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

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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

Celestine is the Founder of Personal Excellence where she shares her best advice on how to boost productivity and achieve excellence in life.

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Are You Addicted to Productivity?

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Are You Addicted to Productivity?

“It’s great to be productive. It really is. But sometimes, we chase productivity so much that it makes us, well, unproductive. It’s easy to read a lot about how to be more productive, but don’t forget that you have to make that time up.”

Matt Cutts wrote that back in 2013,[1]

“Today, search for ‘productivity’ and Google will come back with about 663,000,000 results. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll be bombarded by a seemingly endless amount of content. I’m talking about books, blogs, videos, apps, podcasts, scientific studies, and subreddits all dedicated to productivity.”

Like so many other people, I’ve also fallen into this trap. For years I’ve been on the lookout for trends and hacks that will help me work faster and more efficiently — and also trends that help me help others to be faster. I’ve experimented with various strategies and tools . And, while some of these strategies and solutions have been extremely useful — without parsing out what you need quickly — it’s counterproductive.

Sometimes you end up spending more time focusing on how to be productive instead of actually being productive.

“The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month,” James Bedell wrote in a Medium post.[2] “They are far too busy getting things done to read about Getting Things Done.”

This is my mantra:

I proudly say, “I am addicted to productivity — I want to be addicted to productivity — productivity is my life and my mission — and I also want to find the best way to lead others through productivity to their best selves.

But most of the time productivity means putting your head down and working until the job’s done.” –John Rampton

Addiction to Productivity is Real

Dr. Sandra Chapman, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth points out that the brain can get addicted to productivity just as it can to more common sources of addiction, such as drugs, gambling, eating, and shopping.

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“A person might crave the recognition their work gives them or the salary increases they get,” Chapman told the BBC.[3] “The problem is that just like all addictions, over time, a person needs more and more to be satisfied, and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression, and fear.”

Despite the harmful consequences, addiction is considered by some experts as a brain disease that affects the brain’s reward system and ends in compulsive behavior. Regardless, society tends to reward productivity — or at least to treat it positively. As a result, this makes the problem even worse.

“It’s seen like a good thing: the more you work, the better,” adds Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.”

Because of the occasional negative issues with productivity, it’s no surprise that it is considered a “mixed-blessing addiction.”

“A workaholic might be earning a lot of money, just as an exercise addict is very fit,” explains Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “But the thing about any addiction is that in the long run, the detrimental effects outweigh any short-term benefits.”

“There may be an initial period where the individual who is developing a work addiction is more productive than someone who isn’t addicted to work, but it will get to a point when they are no longer productive, and their health and relationships are affected,” Griffiths writes in Psychology Today.[4] “It could be after one year or more, but if the individual doesn’t do anything about it, they could end up having serious health consequences.”

“For instance, I speculated that the consequences of work addiction may be reclassified as something else: If someone ends up dying of a work-related heart attack, it isn’t necessarily seen as having anything to do with an addiction per se – it might be attributed to something like burnout,” he adds.

There Are Three “Distinct Extreme Productivity Types

Cyril Peupion, a Sydney-based productivity expert, has observed extreme productivity among clients at both large and medium-sized companies. “Most people who come to me are high performers and very successful. But often, the word they use to describe their work style is ‘unsustainable,’ and they need help getting it back on track.”

By changing their work habits, Peupion assists teams and individuals improve their performance and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the overarching strategy of the business, rather than focusing on work as a means to an end. He has distinguished three types of extreme productivity in his classification: efficiency obsessive, selfishly productive, and quantity-obsessed.

Efficiency obsessive. “Their desks are super tidy and their pens are probably color-coded. They are the master of ‘inbox zero.’ But they have lost sight of the big picture, and don’t know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

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Selfishly productive. “They are so focused on their own world that if they are asked to do something outside of it, they aren’t interested. They do have the big picture in mind, but the picture is too much about them.”

Quantity-obsessed. “They think; ‘The more emails I respond to, the more meetings I attend, the more tasks I do, the higher my performance.’ As a result, they face a real risk of burnout.”

Peupion believes that “quantity obsessed” individuals are the most common type “because there is a pervasive belief that ‘more’ means ‘better’ at work.”

The Warning Signs of Productivity Addiction

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be succumbing to productivity addiction. After all, most of us aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.

  • Can you tell when you’re “wasting” time? If so, have you ever felt guilty about it?
  • Does technology play a big part in optimizing your time management?
  • Do you talk about how busy you are most of the time? In your opinion, is hustling better than doing less?
  • What is your relationship with your email inbox? Are you constantly checking it or experience phantom notifications?
  • When you only check one item off your list, do you feel guilty?
  • Does stress from work interfere with your sleep?
  • Have you been putting things off, like a vacation or side project, because you’re “too swamped?

The first step toward turning around your productivity obsession is to recognize it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s time to make a plan to overcome your addiction to productivity.

Overcoming Your Productivity Addiction

Thankfully, there are ways to curb your productivity addiction. And, here are 9 such ways to achieve that goal.

1. Set Limits

Just because you’re hooked on productivity doesn’t mean you have to completely abstain from it. Instead, you need to establish boundaries.

For example, there are a lot of amazing productivity podcasts out there. But, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them all in the course of a day. Instead, you could listen to one or two podcasts, like The Productivity Podcast or Before Breakfast, during your commute. And, that would be your only time of the day to get your productivity fix.

2. Create a Not-to-Do List

Essentially, the idea of a not-to-do list is to eliminate the need to practice self-discipline. Getting rid of low-value tasks and bad habits will allow you to focus on what you really want to do as opposed to weighing the pros and cons or declining time requests. More importantly, this prevents you from feeling guilty about not crossing everything off an unrealistic to-do list.

3. Be Vulnerable

By this, I mean admitting where you could improve. For example, if you’re new to remote work and are struggling with thi s, you would only focus on topics in this area. Suggestions would be how to create a workspace at home, not getting distracted when the kids aren’t in school, or improving remote communication and collaboration with others.

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4. Understand Why You Procrastinate

Often, we procrastinate to minimize negative emotions like boredom or stress. Other times it could be because it’s a learned trait, underestimating how long it takes you to complete something or having a bias towards a task.

Regardless of the exact reason, we end up doing busy work, scrolling social media, or just watching one more episode of our favorite TV series. And, even though we know that it’s not for the best, we do things that make us feel better than the work we should do to restore our mood.[5]

There are a lot of ways to overcome procrastination. But, the first step is to be aware of it so that you can take action. For example, if you’re dreading a difficult task, don’t just watch Netflix. Instead, procrastinate more efficiently,y like returning a phone call or working on a client pitch.

5. Don’t Be a Copycat

Let’s keep this short and sweet. When you find a productivity app or technique that works for you, stick with it.

That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way or try new tools or hacks. However, the main takeaway should be that just because someone swears by the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

6. Say Yes to Less

Across the board, your philosophy should be less is more.

That means only download the apps you actually use and want to keep (after you try them out) and uninstall the ones you don’t use. For example, are you currently reading a book on productivity? Don’t buy your next book until you’ve finished the one you’re currently reading (or permit yourself to toss a book that isn’t doing you any good). — and if you really want to finish a book more quickly, listen to the book on your way to work and back.

Already have plans this weekend? Don’t commit to a birthday party. And, if you’re day is booked, decline that last-minute meeting request.

7. Stop Focusing on What’s Next

“In the age when purchasing a thing from overseas is just one click and talking to another person is one swipe right, acquiring new objects or experiences can be addictive like anything else,” writes Patrick Banks for Lifehack .

“That doesn’t need to be you,” he adds. “You can stop your addition to ‘the next thing’ starting today.” After all, “there will always be this next thing if you don’t make a conscious decision to get your life back together and be the one in charge.”

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  • Think about your current lifestyle and the person you’re at this stage to help you identify what you aren’t satisfied with.
  • By setting clear goals for yourself in the future, you will be able to overcome your addiction.
  • Establish realistic goals.
  • To combat addiction, you must be aware of what is going on around you, as well as inside your head, at any given time.
  • Don’t spend time with people who have unhealthy behaviors.
  • Hold yourself accountable.
  • Keep a journal and write out what you want to overcome.
  • Appreciate no longer being addicted to what’s next.

8. Simplify

Each day, pick one priority task. That’s it. As long as you concentrate on one task at a time, you will be less likely to get distracted or overwhelmed by an endless list of tasks. A simple mantra to live by is: work smarter, not harder.

The same is also accurate with productivity hacks and tools. Bullet journaling is a great example. Unfortunately, for many, a bullet journal is way more time-consuming and overwhelming than a traditional planner.

9. Learn How to Relax

“Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but, banning obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” writes Leo Babauta. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax.” Don’t worry about being hyper-efficient. And, don’t beat yourself up about having fun.

“But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever?” he asks. “Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier.”

“And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation,” Leo states. “Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love when you get excited.”

But, how exactly can you relax? Here are some tips from Leo;

  • Spend 5 minutes walking outside and breathe in the fresh air.
  • Give yourself more time to accomplish things. Less rushing means less stress.
  • If you can, get outside after work to enjoy nature.
  • Play like a child. Even better? Play with your kids. And, have fun at work — maybe give gamification a try .
  • Take the day off, rest, and do something non-work-related.
  • Allow yourself an hour of time off. Try not to be productive during that time. Just relax.
  • You should work with someone who is exciting. Make your project exciting.
  • Don’t work in the evenings. Seriously.
  • Visit a massage therapist.
  • Just breathe.

“Step by step, learn to relax,” he suggests. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything.” For that statement, sorry Leo, I say productivity isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” However, if you can’t cut loose, relax, do fun things, and do the living part of your life — you’ll crack in a big way — you really will.

It’s great to create and push forward — just remember it doesn’t mean that every minute must be spent working or obsessing over productivity issues. Instead, invest your time in meaningful, high-impact work, get into it, focus, put in big time and then relax.

Are You Addicted to Productivity? was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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