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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.

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Last Updated on October 29, 2020

How to Develop Mental Toughness and Stay Strong

How to Develop Mental Toughness and Stay Strong

Are you the kind of person who wants to achieve massive success in your life? Do you have the mental toughness to make that happen?

I think we can all agree that no matter your ambitions, achieving success can be difficult; and over time, the daily grind can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional energy.

Achievers and high performers from all walks of life face ups and downs along the path to success—they face failure, burnout, discouragement, fatigue, self-limiting beliefs, stress, and so much more.

How do some people continually strive towards their personal goals year after year while others give up on them? How do those people stay strong and persevere when there is so much stacked against them?

Studies now show that mental strength is a critical key to success. If you haven’t read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, you should. In it, she shows that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’” In other words, mental toughness plays a significant role when it comes to achieving goals.

At its core, mental toughness is simply the ability to stick to something when the going gets tough. People with high levels of mental toughness can push beyond these obstacles and forge a path towards success, while those with lower levels of mental toughness may abandon their dreams.

The good news is that no matter who you are, what you’ve been told, or what you currently believe, you can develop the mental toughness you need to be successful.

1. Develop a Positive Mindset

If you’re going to increase your mental toughness and manage stress, the first thing you have to do is focus on building a strong, positive mindset in everyday life.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% of those thoughts repeat each day and, on average, 80% of repeated ideas are negative.[1]

That’s roughly 45,600 negative thoughts per day!

Carrying around these negative thoughts is like going on a hike in the mountains with a backpack full of rocks. The hike is hard enough on its own, but having extra junk weighing you down is a recipe for failure.

Sometimes, building mental toughness isn’t as much about building new strength as it is about saving your strength for the right tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump the rocks out of the backpack instead of trying to get strong enough to carry the extra weight?

Let Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

It’s pretty hard to be mentally tough when you’re constantly beating yourself up. Self-limiting beliefs are any beliefs that hold you back in some way. Here are some examples:

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“I’m not smart enough to…”

“I don’t have enough experience to…”

“I’ve tried that before, and it didn’t go well, so I must just be bad at…”

When we allow these self-limiting beliefs to flood our minds, negative self-talk runs rampant, and we crowd out our ability to think positively.

When you recognize a self-limiting belief cropping up in your mind, quickly silence it by telling yourself that it’s not true, and then back that up with some positive affirmations:

  • “I am smart enough; I may just need to do some more research first.”
  • “I may not have as much experience as someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I have enough experience to get started. I’ll figure the rest out on the way.”
  • “Just because I failed at this last time doesn’t mean I’m going to fail this time. My past does not dictate my future.”

Get Rid of the All-or-Nothing Thinking

Another form of negative thinking that could be preventing you from building mental toughness is all-or-nothing thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking is the concept of thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was great or awful. If you’re not perfect, then you’re a failure.

But this isn’t true!

If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds and only lost 28, isn’t that still better than not losing any weight at all? I’d say so!

If you allow all-or-nothing thinking to rule your mind, you’ll be on cloud nine when you succeed, but you’ll beat yourself up when you “fail.” Acknowledging the shades of gray in between will allow you to see success more often.

When you recognize an all-or-nothing thought, remember to look for the positive in the situation. What did you gain by trying? What would you have missed out on had you not tried? Could you do better if you were to try again?

Ditch the Dwelling

Self-limiting beliefs and all-or-nothing thinking can lead to a bad case of dwelling on the negative, which is bad news for mental health. If you want to build some mental toughness and keep your mind strong, you have to ditch the dwelling.

When we dwell on our misfortunes, we waste massive amounts of energy that we could be using to achieve our goals. When this happens, we’re more likely to quit altogether.

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That doesn’t mean you’re not mentally tough; it just means you’re misusing your energy.

The next time something bad happens, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and frustration, but work on reducing the amount of time you dwell on the situation.

If you struggle with this, you can try the following:

  1. Call a friend or mentor and talk it through with them. Get some outside perspective on your situation.
  2. Time block your dwelling by allowing yourself to dwell for no more than one hour.
  3. Then, tell yourself to move on, that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
  4. If all else fails, find a good way to distract yourself until you can calm down and reexamine things with a clear mind.

The faster you can focus on the positives and move past the problem, the quicker you can get back to achieving success in your life.

2. Connect With Your Purpose

One of the most critical elements to building mental toughness and keeping a strong and focused mind is having a strong “why” for all of your short and long-term goals.

If you set out to achieve a huge goal that you don’t have a “why” for, you’re going to find yourself distracted, discouraged, or disengaged as soon as you experience your first setback.

Think about the last time you were working on a goal or resolution, and things weren’t going well. Perhaps you thought you didn’t have enough willpower or discipline.

It’s more likely that you just didn’t have a strong enough why.

Simon Sinek has been spreading his message “Start with Why” across the globe.[2] In short, he says that:

“Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

One of the biggest drains on your mental energy is pursuing a goal or a task that you don’t have a why for. Often, we set goals because we like the idea of the goal, not the reality of the goal. Without connecting to our why, we can’t intrinsically motivate ourselves to achieve our most challenging goals.

You can learn more on identifying your purpose in this video:

Find Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is our innate desire to do something, and it comes when we work towards something that satisfies ourselves above all else—not our parents or our bosses or our teachers[3].

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Develop mental toughness with intrinsic motivation

    Let’s say you think you want to quit smoking because you know it’s bad for you, but you really enjoy smoking. If you don’t truly want to quit smoking, it’s going to be nearly impossible, regardless of your willpower or mental toughness.

    However, if you want to quit smoking because you just had a baby, and you don’t want your baby growing up around smoke, then that “why” is going to give you intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than sheer stubborn willpower, and it’s far easier to maintain over the long haul.

    If you’re trying to develop mental toughness, connecting a why to everything you want to achieve will reduce the effort and energy it will take to achieve those things.

    3. Find Strength in Unity

    The final aspect of developing mental toughness is embracing the idea that you’re not in this alone.

    Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft alone. Oprah didn’t build her network by herself. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone without a team. Michelle Obama didn’t implement the “Let’s Move” campaign on her own.

    Behind all of these successful people were countless other people who were offering support, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.

    If you want to develop unmatched mental toughness, you need to understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Even the toughest Navy Seals have a team backing them up.

    Find a Mentor or Committee of Mentors

    The benefits of having a great mentor are far too many to list, but to boil it down to the basics, a mentor is someone who will help show you the path to success, discover your greatest strengths, spot and overcome your blind spots, and work through your weaknesses.

    If you’re struggling to deal with your internal negativity or with finding your purpose, talk it through with a mentor. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees, and a mentor can help us take a step back and see the bigger picture.

    Here’s how to find the right mentor for yourself: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

    Recruit Some Cheerleaders

    If you want to stay strong, it never hurts to have a group of personal cheerleaders to help you successfully complete your goals. Unlike mentors who are going to jump in and help you address your problems, a group of cheerleaders will help keep your spirits up.

    Even if you have a strong why and a positive mindset, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you weak to need some help from time to time. Having a group of people cheering you on will make all the difference in the world.

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    As you work towards your goals, tell a few close friends about what you’re doing, and when things get tough, tell them about it. When they give you the pep talk you need, don’t resist their positivity or counter it with your self-limiting beliefs.

    Allow their optimism to refill your energy and use that energy to press on.

    Form an Accountability Group

    Cheerleaders are great, but sometimes we need someone to give us the kick we need to keep going. You might have a strong why for running a marathon or losing 30 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy; and trying to force yourself to follow through is a sure way to tax your mental energy.

    Why not save some of your mental energy by forming an accountability group?

    Find a person or a few people who have similar goals, or at the very least, the need for an accountability partner. Then, form an agreement within the group to push each other every day.

    4. Learn to Pick Yourself up After Setbacks

    Building a strong mindset and developing mental toughness isn’t easy! Anyone who’s ever achieved massive success knows that obstacles, setbacks, and failure are inevitable, and you’re no different.

    As you work on your goals, you’re going to face many ups and downs, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have mental toughness, willpower, or discipline.

    When you find yourself in a low spot, instead of giving up right away, ask yourself these questions:

    • “Am I being too hard on myself?”
    • “Are negative thoughts distorting my view?”
    • “What’s the positive side of this setback/obstacle/failure?”
    • “Why was this goal important to me? What was my purpose?”
    • “Is this goal still important to me?”
    • “Who can I ask for help? Who can mentor me or hold me accountable?”

    Asking yourself these questions is a great way to check in on your mindset. When we get lost in negative thinking or lose connection to our purpose, it’s far too easy to become discouraged.

    This article provides some useful tips to help you get back on track: How to Deal with Failure and Pick Yourself Back Up

    Tying It All Together

    A crucial part of developing mental toughness is learning to recognize negative tendencies and taking action to correct them early on with healthy habits. Developing mental toughness is not about eliminating weakness, but learning how to deal with it and overcome it.

    No one is perfect, but when we focus on the right things, we can develop a mental toughness worthy of life’s biggest challenges.

    More on Developing Mental Strength

    Featured photo credit: Zulmaury Saavedra via unsplash.com

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