- Michael Thompson
An unconventional piece of productivity advice
Once, when a former manager caught me moping around the office during a rough day, he grabbed my shoulder and said, “Michael, go do something that doesn’t make you feel worse.”
I stared at him, confused. So he clarified: “Take 10 minutes and go outside to get some air. I guarantee you won’t come back into the office feeling worse than you do right now.”
In that moment, I very much disagreed. Stepping away was the last thing I wanted to do: I had just started at the company, and a potential client was breathing down my neck to get them a revised proposal as soon as humanly possible. Still, I did what he said.
When I came back into the office, I realized my boss was on to something. I wasn’t exactly beaming with happiness, but this shift from feeling miserable to just slightly annoyed was a massive improvement. I had my energy back. I could focus. A few hours later, my client signed off on the proposal.
This was a lightbulb moment for me: All of us will have stressful days. Bad things will happen, and people will do things that annoy us. But I realized that productivity isn’t about being positive all the time — sometimes it’s simply about figuring out how to be less negative. We don’t have to make stress, frustration, or anxiety magically disappear. We just need to do something that makes us feel less bad.
I’m no longer at that company, but I still often think of the lesson I learned there. I’ve even created a list of activities labeled “things that don’t make me feel worse” that I can turn to anytime I want. But I don’t pull out the list only when I’m in a rut—I look at it constantly.
Every two hours or so during my workday, I’ll choose an activity from the list. Sometimes I’ll follow the lead of my old boss and go outside for a few minutes to breathe. Other times, I’ll call an encouraging friend, do a few high-intensity exercises, or spend a little time cleaning up around the house. Making this decision to step away from my work when things are going well isn’t always easy, but the boost I receive keeps my energy levels flowing in the right direction.
Why not try it yourself? Trust me — you will not feel crummier if you walk to the kitchen to put away the dirty lunch plate that’s sitting on your desk. You might even feel slightly better.