There is always more to do than time in which to do it. And the more you take on, the more there is to do. You finish one task and six more pop out of no where; it never ends. To toss a major understatement at you - you need to invest your time wisely and that means being productive.
Yes, the dreaded 'P' word. Easier said than done, that's for sure. Sometimes, you just aren't productive. You want to be, but things seem to never get done.
What Kills Productivity?
There are only a few broad reasons why your productivity could be suffering. I'll talk about all the specific instances in a moment, but let's start with a high-level look:
- You have too much on your plate. Whether you don't want to say no, you don't know how or you can't, you end up having too much to do.
- The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Your body has needs. You need to give it the proper food, exercise and time off to stay optimally healthy.
- The flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak. Your attitude is greatly affected by external factors such as your relationships, your finances and the kind of work you're doing.
- There's always tomorrow. Procrastination is caused by obstacles and friction. These tips will help you make sure you stop procrastinating altogether.
- Stuff keeps coming up. Interruptions from email and phone calls, distractions from your personal life, as well as meeting overload can easily kill your productivity.
- Doing the wrong things. Clarity is power. And once you're clear about what you want, you need the right strategy and plan of action.
You Have Too Much On Your Plate
There are 24 hours in a day. You need to sleep 7-8 hours to keep your productivity level high. And you need to eat, rest and have at least a bit of a social life. That leaves you with 10 to 12 hours of work time. Even if you are ultra productive, your capacity is still limited.
- Your Eyes Are Bigger Than Your Stomach.
You are ambitious, driven and confident. And overly optimistic. You have made commitments to your clients, and you can't let them down. You have to follow through and do what you promised, but you have too much to do. You have three ways out of this bind:
- First, you can free up existing capacity by cancelling other engagements. Since it's too late to turn down those clients, your personal life will probably suffer.
- Second, you can increase your capacity by hiring someone to help you. You will incur additional costs, and you'll have to spend time with that person to get them up to speed and communicate exactly what you want them to do. But you might very well manage to deliver on your promises. Top grading is an interesting approach to hiring high performers.
- The third option is for you to negotiate on deliverable deadlines. Is one of your clients or projects flexible? Explain the situation and ask them for a few more days. But don't wait the day on which you need to deliver to ask for extra time. Start negotiating as soon as you know that you won't be able to follow through on your promises on time. They normally will be flexible and agree to the extended deadline, if it happens rarely. If you start making a habit out of it, they might very well get frustrated quickly by your requests.
- You don't know how to say no.
Your reputation is positively affected by how you can successfully deliver what you promise. By spreading yourself too thin, the quality of your work is greatly reduced – and your reputation follows. Know your commitments, and start saying no if you don't have time to do more. When you get the request, it's good to take your time and get back to them. When you do say no, don't apologize about it. Be polite and firm about it.
- You just can't say no.
When your superior asks you to do something, it is not really an option. You CAN ultimately say no, but it is at the risk of getting fired. If everything is urgent, it becomes hard to prioritize and you might feel overwhelmed. The best thing to do is to sit down with your superior and explain the situation. Let them know what you have on your plate. Tell them that it not reasonably feasible within the time frame given.
Ask them to help you prioritize it all. Sometimes, this is not the problem. Sometimes you have the right amount of work, if only you could get it done...
If you're not in good health – if your body is not capable to execute what you're trying to get done – then nothing will get done. So let's look at reasons why this might be happening.
- Not getting enough sleep.
There is no magic number when it comes to sleep. Your body's need for sleep is a function of your age and your genes. Researchers have agreed that most people need from 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night to be fully rested.
- Not getting enough exercise.
"Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity." - John F Kennedy. It is common knowledge that exercise is good for your physical and mental health.
- If you're not exercising, keep it simple to start with. Do you live in a building with multiple floors? Run up and down the stairs for 15-30 minutes. Go for a walk. Of course, there is always the gym. Having a disciplined gym partner will help you get and stay motivated.
- You're getting too much exercise and burning yourself out.
Over-training has serious negative consequences. Make sure to rest sufficiently and eat well between workouts. Listen to your body and be aware of symptoms of over-training.
- You're not eating a very healthy diet.
There are numerous health risks associated with having a poor diet. It can make your body weak, overweight and sick. You also expose yourself to life-threatening diseases. If you're sick or lacking energy, your productivity will be down. Avoid diets high in refined sugars or bad fats. Try a vegetarian or vegan diet. Consult a health professional for advice.
- You're not getting enough time to yourself.
Your body and your mind need regular rest. If you're not taking breaks throughout the day and regular time off work, you are lowering your overall productivity. Your energy needs to be renewed for you to have sustainable high performance.
- You're sick.
An analysis of Commonwealth Fund survey data found that 69 million US workers missed work days due to sickness, for a total of 407 million days lost in 2003. Another 478 million days were lost because they were unable to concentrate at work due to their illness or that of a family member.
The most productive attitude to have towards sickness is prevention. And in cases where you start feeling sick, the best thing to do is to give your body the rest it needs. Take a bit of time off NOW so that you don't have to take days or weeks off later.
The body and the mind are greatly linked. They influence each other directly. So the reverse relationship is just as true.
Being physically healthy is not enough to be productive. Your mind needs to feel positive emotions and be free of bad stress and concerns. Let's look at a few causes for those negative emotions.
- What you're doing isn't motivating you.
Is what you're doing boring and energy-draining to you? Do you a hard time motivating yourself in the morning to get your day started? If so, then you are not doing what you love. The shortest path to productivity is being happy, excited and passionate about what you're doing. We usually love what we're good at, and we become good at what we love. Find what you love – that's the easy part. You already know what you love. Secondly, find your strengths. Then set up your life so that you're doing only those things.
- Your personal relationships aren't harmonious.
Frustration, friction and fighting with family and friends take a lot of energy away. One way to go about removing those frictions and frustrations is to love them more, appreciate them more and be more grateful to them. By the law of reciprocity and because humans have a deep need to be loved, your relationship will quickly get better.
- Your financial situation is stressing you out.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers' 2011 Financial Wellness Survey showed that financial stress contributes to productivity loss. It is a big distraction, and a lot of people are managing their finances at work. By clearing off your debt, and using credit cards wisely (i.e. by paying them back immediately after you purchased something with them), you will remove a burden that is hindering your productivity.
- You're relying on willpower.
Motivation – or in other words, willpower - gets you started. You have limited amounts of it, and it can only get you so far. When your willpower is running low, you are more likely to put off tasks to tomorrow. Habits get you through to the finish line. They pull you through lack of motivation. You should stop relying on willpower alone.
The word procrastination comes from procrastinare, and it is derived from pro (forward) and crastinatus (of tomorrow). In other words, you are putting off doing something to tomorrow.
If you are procrastinating, know that it is caused by obstacles and friction. To learn more about it, here are 13 effective solutions to procrastination.
- You want to go play outside.
Especially in cold climates (I live in Canada) where summer is short, people's behavior changes drastically throughout the year. Almost depressed and hibernating in winter, people binge on outside cocktails and outdoor activities during summer. This affects productivity on a high level. If you have control over your schedule, you can take that beautiful sunny day off and work over the weekend. Basically, you can rearrange your time to take advantage of beautiful days.
- There's no urgency.
When you have a long time to do something, there is no pressure and it is more likely that you will put it off. Set intermediate goals and start today.
- There's no accountability.
By not being held responsible for your actions, you can easily backwards rationalize when you don't get things done. This is probably one of the least applied concepts in business. You should stop relying on willpower alone and start using accountability to facilitate sustained productivity.
- You're afraid of failure.
Fear of failure comes down to the two basic human fears: Not being enough, and not being loved as a consequence. We're also avoiding the potential pain this failure can cause us. Fear and gratitude cannot co-exist in the brain at the same time. By feeling grateful for the lessons that you can learn from failure, fear dissipates.
- You don't know what to do next.
Not knowing what your immediate next step is can freeze you. You might feel overwhelmed with all your options of what to do next. Stop and think. Take a few minutes to think about your next step. If you still don't know, you might refer to your Mastermind group (explained below in this article). Sometimes, you're very motivated, you have plenty of pressure and accountability, but stuff keeps derailing your efforts...
You have a lot to get done, but it seems like there's always something else urgent and important that needs your attention right now.
In today's fast-paced world, we are constantly interrupted. Your email notifications pop up, the office phone or mobile phone ring, and colleagues can interrupt your work at any time to ask you a question. When you want to be productive, you need to eliminate those interruptions. Close your email inbox or disable notifications, turn off your phones' ring. If you are in an office with a door, close it. Let your colleagues know that you are not available for certain periods in the day where you focus on your work.
- Poorly defined boundaries.
It's easy for your personal life to creep in your day when working. If working from home, it's still work time. People shouldn't be bothering you. You need to focus on your work while you're at home. Also, get out of the gray zone that lies between productivity and relaxation. Do one or the other fully, but not both at the same time.
- Not budgeting enough time to do stuff.
For example, if you budget only one hour to answer email and you spend four, it gets into your other stuff. You can solve it with a time audit, and improve your estimation skills over time.
- Your colleagues are scheduling a lot of meetings.
Your time is valuable, and so is theirs. Every hour spent in a meeting is time not spent making progress with your work. There is hence an inherent cost to meetings. Attend only the meetings where it is truly relevant for you to be there. And run effective meetings.
Doing the wrong things
You need to know precisely what you want, know how you'll get there, and have the right team to help you along the way.
- You haven't identified clearly what you want.
What your mind can conceive and bring itself to believe, it can achieve. The first step, then, is to know exactly what you want. In other words, you need to define your definite purpose. Your strategy, your goals and your actions will stem from that purpose.
- You haven't defined SMARTER goals.
Your goals need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely, emotional and rewarding. Setting a goal to make $1 million this year out of the blue would not be a good goal.
- You don't have the right overall strategy.
Once you have defined clearly what you want and what your SMARTER goals are, you need the right strategy - or overall plan of action. This is when your Mastermind group comes in handy. Make sure to stay on track – keep applying the strategy you established, while making it evolve as you gather feedback and experience.
- You're not using the power of the Mastermind.
Napoleon Hill introduced the Mastermind principle in his book Think and Grow Rich. It consists of two or more people who work in perfect harmony for the attainment of a definite purpose. It is the principle by which you can borrow and use the education, the experience and the influence of other people.
- You're not planning regularly.
Priorities change, and your plan of action is constantly evolving, but planning is essential. In Dwight D. Eisenhower's words: "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable".
- Bonus #28: Maybe you are productive, and you just don't know it.
Sometimes we're so geared and focused on what to do next that we don't stop to appreciate what we accomplished. Make sure to stop and appreciate small wins. Other times, we're setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Feel grateful for every bit of progress. Celebrate, do or buy something you love. For me, whenever I make great progress, I treat myself to a healthy restaurant and a massage at a spa. What makes you feel great? Is it spending time with loved ones? Going on a short trip? Buying new clothes?