Ever wonder what makes you stressed and less productive?

I’ll tell you.

It’s having a lack of focus.

I’m not generalizing. It’s really that simple.

The twelve things listed below are all causes of stress that drain your focus. The only way to become relaxed and productive is by fixing these things one at a time and gradually improving. There is no quick fix, no magic pill.

The first two things, multitasking and instant gratification, are the two main culprits, from which the other ten things stem.

1. Multitasking

Men can’t do more than one thing at a time, but women can. Women are great multitaskers!

Wrong.

All multitasking is detrimental to your productivity and will quickly stress you out by draining your focus. When multitasking, you often get more stimulation than your brain can handle without getting tired.

The best way to stop multitasking is to quit cold turkey. You will notice massive positive results in a week or two.

Some more strategic and sustainable ways of reducing multitasking include preemptively shutting off your phone, limiting or removing your Internet access, keeping your door closed or locked, and making sure that you are not constantly snacking.

2. Instant Gratification

Instant gratification is closely related to multitasking. In both cases you are gradually conditioning your brain to need more and more stimulation, thereby increasing the threshold to the point where you can no longer keep focused for longer than a minute without having to check Facebook or your phone.

The most common forms of instant gratification include:

  • Social media
  • Phones
  • Youtube
  • TV
  • Music (Sure, there are exception, but let’s ignore the positives for now)
  • Sugar
  • Snacks
  • Masturbation
  • Drugs

Instant gratification is basically anything that gives you a quick boost of stimulation without having to put in any work beforehand. When engaging in too much instant gratification, you will have trouble focusing, as a result of having conditioned your brain into believing that it doesn’t have to work before it gets its reward.

This is the difference between watching TV and reading a book. TV is a passive medium that doesn’t require your mental engagement, whereas a book does. It is impossible to read without engaging the brain to a certain extent.

There is no easy way of quitting instant gratification. It is simply a matter of discipline.

3. Not Taking Short Breaks

Are you going beyond what you can handle in terms of optimal productivity because you paradoxically believe that you are being productive?

If so, try to taking a quick break for 5-10 minutes and then returning to your work. Here are a few things you can do to come back fresh:

  • Get some fresh air
  • Go for a sprint
  • Stretch
  • Tense your muscles
  • Drink a glass of water
  • Change your environment

It’s not rocket science, but it makes a big difference. Try it out!

4. Checking Your Email All the Time

Don’t check your email first thing in the morning. Especially not on your smartphone. Make sure you activate your brain and body and get yourself into an optimal state before doing anything else. Here are a few ideas you can experiment with:

  • Reading for 30+ minutes and taking notes
  • Meditating
  • Going out for a run or going to the gym

5. Being a Perfectionist

If you are trying to live up to a standard that is impossible to reach, how could you NOT be stressed out?

The main reason why perfectionism is harmful to productivity is because of the 80/20 principle, which is surprisingly accurate. This means that the final 20% of completing a task will usually take a disproportionally longer amount of time compared to the first 80%.

How to fix it?

  • Fail a lot. Fail on purpose. Learn that it’s perfectly fine to fail.
  • Ship before the product is completely ready. It hurts the ego, but it usually pays off in the long term.

6. Not Organizing Your To-Do List

If you are not keeping a to-do list or if you don’t have any means of organizing the tasks that you are going to do today, this week, or this month, then you are going to have a hard time staying focused on what to do, because no one can keep everything in their heads.

Some ways to resolve this issue:

  • Keep your to-do list on physical paper
  • Keep a calender or use Google Calender and sync it to your phone
  • Keep a commonplace book to store all your information
  • Buy yourself two whiteboards: one to keep track of goals and to-dos at home and another at work

Or, if you are already keeping a to-do list but it’s giving you more stress or less productivity than you’d like, here’s what you can do:

  • Shorten it. Most people overestimate their efficiency.

7. Not “Warming Up”

Have you ever heard about mental rehearsal?

It is like visualization, but more specific. It is a term usually associated with elite athletes. Mental rehearsal is when you see yourself doing exactly what you want to be doing. For a short-distance runner, this can mean seeing himself getting off to a perfect start and then winning the race. He sees himself doing all the motions in advance, thus becoming mentally warmed up and prepared to do it in reality.

Another aspect of “warming up” is that you can’t jump between activities without expecting to be a bit less productive. If you are acting in alignment with the 80/20 principle and focusing on the most important things, then you should definitely make sure you get “warmed up” and take responsibility for getting yourself into an optimal state for doing the task.

If you are not doing this, you are missing out.

Here are a few really great ways to “warm up” and get into a state of being highly focused on the task:

  • Before you know you are going to do something important, see yourself doing it first. Don’t divert your thoughts to other things that are not pertinent to the task at hand.
  • Every night before falling asleep, see yourself completing the tasks scheduled on tomorrow’s to-do list.
  • Tell yourself repeatedly what you are going to do next inside your head.

8.  Having Your Phone’s Sound and Vibrate Mode Turned On

If you keep your phone in an active state, you are begging to be interrupted, and interruption demolishes focus and thus productivity. It can take over 15 minutes to get back to a state of high focus after being interrupted.

What can you do about it?

  • Turn it off…

9. Watching YouTube Excessively

If you find yourself watching one YouTube video after another, perhaps it is time to set some serious  limits to your daily use.

Do this:

  • Block your connection to YouTube. Let a friend set the password.

10. Not Knowing How to Say “No”

If you say YES to every thing that comes your way, you will quickly become overwhelmed by tasks and social activities. You will become involved in way more things than you can handle in a productive and optimal manner. By doing this, you will end up doing a ton of things haphazardly rather than a few things well, and you will massively violate the 80/20 principle.

Here’s a word of wisdom from Steve Jobs for you to ponder:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

11. Postponing Priority One Tasks

Have you heard of the law of diminishing intent?

It states that the longer you postpone doing something that you feel like doing or know that you should be doing, the less you will feel like doing it.

Productive people respect the law of diminishing intent by acting on their key priorities right away and doing the less important things after that.

Do this:

  • As soon as you feel like doing something important you know you should be doing, DO IT!
  • If you don’t feel like doing it, but you are thinking about it, DO IT!

12. Feeling Like You Must Socialize

You don’t have to talk to people unless you want to. It’s OK to focus on your work or studies and keep your door shut. Actually, people are likely to respect you more when you do this, because it suggests that you have respect for yourself and value your time.

Do this:

  • Avoid speaking to people for a day
  • Shut your door
  • Explicitly tell people not to disturb you because you are busy

13. Attending More Meetings than Necessary

If find yourself attending too many meetings, you will inevitably become less productive as a result of being interrupted.

Perhaps this could have been fixed if you knew how to say NO.

Or maybe I am just jumping to the conclusion.

See also, 50 ways to increase productivity: 50 Ways To Increase Your Productivity

Featured photo credit: Young business man sitting in depression with hand on head via Shutterstock

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