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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)
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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.

11 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Results on Your Goals How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity 42 Practical Ways to Start Working on Self-Improvement 5 Reasons Why Being a Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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