and have priority task to work. Thank you!

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