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How to be Productive and Counteract Low Productivity

How to be Productive and Counteract Low Productivity

There you are, sitting at your desk and feeling tired: it has been a long week and you’d like to stop working and relax a bit, but at the same time, you know you can’t do this since you have still work to do. In a way you are stuck: no matter how hard you work, you don’t seem to make any noticeable progress, which makes you even more frustrated and tired and you finally feel like giving up the project you have been working on.

You may be thinking that there has to be a better way to do things, rather than banging your head against the wall, and you are absolutely right!

be productive

    Are you taking the right action at the right time?

    There can be many reason behind your frustrations:

    First and foremost, are you sure you are focusing on the right action steps? If this is not the case, then it’s time to stop for a moment, see the bigger picture and redefine the tasks you should be doing right now. Could it be that perhaps you didn’t prepare in advance for the tasks you are doing? This could happen when you are dependent on other people’s input before you can continue your project for instance—if you didn’t see this situation coming, you could be wasting your time because you don’t have any backup plan for these situations.

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    It could also be that you just have too much work to do. Ask yourself whether you are optimizing and automating everything already, or are there processes or tasks that could be eliminated by those two methods. If the answer to the latter part of the question is “yes,” it’s time to take action on improving the processes. The sooner you do this, the sooner your workload will decrease and the less chance there is for unproductivity.

    Finding the source of low productivity

    It’s time to take a closer look at your situation, so that we can see the sources behind unproductive action.

    To do this, it’s time to do some checks.

    The first check is related to your mindset: do you feel that the time is lost if you spend time on planning your tasks? If this is so, then it’s no wonder that you are wasting time on something unproductive.

    Next, check your environment: does it allow you to work in a focused manner? If you are getting easily distracted because of the environment, it’s time to start finding alternative locations for doing the work.

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    Finally, make sure that your project isn’t too big to handle. If you are trying to tackle it all by yourself, it’s no wonder if you are feeling frustrated and tired. Additionally, if you find the tasks are too big in size, then this could be another reason for the stress you are experiencing right now.

    Destroy the unproductive action with a right mindset

    To fix the situation, I suggest developing a mindset that you can start using from this project and onward. This mindset consists of the following six cornerstones:

    • Stop rushing into things by planning them first
    • Know what you are doing and understand the importance of doing so
    • Pick the right location
    • Break the project into smaller pieces
    • Don’t try to handle it all by yourself
    • Review your progress and take corrective action if needed

    If you implement this productive mindset, then there is a much bigger chance of completing tasks in time and finishing your projects sooner than later.

    Get your true productivity back with these 6 steps

    1. Stop rushing. I know that you’d like to take action as soon as possible, but don’t make this mistake! Instead, spend a little time by creating a plan to follow. Know your next action steps, as well as your outcomes and keep them clearly in your head. If you understand what they are, then you are already on a better track of keeping things in control and reducing your workload at the same time.

    2. Know what you are doing. Ask yourself what you are supposed to be doing next and why you should be doing it—when you can answer to these two questions, then you are on the right path. Keep asking these questions all the time. They are a great way to make you aware of what you are doing. They also prevent you from taking the wrong action, if you can’t see the value of the task.

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    3. Pick the right location for your work. It’s of the utmost important to pick the right location for your work. If you can’t work at home, then take your laptop with you and go somewhere else. Go outside (if the weather permits), to a public library or to a coffee shop. You can also rent a co-working space, or if money is not an issue, even a separate office to get your work done.

    4. Break the project into smaller pieces. Take your project and break it into smaller pieces. Focus on one piece at a time and then move on to the next one. For instance, if you are developing a piece of software, one task would be getting the user interface to be more compelling. Then, you could decide on different subsections that specifically create that great user experience, like setting the right fonts or defining the right color theme. When you have finished one area, you can move to the next one (like improving the performance of your application) and so on.

    5. Gather a team. It’s easy to think that only you can do the tasks and that you are irreplaceable: you aren’t! There is always someone who can do the task faster and better than you.

    For instance, when I’m building my blog, I have a virtual team doing various things for me: a designer and a developer for creating new functionality for my blog; a coach for telling me what things to focus on; maintenance guys for keeping my blog updated; and a proofreader for checking my written content before it’s published. Doing these things myself would be just madness and I would have quit blogging a long time ago, if I was still trying to do everything by myself.

    6. Review your progress and analyze. This is perhaps the most common thing that people forget to do: Reviewing progress.

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    You need to do this so that you can avoid mistakes or prevent taking action on things, which are not getting any results. I suggest doing the review at least on a weekly basis, where you reflect what you have done, how it went and what you are doing next. Even if this might feel like just a waste of time, you are wasting much more time when you end up taking unproductive actions later on.

    In conclusion

    As you now know, there are many reasons for taking unproductive actions. When you focus on things like planning, the right environment and breaking the project into smaller pieces, you can cut down your workload a lot and the chances for unproductive action decreases. A little bit of pro-activity can save you from unnecessary work later on.

    Over to you: How do you make sure you are not taking unproductive action?

    Featured photo credit:  Empire state building – new york city via Shutterstock

    More by this author

    Timo Kiander

    Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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