We all have off days where we just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and by the time the evening rolls around, it doesn’t feel like we have to show for it.
While some days will always be better than others, there are plenty of small things you can do to improve your day – whether it’s by boosting your mood or making sure you get more done.
From practising gratitude to limiting distractions, here are 14 ways to set yourself up for a more productive day.
1. Get up earlier
Getting up earlier is one of the best ways to get more out of your day – and when we feel like we’re being productive, we tend to be happier too. If you look at the daily habits of some of the most successful people in the world, almost all of them have one thing in common: they get up early!
One of the great things about getting up early is that it’s usually a quiet time; the phone doesn’t ring, emails haven’t started hitting your inbox, and the streets are quiet. It’s one of the best times to practise self-care, whether that’s meditating, exercising, or setting some intentions for your day over a cup of tea.
If you’re not a naturally early riser, or you’ve always found it difficult to get up in the morning, you don’t necessarily have to start setting your alarm for 5am! Just setting it half an hour earlier to give you more time and help you start your day on the right foot. Though if you want to affirm your belief in why getting up early can benefit your day, you might want to read the bestselling book by Robin Sharma, The 5 AM Club.
You might also find it helpful to try the Alarmy app – an app that makes you prove that you’re awake before it will stop ringing! You have to do certain tasks, such as shaking the phone, doing a calculation, or taking a picture in a certain spot in the house. Many of the tasks are free, though there are a few that you have to pay for.
We can all benefit from making exercise part of our daily routine. Aside from its obvious physical benefits, regular exercise can relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and give your self-esteem a real boost.
Exercise also doesn’t have to take up much time. Studies show that just seven minutes of high-intensity exercise can improve muscular strength, insulin sensitivity, and oxygen uptake.
If you’re getting up half an hour earlier each day, spending that time exercising is probably the single best thing you can do to have a better day. Research suggests that exercise has such a profound effect on happiness and mood that it’s an effective way to treat depression – and when those endorphins kick in after exercising, it’s almost impossible not to feel better than before.
To get some ideas and inspiration for the sort of thing you might like to do, why not check out the fitness and exercise section of our website?
3. Be thankful
Starting the day by being thankful is a small step that can have a big impact. A positive attitude has a knock-on effect on how you feel, and deciding that you’re going to be happy and have a good day can soon make it become a reality.
One of the best ways you can kickstart that positive attitude is to find things to be thankful for and think about them in the morning.
Why not try practising gratitude as you get ready for the day? No matter what you might be going through right now, there are always things to be grateful for. They could be big things, like being healthy or having friends and family you love, but they could also be small; the beautiful morning light coming through your window or the taste and aroma of a warm cup of coffee.
To find out more, have a read of our article; How practising gratitude can lead to a happier life.
4. Smile more
Another small thing that can have a surprisingly big impact on how you feel is simply smiling more.
When we smile it’s usually because we’re happy and it causes the brain to release dopamine, which makes us feel even better. Research suggests that smiling and happiness are linked by what’s called the ‘facial feedback hypothesis’, where your facial expressions can affect your emotions.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to walk around with a fake smile on your face. Studies show that if you smile as a result of a positive thought – for example, a funny memory or thinking of a special holiday – your mood can be lifted. So, next time you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning, smile. Smile at people you see in shops and on the street, watch them smile back, and spread the positivity.
5. Plan your day
A great way to get ready for the day is to create a plan of attack. If you’re working, which tasks do you want to cross off first; if you’re at home, what household chores or errands are you going to tackle first?
Once you have a list, make sure you check each task off when you complete it. Not only can this give you a sense of accomplishment, but it can also give you the momentum to keep ploughing through.
It’s important not to be over-ambitious here; think about how much time each task takes and avoid making your list too long. If you end the day with a bunch of tasks still outstanding, it’s easy to feel disappointed, even if you managed to cross off your most important jobs.
6. Limit distractions
In our hyper-connected world, distractions are all around us. Whether you’re working or at home, it’s really important to create your own boundaries and avoid interruptions.
Digital distractions are one of the most common barriers to happiness and productivity. Each time we’re interrupted when we’re in a flow state, we lose our train of thought – and studies show that it can take almost 25 minutes for our brain to fully focus again.
If you’re at work, it’s best to let your colleagues know when you don’t want to be interrupted. If someone asks you to pop into a meeting and it’s not necessary, don’t be afraid to say no.
Even if you’re relaxing at home, it’s important to limit distractions. If you’re watching TV or reading a book, try turning your phone on silent or leaving it in another room. It’s much easier to get lost in a book or film when you’re not checking your phone every five minutes!
7. Go outside more
Unless the weather is really miserable, it’s always a good idea to spend more time outdoors.
According to studies outlined in Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage, people who spent just 20 minutes outside in good weather saw an improvement in their mood, broadened their thinking, and improved their working memory.
Even if you’re busy, try to go outside for at least 20 minutes each day. If you’re doing work, it’s even more important to take a break, as it helps your brain and body to recharge and allows you to reset for the afternoon. Walk to a local cafe for lunch, take the dog for an extra walk, or simply go for a brisk five-minute walk around the block to stretch your legs.
8. Help other people
You might think that to feel happier, you should focus on yourself – but actually, helping other people is one of the best ways you can make yourself feel good.
According to research, the optimal amount of time we should spend helping others is 100 hours per year, which works out to two hours a week.
There are many small ways you can help other people. Reach out to a friend or family member who’s having a bad time, check in with an elderly neighbour, volunteer at a local charity shop, or donate food and possessions to those in need. Not only will this make you feel like you’ve achieved something, but it will also help to enrich your life.
A study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that when people spent money on someone else rather than on themselves, they felt significantly happier – both after spending the money and after thinking about it later too. According to happiness and wellbeing expert Martin Seligman, “kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.”
To get started, why not check out our article; 17 meaningful ways to help others and give back to your community?
9. Celebrate small wins
As well as checking off tasks from your to-do list each time you complete one, you should take time to really notice when you achieve something, no matter how small it is.
If you’re working, this could be finally replying to all your emails or completing a particularly frustrating task. If you’re at home, it could be cooking a delicious meal or getting through that big pile of ironing.
Even if you don’t tackle everything you want that day, remind yourself of all the things you did achieve. Don’t be too hard on yourself and if something didn’t go to plan or frustrated you, try to let it go. Peace of mind is a major contributor to happiness, and you can’t find peace of mind if you’re constantly criticising yourself.
10. Use empowering language
The language we use can have a significant impact on how we feel about our day. Try to avoid negative thoughts and thinking about the things that haven’t gone as planned – and instead, look to challenge your thoughts and develop a productive attitude. When you’re thinking or talking to yourself, focus on the solution rather than the problem.
For example, if you’re concerned about how much you have to do, use phrases like, “I need to do X and Y. What’s the best way to get things done?” Or, if you’re feeling stressed, rather than focusing on the negative feelings instead, ask yourself, “What’s causing this stress and how can I better manage this situation? What can I do to improve things?”
Try to choose to use language that encourages you and supports you rather than making you feel bad. One way to get into the habit of doing this is to start practising self-affirmations. If you’d like to know more about this, have a read of our article.
11. Make time to relax
No matter how busy you are, it’s important to make time to relax. Whether you like to spend your relaxation time listening to music, watching TV, taking a long bath or cooking up a delicious meal, it’s essential to give yourself space to switch off.
If you’ve had a productive day, this is even more necessary; it acts as a reward, and helps you relax and recharge so you can have another productive day tomorrow.
It’s a good idea to spend some of your relaxation time with friends and family, as research shows that this can have a powerful effect on our happiness. Ask your loved ones to pop around for dinner or a drink, meet a friend for a stroll, or simply call up a family member and enjoy a good catch up.
We’ve already mentioned meditation in this article – but it’s such a key ingredient to both happiness and productivity that it deserves its own point. Many of us know that meditation can improve focus and alleviate stress and anxiety, but it’s also effective at boosting happiness.
According to Harvard happiness expert Shawn Anchor, meditation doesn’t only relax you in the moment, but it can also make you happier in the long run: “Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, heightened awareness and empathy. And research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness.”
Many studies suggest that regular meditation is the single most effective way to improve your quality of life. It can take time to master, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.
To find out more, you might want to read our introduction to mindfulness.
13. Get a good night’s sleep
We all know that sleep helps the body and brain recover and repair – though it’s incredibly important for happiness too.
When you’re busy, it’s easy to go to bed too late. However, when you don’t give your body the rest it needs, it won’t function at its peak and you’ll find yourself running on empty. Most people need between seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
Multiple studies show that when people are sleep deprived, it doesn’t only affect their memory, it also affects the type of memories they store, and how reactive they are to negative emotions like fear or anger.
Getting a good night’s sleep can also have a big impact on how you feel when you wake up and affect how you perceive things, how happy you feel, and how productive you are – for the whole day.
For tips and advice on getting good quality sleep, you can visit the sleep and fatigue section of our website.
14. Embrace ageing
Ageing has its pros and cons, but one big positive is that many people seem to become happier.
There’s no definitive answer for why this happens, but experts believe it’s down to the fact that older adults tend to focus more on happier memories and thoughts instead of negative ones. Just check out some of the responses from Rest Less members when asked what they enjoy most about ageing.
Other studies show that as we get older, we tend to get better at seeking situations we know will make us happier, and avoiding ones that won’t. For example, if we have friends who often drag us down, we simply stop spending time with them. Letting go of frustration and disappointment becomes easier too, which, in turn, makes focusing on happiness and well-being easier.
So, if you’d like to become a happier, more positive person, there’s a good chance you’re already on your way to becoming one. Our article, 9 healthy ways to embrace ageing, also has some tips that might help.
There’s no single ingredient to becoming happier and more productive; rather, there are multiple small steps you can take that will collectively make a difference.
Most of these steps don’t require much time – only intentions. For example, to get up earlier, use that extra time for exercise or meditation, smile more, think positively, and choose to empower yourself rather than put yourself down.
More good news is that taking the steps above and adopting these practices won’t only mean you have a happier, more productive day – it’ll also have a knock-on effect on your whole life too.