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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

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

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away 42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut, only to get back into another one.

How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

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  • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
  • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
  • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
  • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
  • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
  • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnation, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help. Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

1. Realize You’re Not Alone

Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths. Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

2. Find What Inspires You

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Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation. What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

3. Give Yourself a Break

When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

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Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave. Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future. These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

4. Shake up Your Routines

Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’s 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

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When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

5. Start with a Small Step

Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward. Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years. On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

More to Help You Stay Motivated

Here are some resources that will help you break out of your current phase:

Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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