How To Be Functional & Productive
A scene from Her (2013). Design by the author.

The best moments of my life (so far) have come right after the worst ones.

I topped my college a couple of years after my teacher cum mentor passed away. I met the woman I love right after the worst and most complicated breakup of my life.

Even my online writing career took off after two unsuccessful jobs and two failed business ventures.

Things go south! And sometimes, it drags us down with it.

There’s nothing you can do about it.

Usually, when life goes south, we need some breather to reorient ourselves. It gives us time to settle our nerves and see the bigger picture.

And if you are lucky enough, the problem takes care of itself by the time you get back. Or at least, it loses some of its intensity.

But we are not always that lucky. Also, your break can only last for so long.

So how do you get back to being not only functional but productive when your life is an absolute travesty?

Identify Your Problems

I’m not a fan of toxic positivity. It pushes you to:

• fake a smile when you are broken

• dismiss real-life issues that need acknowledgment

• make you feel guilty for having those problems

It doesn’t work. You don’t solve problems by ignoring them. You do it by understanding them.

So, the next logical question will be, how to detect your life problems?

It’s not that hard.

Just follow the smoke, and you will find the fire. Here, the smoke will be your negative emotions. It doesn’t even matter what negative emotions you feel. Anger, guilt, disgust, or frustration — they all speak.

So, don’t shut your inner talk while having such negative emotions. Listen to them. It will lead you to what it is all about.

Then we can move to the next part.

Define Which Problems Are Worth Solving & Which Aren’t

Not every squeeze is worth the juice. Not every problem is worth solving. If you want to stay functional, the sooner you learn it, the better.

A good rule of thumb is to separate problems worth solving from those that aren’t is to figure out which ones are resulted or can be solved by your own actions.

Problems you caused

For example, suppose you’re a chain smoker, heavy drinker, have unorganized eating and sleeping habits, and are lazy at your job. It will be fair to say that you can solve a good chunk of your life problems by getting your act together.

Yes, I know. It’s a social norm to deflect responsibility and blame others for our own self-destructive behaviors. But that won’t help you solve anything.

Then, there are the situations you didn’t cause, but you sure can solve.

Problems you can solve

For example, imagine being denied a pay raise at your job, despite delivering extraordinary performance. That’s a problem. And you didn’t cause it.

Now, ask yourself, “what steps can I take to solve this?” Consider all your options:

• Talk to a superior and ask for suggestions.

• Make an official application to HR.

• Complain if you find some misconduct.

• Switch companies for higher pay.

• Learn newer skills to bump up your value as an employee.

Taking constructive steps is far more effective than whining while dealing with such solvable problems.

However, there are problems you would not cause: nor can you solve. In such cases, it’s better to be accepting, let things go, and live guilt-free.

Set the Right Goals & Break Them Into Smaller Steps

Not all of our distresses are the result of external problems. A lot of it comes from our inner conflicts.

It’s not just that we are unclear about what we truly want. But it’s also about having goals that don’t align with each other.

I mean. If I want to be a high-paying lawyer in NY, it’s doable. But if at the same time, I desire the comfort and coziness of being with my family here in India, that would be in contradiction with my first intention.

And when you have such vaguely defined life goals that don’t align with your actions, intentions, and each other, you deny yourself a clear road to happiness.

At such a pace, even if you manage to get one goal (which is highly unlikely without a clear direction), you will still blame yourself for losing ten more.

So you can see. Setting your priorities right is essential to living a healthier, happier life.

Not only does it help you figure out what matters the most, but it also allows you to break your dreams down into smaller, more manageable goals.

Find Your Unfair Advantages

If you feel like others have unfair advantages over you, it’s so easy to get bogged down. But the thing is, it’s not just your feelings. It’s reality. People absolutely do have unfair advantages over you.

But that’s not as much of an obstacle as you make it out to be.

Here, let me put it as clearly as I can. You are not miserable because other people have unfair advantages over you but; because you don’t know your unfair advantages yet.

Let me explain.

Coming from a small town in a developing nation, I didn’t get the best education throughout my academic years. You can call it a legitimate disadvantage.

Do you know what my advantage is here? I don’t have a student loan. I learned most of the skills (earning me my living) from books and the internet, free of cost.

What more? I get paid in dollars and spend in INR. Last month, I bought a smart tv for $175 that you would pay for around $480 in the states.

How does it help? Being debt-free, paying lower taxes, and enjoying an overall cheaper living expanse allow me to save more and invest more.

What am I trying to say here? All our life conditions come both with their advantages and disadvantages.

The more time you waste feeling sorry for your disadvantages, the less time you will have to bank on your advantages.

Be Comfortable With Not Being in Control

And deliver your best regardless.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations:

You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

So, no. It’s not just toxic positivity. I also hate the new age hoax LOA. Why?

➊ They convince you that you deserve whatever you want. (When in reality, they are only saying what you want to hear.)

➋ They tell you their underdog stories. (Well-crafted lies to make you drop your guard.)

➌ They sell you pseudo-scientific magic tricks to manifest what you want. (When their BS schemes fail you, it gets so easy for them to put all the blame on you when you think you are in control of everything.)

Here’s something that I wish I had learned earlier in my life.

You don’t decide what you deserve and what you don’t. Life doesn’t treat you any different just because you think you are superior.

In the end, other than your own actions and emotions, you don’t control anything. And it’s okay.

As Ryan Holiday conclusively puts it in his book Ego is the Enemy:

In life there will be times when we do everything right, perhaps even perfectly. Yet the results will somehow be negative: failure, disrespect, jealousy, or even a resounding yawn from the world… but we must carry on. The less attached we are to outcomes the better. Do you work. Do it well. Then ‘let go and let God.


Don’t let your bad times keep you down for longer than necessary. Sometimes, it won’t change until you don’t act. So after some time, it’s crucial to be functional.

Is it easy? No. It’s not.

But it sure can get easier when using the framework I laid out for you here.

If you liked what you read here, please feel free to…