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3 Harsh Truths About Your Productivity — and What to Do About Them

3 Harsh Truths About Your Productivity — and What to Do About Them

As the father of a four-year-old, I often find myself in conversations with other parents complaining they no longer have time to get anything done. They have to get the little ones dressed and fed in the morning, drive them to school, then bolt out of work to pick them up, shuttle them off to an activity and back home, prepare dinner, and finally get them bathed and into bed. Lights out. Day over. No time left to be productive. All right, all right — it’s usually me complaining. And I’m dead wrong.

Ready for some harsh truths?

How to Overcome 3 of the Real Reasons You’re Not as Productive as You’d Like to Be

1. You’re not a “victim” of “distractions” — you’re choosing to avoid the work

There’s a new narrative spreading so far and fast that it’s becoming a full-blown cultural meme. It goes like this: In the digital age, information is “coming at us” all the time, and we’re all but powerless to stop it.

You hear it in our language: With smart phones, tablets, and social media, we’re “bombarded” with information. It’s “everywhere.” Most of us can barely “keep up.” How are we supposed to “deal with it all?”

Sorry, but that’s called… [censored for publication].

Being productive is a choice. So is being unproductive.

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You want to constantly stop working (or not start at all) so you can check email, read headlines, or browse your friends’ Facebook status updates? Or maybe read a blog post, or 10? Okay. But please understand that these things are not “distractions,” nor are they “coming at you.” You’re selecting them — and you’re doing so, often, as a way of procrastinating.

What to do about it:

Two suggestions, both of them easier than you’d think:

First: Fight back! Reclaim your productive time. Yes, today you have constant and immediate access to every conceivable entertainment and distraction you can think of on any number of electronic devices on your desk or in your pocket. Leave them there. Set aside enough time for the real task at hand — whether that’s your job or a creative project or whatever you want to accomplish — and “single task” the hell out of it.

Second suggestion: Trick yourself. Sometimes you put off starting a new project because it seems overwhelming. Don’t think about tackling the whole thing at once. Simply promise yourself you’ll put in 15 minutes before you take a break. Can you guess what will happen?

In most cases, the very act of digging into the project, getting started, putting some energy into it, will get your creative and productive juices flowing — and you’ll keep right on producing well beyond that 15-minute goal you set. (And all the incoming emails or tweets won’t distract you at all.)

The late Roger Ebert wrote, “The muse visits during the act of creation, not before.” That’s Ebert’s ingenious way of saying that the great ideas and productive energy don’t fall out of the sky. You have to earn them — by starting.

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2. You’re avoiding the work… because you’re depressed

By this I don’t mean you’re experiencing clinical depression; I mean that you are in a negative emotional state. But when it comes to your productivity, feeling even slightly depressed can have the stopping power of a cannon.

In the brilliant book Finding Flow, a follow-up to his groundbreaking psychological work Flow, author and professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, notes that when you think about yourself, you tend to drift into negative emotions.

Indeed, the main concept of “flow” is that when you engage in certain complex, all-consuming activities (playing the piano, rock climbing), you lose all sense of yourself — and as you become fully engrossed in the flow activity, you experience more joy and productivity.

What to do about it:

Get out of your head.

A well-established principal in psychology states that you can’t experience two opposite emotional states at the same time. What a great thing to know!

If you’re feeling down, chances are you’re focusing on some aspect of yourself — your problems, your shortcomings, your frustrations. Luckily, there’s a simple, but not easy, way to climb out of this trap. Find something else, something positive, to focus on. As long as you can hold on to that positive feeling, you can’t — literally, cannot — fall back into a depression.

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Sounds difficult, right? It will be. But keep in mind that you need to switch your focus from whatever is bothering you only long enough to get started on your project. Maybe you can think about how great it will feel to finally be done with the task. Or maybe you need to put on some uplifting music. (Movie scores are a great choice here; as you work the background tunes will make it seem like you’re conquering an army!)

A few minutes into the task, and your natural positive energy will start to take over (see tip 1), and you’ll leave those feelings of depression behind.

3. You’re afraid to start the work… because you might make a mistake

Why when deer see car headlights coming at them — or a human being, for that matter — will they freeze instead of running off the road to safety? Because often in a terrifying situation, they’re so afraid of doing the wrong thing that they instead do nothing. Running this way might be a mistake. Running that way might be a mistake. Splat. Humans sometimes make the same choice.

One reason you might not be as productive as you’d like is that you’re feeling anxiety. The fear of going in the wrong direction, making a bad choice about the project you’re tackling, stops you from moving forward at all.

What to do about it:

Embrace mistakes. They mean you’re making progress.

Take writing as an example. Do you think any novelist or playwright has ever sat down to a blank sheet of paper, began writing, and just kept on going in one shot to a complete final draft? No deletions? No edits? No way!

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Don’t let anxiety win. Accept that you will make mistakes… start anyway.

Bottom line: The reason you’re not as productive as you’d like to be is not that you’re too busy. And it’s not my kid’s fault (oops — I mean it’s not your kid’s fault). We all make a choice in every minute of every day, either to push forward on the projects and goals that matter to us, or not.

So set aside the distractions (even the really fun ones); tell yourself you’ll give the big task just a few minutes at first (you’ll keep going, I promise); and then get out of your own head so you can focus on the work. And don’t waste time worrying about making mistakes. Of course you’ll make them, and then you’ll fix them.

To your productivity!

Featured photo credit: Unproductive man at work/Robbie Hyman via Shutterstock

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robbie hyman

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Last Updated on September 24, 2020

11 Things You Should Minimize for a Better Life

11 Things You Should Minimize for a Better Life

Ever heard the statement less is more? Is that a reality in your life or is that an area you are struggling with? Below are 11 different areas you can look at in your life to start to reduce as you focus on building a better life.

Let’s get to it:

Your Stuff

I call it stuff vs possessions. Stuff is what adds clutter in your life. It could be shoes, curios from the cute store in your town or excess appliances you need to throw out but never do. What is it that is overtaking your house that if you moved away you wouldn’t need it at all? Plan a Sunday afternoon throw out session. If throwing out doesn’t sit right then give it away to goodwill.

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Your Acquaintances

How many people are you interacting with throughout the week that don’t leave you feeling good about yourself? Who inspires you? Spend time with those people. Too often we keep people in our lives that we are no longer a fit for. Having too many old acquaintances adds to the excess in your life. If the relationship isn’t a win-win for you both then take a step back and focus on those that do.

Your Goals

Motivated to write out your list of goal for the next month or 3 months? That is awesome. Just a few works of caution. Don’t write down too many. Often people write down over ten goals. The brain can only remember so much and the reality is you won’t get to them all. I suggest you look at your goals with the mindset of single digits. No more than ten, but ideally less than five. Keep the list focused and realistic.

Your Commitments

A new favorite buzz saying in the self-help world is “No is the new Yes”. Take a moment to think about that saying. If you started saying no more how would your week and life look? Would you have more time to commit to the important goals and people in your life? Start to practice saying No when a request comes your way that you don’t want to do. If that feels too harsh try responding with these words “Let me get back to you”. Go away and come back with a no when you are in stronger mindset to say that.

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Your Multitasking

I am giving you permission to stop multitasking. We used to be told that multitasking was a good practice. We look so busy and aren’t we getting a lot done? In fact, no. Multitasking isn’t possible with the way our brain is wired. We need to focus on one key thing and keep our attention on that item until it is complete.

Your Newsfeed

I consider all the information from the Internet that is being feed into our smartphone, laptop and brain as “the newsfeed.” It doesn’t add to having more knowledge, it adds to information overload. Build time in your day or week when you are completely offline. I recommend turning your wireless off or setting your smart phone to airplane mode.

Your Cards

Open up your wallet and take a look inside. What is in it? For most of us it is more than one store, charge or loyalty card. Too many cards add to extra spending, bills and lack of clarity of where our money goes. Look at what cards you truly need and use. Get rid of the rest (scissors work!).

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Your Mail

Both the old style (postal) and your email inbox are areas to minimize. Look at ways to get off catalogs or reduce the magazine subscriptions as you never read all of them anyway. Figure out what mail, e.g. bank statements, can be changed to digital mail only. Try the same with your inbox. Sites like unroll.me can tell you how many email newsletters you are subscribed to and you can take your name off the list that you know longer need.

Your Sitting Time

Too much time in front of the screen is not good for the posture and health of your body. Try setting a timer so every 50 minutes you get up and stretch or go for a five minute walk. We don’t realize how bad our posture is when we sit for long periods of time. The studies on sitting disease are what led to standing and walking desks to be invented. If your office doesn’t have that get into a regular habit to stand and walk often in your day.

Too much time by yourself can led the mind to wander. When the mind wanders it will often return with negative thoughts and beliefs. While a walk by yourself and some downtime is rejuvenating take notice if you start to feel un- inspired or a little sad and make sure you aren’t spending too much time in your own company. This is especially important for those of us who work from home. Make sure to have people interaction throughout your day.

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Your Lack of Belief

If you want to make a change or achieve a goal in your life you need to truly, 100 percent believe you can. If you don’t believe in yourself then why should anyone else?

The difference between a successful person and someone struggling can be as simple as a mindset switch to believe that they will succeed.

What areas can you minimize to create more happiness, focus and productivity in your life? Implement just a handful from the list and you will find that the mindset of ‘Less is More’ will be what leads you on the path to a better life!

Featured photo credit: Samantha Gades via unsplash.com

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