How to Stay Productive When Everything Goes to $&@%#

Takeaway: A few weeks ago, I broke my ankle traveling overseas. For a couple of weeks my productivity was shot, but what worked better than anything else to get me back on my feet was setting intentions for what I accomplished every day, meditating, and training my brain to think more positively—by recalling three things I’m grateful for every day, reliving a positive experience at the end of the day, and exercising.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes, 0s.

Flyingfeature
Flying home from Dublin

 

The beautiful thing about studying productivity is that I am always learning. This felt especially true when, a couple of weeks ago, everything went to $&@%#”.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip to Dublin. With my new book in the works,1 my intention was to take a week to create some mind space; to relax in the countryside and let interesting and new thoughts percolate to the surface while hunkering down on the project.

Jewellery
My new jewelry

One evening, while hiking back to the Airbnb I was staying at, I tripped on a cobblestone sidewalk and broke my ankle. It was late at night and I was stranded there for about three hours, alone; my cell phone battery was dead and I couldn’t stand, let alone walk back home.

After lying down for what felt like an eternity, some passersby’s heard my calls for help and came to my rescue. What followed was the exact opposite of what I expected from my trip: a stay in a foreign hospital, stressful discussions about whether or not I was covered for insurance, and restricted travel mandates from the doctor. Thankfully, all ended as well as could be expected: after three nights in the hospital, my insurance covered the care I needed and I was able to make it home on a fancy First Class ticket—after some reconstructive surgery on my ankle, of course.

It’s hard enough to be productive when everything is going well—never mind when you’re recovering from a serious injury. Fortunately, though, the injury taught me quite a bit not just about productivity, but about how to stay productive when everything goes to $&@%#”.

A few weeks after the break, I’m beginning to feel much better, and have way more mental and physical energy in the tank to get stuff done every day. But in the middle of my injury, I discovered three tools that helped me more than anything to get back on my feet and become productive again: working with intention, meditating, and training my brain to think more positive.

 

1. Intention

I think creating intentions, even small ones, is key to productivity.

Definition: Productivity

achieving what you intend to accomplish

It was a struggle to feel productive while I was lying in a hospital bed, in a foreign country, with all kinds of uncertainty swirling around me. To manage during this time, my first instinct was to create the simple, small intention of walking around the hospital ward for at least two to three minutes each day. The completion of these little jaunts did wonders for boosting my mood, mainly because I felt great about accomplishing what I intended to—which is what productivity is all about.

This idea harkens back to a practice called The Rule of 3 that I started doing early in my A Year of Productivity project. With the practice, every morning you simply write down the three things you want to accomplish by the end of the day, and you do the same every week. Over time, I’ve found that the ritual isn’t only powerful because it helps you step back and think about what to be productive on—it’s also powerful because it helps you work more intentionally every day and week.

After breaking my ankle, my intentions were necessarily smaller because I had less energy to do them with, but after the first few days I began to feel great once I could accomplish what I intended to every day and week.

Injured or not, working intentionally is one of the best things you can do for your productivity.

 

Huge props to my Airbnb hosts and my buddy Harry Guinness for taking care of me after my injury. The people in Ireland are incredible.
Huge props to my Airbnb hosts and my buddy Harry Guinness for taking care of me after my injury. The people in Ireland are incredible.

2. Meditation

If you are a regular reader you may know that I love to meditate; not in a hippie-dippy, spiritual way but in a way that helps me focus my attention on what I’m doing in the moment. Meditation has become my best friend during my recovery.

As with any hardship, the stresses of my injury and the events surrounding it left my brain overwhelmed, swamped, and somewhat defeated. Meditation has worked better than anything else I’ve found to clear away that brush and react more positively to the unexpected.

I think productivity is more of an art than a science, partly because it’s impossible to predict the future and the positive and negative events that it will bring. But when the unexpected does happen, and you’re not able to accomplish what you had intended to, meditation will help you more than anything to help you get back on your feet.

And if you’re already feeling great, it will help you that much more.

I can't hit the gym while I recovery, so I picked up these babies. Highly recommended, though they'll set you back a bit!
I can’t hit the gym while I recovery, so I picked up these babies. Highly recommended, though they’ll set you back a bit!

 

3. Training Your Brain

As corny as “positive thinking” sounds on the surface, training your brain to think more positive is one of the best things you can do for your productivity. As Shawn Achor explained in his brilliant TED talk, research shows that “your brain in a positive state is 31% more productive than your brain in a negative, neutral or stressed state.” Simply put, happier brains are more productive.

A practice I’ve had for a year or two has been to recall three things I’m grateful for at the end of every day; a tactic I first came across in Shawn’s book, The Happiness Advantage. It’s a simple tactic, but Shawn’s research has shown that over time, the gratefulness ritual rewires and trains your brain to be happier and more productive. He has found the same to be true for recalling a positive experience at the end of every day, exercising, and meditating—all things I’ve done every day since my injury.

I have no idea where my head would be at today if I didn’t do these things daily.

Unexpected hardships come in many forms—whether they’re physical, emotional or financial—and while it’s pretty much impossible to stop the unexpected from happening (that’s what makes it unexpected!), it is possible to deal with the things that come up productively.

Living and working with intentionally, meditating, and training your brain to think more positive are the best tools I’ve found for the job.


  1. This is why I’ve been cranking out so few articles lately! 

  • I was wondering what was going ono, trying to piece together all your snap chats! Glad you’re okay. There are definitely lessons in everything, and I am really impressed with how you made the most of even something like this! All the best.

    • Thanks so much! Not the easiest of hurdles to jump over, but luckily there are some good tools out there for the job!

  • I tripped over my dog’s leash last August and broke my hip. The result was learning how to walk again, now with intentionality and purpose. The physical translated into mind-think, and the realization of how much I took for granted. Much to be thankful for. Our bodies are amazing! So are our brains. Looking forward to the book.

    • Gah! It’s funny, I immediately noticed gratefulness kicking in after the injury, as well. When I was flying home, one of the things the stewardess said was that I should see the injury not as a curse but as a blessing, and that completely flipped how I looked at it (as corny as it sounded at the time). Plus, since the injury I’ve discovered using dictation for writing, and have an excuse to eat more takeout! Haha.

  • Gaurav Vohra

    Great post. Hope you get better soon!

  • Amanda Miles

    Great article although sorry to hear about your accident, choosing our attitude is so powerful yet why do so many of us forget it!

  • Artem Shramko

    Thank you for another great article!

    Funny fact is that I had exactly the same experience with an ankle being broken exactly at the same place when I was 15. It was only my second week in the US (I was an exchange student from Ukraine at that time) and I broke my ankle during a soccer game. In a way I’m even glad it happened, because it kind of forced me to read a lot and helped to improve my English incredibly fast and get to know some English classics lol. Sad I couldn’t read your article back at that time :)

    I just wanted to say thank you for what you are doing! Your project inspired me about becoming more productive and I already see how my life gets better because of implementing some of things you wrote about. You are doing a great thing!

    P.S. Your blog is getting really popular among students in Ukraine :D

    • Hey thanks so much man, that means a lot!

      I think I’m going to look back on this as a positive experience overall, too; there’s no way I would have discovered using Dictation for writing or have so many meals catered to me by my girlfriend if I weren’t feeling 100%! Plus, being housebound for several weeks has let me dive deeper than I expected to into my book, which feels incredible. I think on a certain level, happiness is nothing more than coming to terms with how things change, and that definitely applies here.

      By the way, I have some cool changes coming to this site in the next few weeks that I think you’ll dig—especially to make older articles more accessible, since I’m cranking out less of them these days. Stay tuned :-)

  • i_like_macs

    I suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) and have limited health. I think your article could help me manage my disease. Living with purpose, mindfulness, and happiness are important. Thank you very much for writing a simple but effective article Chris!

    • Thanks so much! I’m happy you found it valuable :-)

  • Tegan Gordon

    Thanks so much for the article! I read it when you first posted and have been implementing your suggestions. Meditation and exercise have been so important in clearing my mind. The positivity concept was also interesting. After diving deeper, I found Shawn Achor’s “positive reflections” (taking time to think about good things that happened in the day) to be an effective alternative to the worrying I usually did.

    I have been doing “3 Intentions” at the start of the day (along with 3 Gratitudes)… and I’m not sure I’m doing it right! Can you pleas elaborate a bit on your process of intention? What does that mean, and how is it different than tasks or a to-do list? What do you do throughout the day to remember them or stay on track?

    • So sorry it’s taken me a bajillion months to respond! I like to think of my intentions as things I’ll want to have accomplished by the end of the day—sort of like three “wins” I want to have by the time the day is done. For me, they’re often overarching goals that my smaller to-dos fit into. For example, today I made just two: finish two presentations I have to give in a couple of weeks, and schedule a blog post to go out this morning. I hope that helps, and is not too late!

      • Tegan Gordon

        Not at all!! Thank you for the clarification. Still in Chicago, reading your blog and attempting my own life of productivity. :)

  • kevin pruett

    Thank you this helps a lot. Just broke my leg the other week and have benn looking for a way recently to start feeling more positive and productive.

    • Awesome to hear you found the post helpful! The whole recovery process isn’t a ton of fun, but it does go by pretty quick when you invest in your happiness and sanity at the same time :-) Best of luck in your recovery my friend!

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