There are many reasons we might have a less-than-productive day, and I don’t know about you, but when I have one it tends to produce quite a bit of guilt with the occasional twinge of self-loathing. In fact the guilt over not getting anything done can actually make things worse, affecting your health and potentially setting you up for another less-than-productive day because you’re so busy feeling shitty about all the stuff you’re already late accomplishing.

Sometimes it’s just a single day. Our intention is to work, but at some point we escape into social media or television for just a little break and then half the day disappears! (Hulu has NOT been a gift to my productivity.) But sometimes it lasts much longer than a single day lost. Whether it’s because of catching a cold, dealing with a long-term chronic illness or having a mental health struggle….the days we battle to get work done can create a domino effect of unproductivity.

It may not be a pretty topic, but I’m here to share in all the nitty-gritty with you.

Perhaps it’s a day you’re just feeling down-and-out, and perhaps it’s something deeper than that. Mental health is a deep, dark secret of the start-up world, and has always had a lot of stigma, though thankfully that’s starting to lift.

Add to that days when the flu strikes or  ‘con-crud’ (that vague cold sickness after traveling to, and attending a big event) is going around and there ends up being a variety of ways a solopreneur can be brought to a screeching halt.

It may not even be something ‘negative’ that has kept you from knocking out that to-do list! Maybe you finally take a vacation or you lose a day to being in-the-flow on a new project. A day (or more) can also disappear when life is good and you’re busy living it up.

There are many paths to an “unproductive” day…but regardless of why, the important thing is to find a solution that takes the weight of worry off you.

I’m a big believer in finding ‘tricks’ to get past any mental blocks I’ve got. Developing repeatable triggers for situations that happen frequently in your life means less energy spent figuring out a solution every time. Plus you’ll get a bit more emotional buoyancy if you’re not beating yourself up, which will result in a quicker come-back in every way.

The single most useful trick I’ve used for overcoming guilt over a less than productive day is this…

Pick 3 ‘small’ things or 1 ‘big’ thing and make that the whole of your to-do list for the day.

The important thing is to pick something that will actually contribute to your business moving forward. Not just busy work, or procrastination, but something that will have a concrete effect. Examples might be…

  • Respond to one client with information about your services & how you can help them.
  • Write one blog post. Work in short bursts of 10-15 minutes. Publish whatever you end up with.
  • Schedule social media for the next week with a service like Edgar or Hootsuite.

Creative work can be the hardest to do, but it is possible. Even if you only get an outline, that’s good foundation work for another day. Getting through a task that’s important to your business but isn’t a brain-drainer (like scheduling social media) is something to knock off your to-do list so you won’t be distracted by it once you’re back on track.

It may not seem like much and I understand it might take awhile to let go of the guilt of not getting more done. But this is one of those occasions that I think focusing on the positive plays a huge role.

What does this do? A few things…

  • When you finish those things, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.
  • There’s a chance that once you see that you’re able to get those things done, you might feel inspired to do more.
  • But if you don’t, if “all” you achieve that day is what’s on that list, then you can release yourself from the flagellation that so many of ourselves subject ourselves to.

“Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow.” – Doug Firebaugh