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8 Reasons You are Not as Productive as You Can Be (and How to Fix Them)

8 Reasons You are Not as Productive as You Can Be (and How to Fix Them)

Do you sometimes spend hours on end at your work desk, but can’t seem to get much done? Do you wish to be more productive for your time?

If so, I can relate. As someone passionate about personal growth and achieving maximum results, I’m constantly finding ways to get more done for my time. I’m also passionate about helping others — including you — to get their best results in life. In the past five years, I’ve worked with hundreds of individuals to achieve their highest success, and transformed them from procrastinating to self-motivated A-students, and from jaded, burnt out individuals to self-initiated and super productive people.

While some may think that productivity is just a matter of working hard and having discipline, I’ve found that this isn’t necessarily the case. Rather, there are key habits that differentiate super productive people from less productive people, and not practising these habits naturally leads to a dip in your productivity — no matter who you are. If you’re having difficulty getting things done, one (or more) of these factors likely apply:

1. You have not set any goals

In my latest book with Lifehack, 10 Rules of Super Productive People (purchase it now at the Lifehack Book Store with the coupon READNOW for a limited-time discount!), I share the 10 underlying tenets of productivity that differentiate super productive and unproductive people. The first rule relates to the oldest and most important rule of personal development — goal setting. Specifically, setting the right goals.

The problem with most is that they either (a) don’t set goals or (b) set the wrong goals (see next section on “right” goals). Without goals, they have no personal vision of what they want their life to be. While this may sound like a nice, unstressful life, but the truth is that it creates a “floater” syndrome — where they spend every day “floating” from one thing to the next, being subject to others’ whims and demands, and basically having no higher purpose to work towards. Days and weeks go by without anything getting done, and before they know it, they are already in their 40s, 50s, or 60s and wondering where half of their life has gone to.

How to fix this:

  • Set goals, especially for the most important areas of your life: usually career, relationships, finance, health, and personal growth. Where do you see yourself in these areas in the next one, three, and five years?
  • Write these goals down, then work towards them. Create your vision board and keep this board in view every day so you are always reminded by your goals.

2. You don’t have the right goals

Setting goals isn’t enough — you have to set the RIGHT goals. Set the wrong goals, and you set ourselves on the path of failure!

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What defines “right goals” though? In Super Productive People, I share the four criteria of great goals: (1) inspiring, (2) huge, like BHAG-huge (i.e. big, hairy, and audacious), (3) specific, and (4) time-bound. Goals that match these criteria tend to have the greatest success, all things held constant.

Unfortunately, many of us get the “wrong” goals — goals that either don’t inspire us, are too small, too vague, or don’t have a deadline. Since our goals directly impact our actions which impact our results, setting the wrong goals result in us having little to no results, hence creating a deadlock situation for ourselves.

How to fix this:

  1. Ensure that you only set goals that you want for YOURSELF, as opposed to goals that others want. Never live your life for anyone but yourself.
  2. Go for huge, not small, goals. “Increase my clientele by 200% and be the market leader,” not “Get one or two more clients so that I can have enough to make ends meet.
  3. Be as specific as possible. “Earn $10,000 a month by December 2014,” not “Increase my income.”
  4. Set a deadline for each goal, which brings us to the next point…

3. You don’t have a deadline

In Rule #2 of Super Productive People, I talk about the importance of setting deadlines, specifically timelines. If you’re familiar with personal productivity advice, then you must have heard of Parkinson’s Law — the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” What this means is that contrary to common belief that the time taken for a task is dependent on the task difficulty and/or our efficiency/effectiveness, the law suggests that the lead driver is actually… the time we allocate for it!

This means that if you set a deadline of four hours for a task that really needs two hours, you will inevitably take four hours for the task. If you set a deadline of one week for a task that really needs two days, you will take one whole week for the task. And… if you don’t set any deadline at all, the task can virtually take forever to complete. Meaning, it will never get completed.

How to fix this: Set deadlines for your tasks and goals. In particular, set a timeline, which is a detailed breakdown of the steps and milestones to accomplish your goals. (I share step-by-step how-tos to create your road map for your goals, including practical examples and watchouts, in Super Productive People.)

4. You are trying to do everything

Ever heard of this saying, that “Less is More?” Well, here’s another one: “Trying to do everything will lead to the accomplishment of nothing.” Our society today focuses much on doing more and getting more done. And while I totally agree with the importance of doing more and achieving more, trying to do everything can cause a lack of focus, not to mention overwhelm and stress. In fact, in my five years of coaching, this is one of the most common problems among my clients — and we’re talking about highly talented individuals who have accomplished much under their names!

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How to fix this: Stop trying to do everything. Rather, focus on the most important things and doing them well. What are the 20% high-impact tasks on your list, and how can you get working on them? For the less important things, either dump them, batch them (to be done in one shot), or delegate them. This leads us to the next point…

5. You are trying to do everything yourself

I notice this problem among many perfectionists, myself included: we insist on doing everything ourselves. Why? Because we refuse to let go. We feel that when we let go, we will lose control, people may mess things up, everything will become a disaster, and we will have to clean up the “mess” later on.

I understand, because I’m like that sometimes. I used to be much more “possessive” over my work too, opting to do everything myself so that I could make everything the way I wanted. However, I’ve learned that no man is an island. Think about it: no matter how productive you are, you can never accomplish the same amount of work that 10 times or 100 times the people (who are equally competent as you) can accomplish in the same amount of time. Many hands make light work, and two minds are better than one (most of the time).

How to fix this: Let go of the need to do everything yourself. Delegate tasks to your team members, employees, and/or vendors. Hiccups may happen, but it’s about coaching them to get things right. (More on delegation in Rule #9 of Super Productive People.)

6. You don’t have a conducive work environment

Assess your current work environment. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best possible environment for work, how would you rate it? Would you give it a 1 to 3 (bad)? 3 to 5 (average)? 6 to 8 (okay)? Or 9 to 10 (very good)?

Most of us are working in a “3 to 5”, average environment. From disorganized workspaces, to bad table heights leading to noisy traffic (especially for those of us working from home), to people chatting, to boring work stations, we are constantly combating our environment just to get things done. This is bad, because rather than pouring our energy into our work and converting it to constructive output, our energy is drained away by our surroundings.

How to fix this: In Rule #4 of Super Productive People, I introduce the concept of a flow environment — a term I coined to refer to “an environment that gives you the maximum working experience and lets you get into the flow easily.” You know you are in your flow environment when you can slip into work mode easily and you feel energized all the time! Find your flow environment (or create it if you have to) and watch your productivity soar!

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7. You think that work can only be done when you have full-hour blocks to yourself

Think that a five or ten minute break can’t make any difference to your never-ending list of to-dos? Well, think again. Known as time pockets, these little time windows in between activities can make a huge difference when effectively utilized.

Case in point: When I was in university, I was the Dean’s Lister for every academic semester, eventually graduating as the top Marketing student in Business Administration. This was despite juggling core-curricular activities, giving people private tuition, and running my graphic design business. How did this happen?

Well, it was thanks to my use of time pockets. Because I was so busy and I didn’t like to study when I was at home (for those of you students, you’re not alone!), I would hunt for time pockets between classes, during classes, and after school to work. Rather than slack, chit-chat with classmates, or fall asleep during these pockets, I would work on my upcoming assignments or revise my notes, so that I would have more time for other activities later on.

As a result, I never had to spend extra time outside of school to study, and I only needed to revise for exams a few days before the papers (sometimes even the night before)!

How to fix this: Seize your time pockets, even if they are just five minutes long. Don’t underestimate the difference one small pocket can make in your life. You’ll be surprised at how practicing this one habit can change things around.

8. You are neglecting other areas of your life

Perhaps the biggest misconception about productivity is that you need to put aside the non-work areas — e.g., family, social, romance and health — to get ahead in work. “I’ll get to these later,” is what most of us say.

This isn’t true though. Work doesn’t make up your entire life, and work can’t fill the gaps that only non-work areas can. While neglecting the other life areas (be it social, romance, family, health, or personal well-being) may give you an edge in your work productivity initially, this is temporary — such a setup cannot last over time. It’ll only create a backlash eventually as you become “starved” in your other life areas and become unmotivated to even work at all. Some people call this “burn out,” others call this a “slump.”

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How to fix this: Identify the areas of your life that you are neglecting. Then, act on them, while keeping your work priorities in check. Productivity comes from the holistic management of your life; a happy individual/parent/spouse/child will naturally be inspired and energized to work hard and deliver the best in his/her work.

Get 10% Off: 10 Rules of Super Productive People

If you find yourself nodding to the ideas in this post, you’ll love 10 Rules of Super Productive People. Chocked full of practical tips and advice, this book is about the 10 critical principles of productivity that I have identified from my years of coaching others and myself to achieve peak results in less time. From practical how-tos, to concrete tips, to real-life examples, this book will help YOU to achieve your maximum productivity.

For a limited time from now to August 4, 2014, the book is available for purchase at a special 10% off discount. Simply key in the coupon READNOW at checkout to enjoy this discount. Hurry, as the offer will expire soon!

Feel free to ask me any questions be it in the comments section, my Facebook, or Twitter — I’ll be happy to address them!

Featured photo credit: anieto2k via flickr.com

More by this author

Celestine Chua

Life Coach, Blogger

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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