Have you ever had periods of your day, your week or your life when you can’t seem to get anything done? Unless you are some kind of super human ninja productivity god, the answer is probably yes.
I have struggled with my To Do list recently, I am certainly no super human ninja, and I came to the conclusion that there are a number of reasons we might be blocking the flow of progress. Here are three likely culprits, and some suggestions for how to fix them.
1. You have unmet physical needs.
This one seems really obvious, but if you have ever been unable to focus because you were hungry, you know how having unmet physical needs can influence our behavior. Psychologist Abraham Maslow taught us that if your physical needs are unmet, you will not be able to work on higher order tasks.
I know that when I am tired, I shut down. I tell myself that my work stinks. I am one of the worst writers ever. All of my students probably hate me. I am pretty sure that I will not be able to succeed at anything. When I am exhausted, I convince myself that since nothing I do matters anyway, I might as well just quit.
Exhaustion does not allow me to be my best. Fortunately, I’ve learned not to listen to myself when I am really tired. My best response is to stop working, do something relaxing and mindless like watching television, and then get some sleep.
Fixing unmet physical needs is pretty easy. Eat something nutritious. Drink some water. Go for a walk and get some fresh air. Close your office door to block out noise. Take a catnap or get a good night’s sleep. Go to the bathroom. Really. I know many people who are too busy to go to the bathroom when they need to. I am here to tell you that it is not helping you get more done.
2. You are overwhelmed.
You probably know the feelings of being overwhelmed. You have too many things to do. You might not even be sure which things you need to do. You don’t have priorities for your tasks so you aren’t sure which things to do first and how to proceed. Not having the skills or information you need in order to complete the task also causes overwhelm.
Overwhelm and I have been pretty good friends lately. I have been juggling several different work projects along with several family and personal obligations. I have found several strategies that help me to feel less overwhelm and more control.
I have created very clear and specific goals for my life and my work. Having clear goals helps you to see which things really matter. I have blocked my goals into 12 week sprints and broken those down again into projects with weekly and daily tasks. If something isn’t connected to one of my goals, then most likely it is not a priority and I can eliminate or delegate it.
If you aren’t sure what you need to do, do a brain dump by making a list of everything you can think of that needs to get done. Some people find that having a master list is overwhelming in itself, but I find it frees me up because once it is down on paper I don’t have to remember it and the task doesn’t get lost or forgotten. Once I have a list, I can prioritize my tasks. A list also allows you to group like items and batch your work, which saves time and energy.
Lastly, if you don’t have the skill or information you need, where can you get it? I’ve been walking in new territory as an entrepreneur, and have accepted that I don’t know how to do things in this realm. I’ve Googled things, watched You Tube tutorials, asked mentors, read books and taken classes. As one of my virtual mentors, Marie Forleo always says, “everything is figureoutable.” If you don’t know how to do something, you can learn.
3. You feel apathetic.
Are you struggling to get things done because you just don’t care? Apathy is a sign that something is missing in your work or your life. Perhaps you are bored or feeling burned out. Maybe you are in the wrong job, or have learned all you can and you are ready to move on to something else. Maybe your life or work lacks purpose.
When I am feeling apathetic, I know I need bigger goals, a new challenge and something to get excited about. When I think back over my life, whenever I started to get bored, I created a new challenge. I designed new courses or new programs. I led committees or chaired fundraisers. One time I started a district wide talent show, another time I started a national organization. I also built and remodeled several homes.
It is easy for me to look back and see how often I have created new opportunities and new challenges for myself. These things require more work, but often are a labor of love. New projects and challenges keep things fresh and exciting. It is difficult to be bored or feel apathetic when you have interesting new things happening all of the time.
Apathy is a dangerous place to be. Do you really want to go through life just accepting things as they are, putting in minimal time and effort doing just enough to get by? Do you want to settle for ho-hum? Are you happy living a mediocre life?
I think life is too short to settle. If you are feeling apathetic, you need a bigger life. Find something that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning. Take on a challenge, or learn a new skill. Try working in a different environment. Change the order of your work or the methods you use to get the work done. Play some music while you work, find a partner, or try competing with yourself or someone else. Change things that leave you unsatisfied. You might work harder, but it will be more fun.
We will all struggle with productivity from time to time, but it doesn’t have to be a pattern.
What gets in the way of your productivity? Have you found any tips or tricks that keep you on task or focused? I would love to hear your ideas.