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How to lose the day: the unproductive routine

7 habits of highly ineffective people

Successful people are often interviewed on their daily routines, time management and productivity methods. They share their tips and habits to a life of fulfilment, happiness and abundance. I bought my first book on time management at around 16 when I first realised my tendency to jiggle more than one thing at a time. At that time it was my demanding agenda in the highly competitive Mathematical school, private lessons in English and Math, classical ballet and guitar. Now there are other things. But the topic of productivity and efficiency has been a constant area of self-improvement for me ever since. I have tried and still use many of the known habits and routines - the 5 am club, bullet journaling, Pomodoro technique, time blocking, highlight of the day, to name a few. I know the ups and the downs inside and out. In this article I share with you the downs - the habits and routines that lead to the lowest productivity and to those days that just pass by and you have nothing to show for as a result. Backed by research and experience, here are several key lessons we can learn from a bad day so we can emerge victorious and satisfied the next one.

Bad habit 1: Skip on a good night sleep

Sleep deprivation is considered one of the most significant and overlooked public health problems in the U.S., according to the American Psychological Association.

Better sleep is a free of charge and safe treatment that improves memory, increases ability to focus, strengthens the immune system and decreases people’s risk of being killed in an accident. In a nutshell better sleep means a happier, healthier and safer day.

On the opposite, a bad day starts often with a bad night sleep. According to the psychologists all it takes to improve is to make sure one gets on average 60 minutes more sleep each night. So if you are a fan of Robin Sharma’s 5 am club for instance, go to sleep by 9 pm the day before so you can get your 8 hours of uninterrupted rest. Many would say this is impossible in the hectic times we live it. It feels so. But how many of us have tried to put all the screens away at 8pm? If you do, you might find that a good book will knock you out by 9:30 pm. If you find inspiring to know how famous people supposedly sleep, the good folks at have compiled these examples.

Bad habit 2: Don’t have a written plan and priorities

I am completely biased towards the extreme power of a simple “to-do” list. In an article published in the Journal of Graduate Medical Education, the scholars Schrager, S. and Sadowski, E. point to the so called “Zeigarnik Effect”. Bluma Zeigarnik was a psychologist from Eastern Europe, who in the 1920s conducted a study on the effects of a written plan - a.k.a. the “to-do” list - on productivity.

The study, as many others after, show that most successful people plan what they need to accomplish. It has been demonstrated that having a written plan of action increases productivity.

Bad habit 3: Plan to complete too many tasks for the day

Nowadays, plans can be made digitally in various apps - Evernote, Todoist, Notion.., or in a good old notebook. I still prefer the hand-written to-do’s and I often stick a classic light yellow post-it note in my Moleskin to see the most important tasks of the day. I use post-its as my experience has shown that too large a “to do” list without clear few priorities for the day lead to stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed - great friends to sisters Lady Procrastination and Madame Distraction.

From a YouTuber I like to follow - Ali Abdaal - I learned about the idea of “highlight of the day”, which he introduced from the book Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zepatski. They define the highlight of the day the following way:

“If, at the end of the day, someone asks you, “What was the highlight of your day?” what do you want your answer to be? When you look back on your day, what activity or accomplishment or moment do you want to savour? That’s your Highlight.”

They advise to chose as a highlight a task that takes 60 to 90 minutes and to book concrete time in your agenda to complete it.

Recently I have gotten also fond of the concept of a “done” list, but I will out some more practice and research to it before introducing it.

Bad habit 4: Have an unhealthy relationship with food

As I am not a certified dietician, not I possess any medical education or background, for this part I turn to verified sources and do not rely just on my experience, although it seem my experience does not deviate from what medical doctors would advise. According to Harvard Medical Publishing “stress eating is a verified phenomenon”. American Hearth Association say that food and mood have a clear effect on each other. AHA advise that there are long term mental health effects to eating well. They point out that research has shown that

healthy choices, like the Mediterranean diet can help keep depression at bay, stabilising mood and keeping you out of the danger zone where it feels like only a cupcake will save the day.

If you consider pasta, pizza and vino the classical Mediterranean diet, I regret to let you down. The real Mediterranean diet is a balanced mix of moderation full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Good news is that chocolate as special treat may too have properties that improve mood. But it is better to be dark and again, in moderation.

Bad habit 5: Give in to infinity pools of distractions

Morning shows the day - a variation of this proverb is part of the folklore of many nations around the world. Yet so many people, including me, are guilty of starting their days not looking into our own affairs, but catching up on other people’s lives. Simply put, we start the day on the screen, scrolling social media. Some of us even do this with the excuse that this way we are checking the news, falling victims to the FOMO phenomenon (Fear Of Missing Out). The same infinite pool of new pictures, posts and opinions pours throughout the day, always ready to fill the moments. A day of distractions is a bad day. Some people practice digital detoxes. They skip on news, or on social media, for defined periods like a week or a month. I find this as efficient as a diet. When one is one a diet, they manage to lose weight usually, but then risk the yo-yo effect. Same goes with the digital detox. After the restrictions, one easily comes to their own habits. What we need is moderation. It is best if you manage to set special times during the day to scroll away on social media and put it in the agenda. 30 minutes would be a reasonable time, 4 times less than the average 2 hours per a European citizen (based on data from July 2020).

Bad habit 6: Frown or have a quarrel

When you are smiling, the whole world smiles with you” - goes in the timeless classic in the deep voice of Louis Armstrong. According to the idea of behavioural mimicry, this statement is very consistent with the scientific research. If you smile, other people may be influenced to reciprocate. The opposite is also true. If a team leader enters a room (most recently, a zoom meeting) with a frown on her face, this mood is likely to quickly spread like a virus to the rest of the group. What we can do is what in lamers' words sounds like this: “Fake it till you make it”. According to Psychology Today

Facial feedback response theory holds that when you activate smiling muscles, you quickly release the neurotransmitters  responsible  for  the emotion  of  joy. This theory is based on the fact that simulation of an emotion can actually cause that emotion. People smile when they are happy, and, as it it turns out, people are also happy when they smile. It’s a simple act accessible to each and every single one of us.”

Bad habit 7: Fail to bring allies on board of your plan

Last, but not least, a great plan has a better chance of being completed when one has allies. Often to get an ally all you need is… just timely communication. You can create expectations on what you are working on, for how long and whether you need help in completing. I find the most efficient the rule I learned from one of my previous bosses - a very successful and accomplished leader, who always seemed to have time to do everything despite his busy schedule. His advice:

"Manage expectations. It's done by three things: say what you are going to do, do it and say what you have done”.

Many people, especially when they have lots to do, fail to share what they are working on. From other people’s perspective, they seem distant and hiding. Both sides are wrong and a timely communication can help resolve this misconception.

In resume in order to have a good day all you need is to go to bed on time with a good book, preceded by a light Mediterranean style dinner, to prepare a short and meaningful to you “to do” list the night before, to avoid infinity pools of distractions like social media and mindless TV, to share your plans with friends and colleagues and… to just smile. Any of those, separately or combined, may contribute to your victorious days.

Victory Corners 2020, by Viktoriya V. Blazheva


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