You can admit it. Everyone has an unproductive day at work once in a while. Maybe you weren’t motivated, your computer wasn’t working or you got into an argument with a co-worker. You could have been multitasking. When 3 or 4 p.m. rolls around, you may realize your task manager is fuller than when you walked into the office. Nothing’s crossed off and people have given you more to do, meaning tomorrow will be hectic.

You only have one goal: to bounce back from your unproductive day at work. Luckily, you can still make the last part of your afternoon count and do a few things to start tomorrow off on the right foot. All you have to do is follow these five steps.

1. Use the Pomodoro Technique to conquer the Zeigarnik effect

You need to get down to business, so it’s time to use the famously-effective Pomodoro Technique. Italian for “tomato,” Francesco Cirillo developed the process as a student. He used a timer shaped like the fruit to measure 25-minute study periods followed by five-minute breaks. Though not ideal in every situation, the technique is best for overcoming procrastination.

Above all, the pomodoro technique will help you get half-completed tasks off your plate before going home. This is imperative for being efficient after an unproductive day at work. The Zeigarnik effect dictates that your mind will be overwhelmed by incomplete jobs. Most importantly, you won’t be able to focus on new tasks until you complete the ones you already started. The pomodoro technique will help you reach peace of mind as you finish what you started. This mental clarity is crucial for following the next step.

2. Sleep as much as possible

Yes, even at work. Just got out of a meeting? A 40-minute nap helps you remember new information up to 85% better. Plus, people show increased activity in the brain’s right hemisphere, which is the part associated with creativity, at rest. But the real magic of sleep also happens at home. It may sound hard, but go to bed about an hour earlier than normal. 

Physically, you’ll feel recharged. An American Academy of Sleep Medicine study describes what happened to Stanford University football players after they increased sleeping times. By fighting the effects of sleep deprivation, they set personal bests in sprinting speeds. Feeling physically fresh is a step toward being productive. Just think about how unproductive you are with a cold or headache.

Mentally, you’ll feel creative. Researchers at Harvard University link REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which is the deepest sleep stage, with creative problem solving. They gave every participant a workday to study problems that demanded creativity. Some also had time to nap before answering them. The ones who reached REM sleep performed 40% better than those who couldn’t and those who didn’t nap at all. Sleep well and you’ll be surprisingly creative after an unproductive day at work.

3. Start the next day with a mood anchor

Many people have certain foods, drinks, clothes and even songs that “anchor” them in a productive mood. Think about what you typically do when working exceptionally well. Are you wearing a certain style of shirt? Are you sipping on a coffee that’s made a certain way? Once you realize what your mood anchor is, use it to start your day. It should help you get down to business. Ideally, you’ll soon find yourself completing task after task. Though scholars have debated the validity of the discipline which the technique comes from, many people swear by the effectiveness of the technique itself. It’s certainly worth a shot.

4. Take breaks to ensure you don't have an unproductive day at work

Working harder doesn’t mean working smarter. Instead of compensating for yesterday’s poor productivity by powering through eight straight hours of work, take a few breaks like you do with the pomodoro technique.

Even 20- to 30-second breaks are beneficial. They can relieve neck, back and chest pain. They also help heal eyestrain from staring at a computer screen, according to a 2003 study by ergonomics scholars Rana Balci and Fereydoun Aghazadeh. Stretching while you’re away from your computer is relaxing, too. A study that was done more than 15 years ago shows it improves your mood, helping efficiency and concentration.

Of course, breaks can involve more than relaxation. Have a healthy snack. Nuts and seeds are loaded with vitamin E. They have antioxidants that delay cognitive decline. This is because antioxidants, which you can also get from blueberries, protect your brain from cell-damaging free radicals. Your brain also depends on glucose from food such as raw carrots.

5. Improve your office

If you’re still having trouble, you can try a short-term solution. Get away from your desk and take whatever you need to work. You may be more productive in an empty conference room or even a nearby coffee shop. Getting away from where you couldn’t get anything done puts the poor part of your day in the past. You should feel energized as a result.

But you should keep in mind a long-term solution, which is improving your environment. Your normal location may hinder your workflow more than you think. For example, temperature is crucial. Studies say Europeans and North Americans perform best when their offices are about 22 C. Removing sources of air pollution like dirty patches of carpet can also boost work speed and accuracy. Even daylight and office ventilation are linked to productivity.

Don’t be afraid to approach management – or whoever maintains your building – about these issues. Efficiency and productivity are the keys to success for you and your team. After all, you should prevent an unproductive day at work any way you can.

What are your tricks to rebound from an unproductive day at work? Tell us in the comments below!