Why Managing Your Mood Is the #1 Key to Your Productivity

Why Managing Your Mood Is the Key to Productivity

Cheer up! You'll be more productive...

Yesterday, my productivity was in the arse.

I woke up late, barely made it through my morning routine, and then procrastinated all day long. Needless to say, I felt like shit at the end of the day.

Ever happened to you?

Yup, I thought so.

The question is,

“How is it possible that we’re so productive on some days, but can’t get anything done on others?”


Turns out, it might all come do to our mood.

Let me explain…

NOTE: Be sure to download 7 additional productivity hacks at the end of this article to get even more done in less time. (it's free)

How Your Early Day Mood Influences Your Entire Day

Got up on the wrong side of the bed?

A new study suggests it may completely kill your productivity.

The researchers looked at the importance of mood for employees at the start of the workday. Here’s what they found:

The employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt for the rest of the day. If you’re in a great mood in the morning, you’re likely to stay in a positive mood - and vice versa.

The study also found that mood had a strong effect on the employees’ performance. A good mood generally resulted in an improvement in their quality of work. A bad mood, on the other hand, meant the employees worked less and produced lower quality work.

In other words, if you start your day in a terrible mood, chances are your entire day will go to shit. If you start the day in a great mood, your day might turn out highly productive and overall enjoyable.


  • Good mood = improves productivity
  • Bad mood = lowers productivity

And there’s more…

The study also found that turning a bad mood into a good mood is easier and happens more frequently than the opposite.

So, turning a bad mood around is more likely to happen than losing a good mood.

And once you’re in a great mood, you’re unstoppable.

This means the key to a productive (and enjoyable) day is your mood early in the day…

…which begs the question:

What is responsible for your mood in the first place?

THIS Is the #1 Key to Your Mood

Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, studies how people and their performances are influenced by everyday life situations in organizations. She has analyzed over 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees in seven companies and found something remarkable:

Making progress on a meaningful goal feels great and is highly motivating.

It’s something she’s coined as The Progress Principle:

“Through exhaustive analysis of diaries kept by knowledge workers, we discovered the progress principle: Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.”

Let me repeat that:

Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.

Making progress - even a small win - on a meaningful goal (in her case meaningful work) is the #1 key to your mood and thus your productivity.

Experiencing setbacks, on the other hand, is terrible for your mood and productivity.

“Unfortunately, there is a flip side. Small losses or setbacks can have an extremely negative effect on inner work life. In fact, our study and research by others show that negative events can have a more powerful impact than positive ones.”

Progress fuels performance while setbacks destroy it.

Let’s see how we can use this principle to get more productive…

2 Ways to Make Use of the Progress Principle, Boost Your Mood, and Supercharge Your Productivity

Quick recap:

  • Making progress on a meaningful goal skyrockets your mood
  • Experiencing setbacks, en contraire, destroys your mood
  • The better your mood, the more productive you are
  • Going from a bad mood to a good mood is more likely than vice versa
  • Once you’re in a great mood, you tend to stay in that mood for the rest of the day

So how do we make use of this?

We do it by investing in our early day mood.

The goal is to make as much progress while experiencing as few setbacks in the first few hours of the day as possible.

This allows us to create a positive mood which fuels our productivity for the entire day.

Here are 2 practical ways to do that:

#1 Start Your Day Running. Make as much Progress in the First few Hours of the Day as possible.

Here’s the key to making this work:

You want to absolutely dominate the first few hours of the day. Be as productive as possible and make that all-important, mood-enhancing progress on meaningful goals.

Whether you feel like it or not, get as much done as you can. Don’t hit snooze. Don’t waste time. Don’t put things off. Don’t wobble.

This ensures you get that awesome sense of accomplishment. You’re in motion. You’re moving. You’ve got momentum. You’re feeling great.

“An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion.” - Newton’s First Law

You get the point.

So how do you make it happen?

By planning your day the night before and following that plan no matter what.

This allows you to plan the first few hours of the day for working on meaningful goals. Making progress on those goals in turn boosts your mood and makes the rest of your day more enjoyable and productive.

Instead of getting up clueless, losing time wondering what to do, and ending up doing unimportant stuff that’s urgent or convenient, you actually get up determined and make mood-boosting progress on your important goals.

Planning the day the night before also takes the thinking and decision making out of your morning. This allows you to proceed on autopilot and save precious willpower.

Let’s look at two potential scenarios of a good vs bad start to the day…

Mood-enhancing-and-productivity-boosting morning:

  • Get out of bed right when your alarm goes off (progress #1)
  • Go through your morning ritual without hesitation (progress #2)
  • Eat a healthy breakfast (unless you’re fasting) (progress #3)
  • Arrive at work early (progress #4)
  • You know exactly what you’re going to work on
  • You get important work done and make meaningful progress on your most important project (progress #5)
  • It’s 10am. You’ve had a great start to the day. You already made great progress on an important project. You feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Your mood is great and so is your productivity for the day.

Mood-destroying-and-productivity-sucking morning:

  • You hit snooze 3 times before finally crawling out of bed (setback #1)
  • You rush through your morning ritual but don’t have time to get it done completely (setback #2)
  • You rush to work and eat a bagel on your way there (setback #3)
  • You arrive at work late, already feeling stressed out, exhausted, and cranky
  • You have no idea what you want to work on right now
  • You check email, Facebook, and read some news (setback #4)
  • You decide to “do some work” that feels convenient instead of working on what you know you should be working (setback #5)
  • It’s 10am. You’ve had a miserable start to the day. You snoozed, fucked up your morning routine, ate a shitty breakfast, and wonder what you’ve been working on so far. Certainly, you haven’t gotten anything meaningful done yet. Your mood is in the shits and so is your productivity for the day.

Yes, the first morning version is more time-consuming, requires some preparation, and requires a certain level of self-control.

The benefits, however, far outweigh those initial costs in my opinion.

Investing in a productive morning pays tremendous dividends in terms of productivity and enjoyment for the entire rest of the day.

Now a quick note to my fellow procrastinators…

What if, at any time during those early morning hours, you just don’t feel like working on those meaningful goals? You’re struggling. You can’t get yourself to do it. The resistance starts overpowering you. What now?

My advice would be this:

Do NOT, under any circumstance, procrastinate in the morning.

I know, I know… easier said than done (believe me, I know!).

But here’s what happens if you procrastinate early in the day:

You give in to feeling good and distract yourself with something else, hoping you’ll feel more like doing it later on.

One hour later you still don’t feel like doing the work. Your mood already gets a little bit worse because you’re not making any progress. Plus, you’re starting to feel guilty for procrastinating.

You procrastinate some more.

Another 30 minutes later, same picture:

You still don’t feel like being productive. Your mood is going downhills fast and the feelings of guilt are starting to get stronger and stronger.

Do you see where this is going?

Procrastinating in the morning leads to a few disastrous consequences:

  • You don’t get any meaningful work done
  • Your mood starts to take a nosedive because you’re not making progress
  • You start feeling guilty for procrastinating
  • Your mood gets worse and worse
  • Your productivity for the entire day is in the shit

The problem with procrastination is it comes back haunting you sooner or later.

And if you do it in the morning, chances are it’ll fuck up your entire day. (This has happened to me many, many times… and it still happens every once in a while.)

The point is:

Invest in those early hours of the day, be disciplined, make as much of that mood-boosting progress on meaningful goals as possible, and then ride that wave of productivity and bliss all day long.

2. Record and Celebrate Your Small Victories

You’re probably aware of the brain’s negativity bias.

It’s basically your brain’s mechanism of fading out all the positive stuff and just showing you the negative.

You could do 99 out of 100 things right, yet your brain would focus on the 1 thing you did wrong.

That’s a problem when it comes to your mood.

During the day your brain will fade out all the good stuff you’ve done on that day. Instead it’ll show you the setbacks and all the negative stuff. Needless to say, the brain’s negativity bias negatively influences your mood.

One way to combat this is to keep a list of all of your little accomplishments on that day. Instead of focusing on what didn’t go so well, you focus on what you did well.

This shows you the progress you’ve made, gives you a sense of accomplishment, lifts your mood, and thus improves your productivity. (It also gives your self-esteem a boost and may even change your brain.)

Here’s what an accomplishment list may involve:

  • Meditated first thing in the morning
  • Completed my morning ritual
  • Arrived on time at work
  • Finished small work project XYZ
  • Finally found a solution to problem XYZ
  • Cool conversation during break with Peter
  • Ate a healthy lunch

On the contrary, heres what your mind generally focuses on:

  • Not too motivated for work today
  • Feeling a bit tired
  • Would rather do something else
  • Just wasted 5 minutes checking my Facebook news feed
  • It’s already 11am and I haven’t gotten anything done yet
  • Peter looked at me weirdly during the break
  • I don’t feel like working. When’s lunch?
  • Ugh, I’m feeling tired
  • Blah, blah
  • I’m such a loser
  • More blah

Just write down your accomplishments on a piece of paper or record them in an excel file or your smartphone. I’m sure there’s an app for that.

Sum up

Quick summary:

  • The better your mood, the more productive you are
  • Once you’re in a certain mood, you tend to stay in that mood for the rest of the day
  • Investing in your early day mood is therefore a great way to boost your productivity
  • The #1 thing you can do to boost your mood is making progress

2 ways to make the most of these facts:

First, start your day as productively as possible. Be disciplined and push hard. The more progress and the fewer setbacks you experience early in the day, the better your mood and the higher your productivity.

Second, keep a daily accomplishments list to outfox your brain’s negativity bias. The more you acknowledge your progress (small wins), the better your mood and the higher your productivity.

And there you have it. That’s the science of mood management and productivity.

So what do you make of this? Think investing in your early day mood is a good idea? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading.

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Nils Salzgeber

Nils Salzgeber is the author of two books and co-founder of the popular NJlifehacks blog. He is passionate about anything that helps him become a more peaceful, productive, and loving version of himself. After quitting university twice, he has recently gone back to get a psychology degree. Nils lives in Thun, Switzerland.

  • Melly says:

    THANKS for the great advice! Sounds really logical and makes total sense. I’ll start with my accomplishment list tomorrow 😀

  • Moe says:

    Awesome Post! I like to work with a task system I created in Trello.com that has an Inbox section which gets all my tasks I can think of and color code them according to priority. Based on the priority, I pick max three tasks that must be completed and only work on these tasks for the day. If I finish a task quick, I just add another task from the inbox. The feeling of completing a task and moving it to the finished column is great and it gives a sense of accomplishment as I get closer to the finish line. If you want to know my setup, let me know.

  • Corey Tat says:

    I completely agree with you by celebrating the small wins. Often we try to hit the homeruns and strike out. The homeruns are nice, but I find that I am most motivated when I am able to consistently string a series of small victories together followed by a reward. This keeps my brain fresh, keeps me motivated, and I am able to stay way more productive. Thanks for the article!

  • Shawsh says:

    Cool Blog.

    Also am gaming addict (you never get unaddicted – just know how to taim your monsters), also procrastinator (got better, still learning), also not heroin addicted.

    I sometimes use music to manipulate myself – e.g. listen to fantasy music to force myself to draw (which I like, but often am not in the mood in even though i enjoy it), listen to motivating soundtracks like Hans Zimmer to motivate myself to do the crappy, little work for the big picture and so on.

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