Five Productivity Pitfalls (And How to Avoid Them)
At the time of writing I’ve been sitting in front of a blank white screen for over an hour, without typing a word. I know what I want to say. I have a very specific vision for this piece. But I just haven’t been able to execute at the level to which I’m accustomed. I haven’t been able to get the thoughts out of my head and onto paper in an orderly fashion. And with each passing moment I become more frustrated and less motivated to finish this piece at all. I keep telling myself this is an inconsequential article, that I can just come back to it tomorrow, or the next day, and no one would know the difference.
See the problem is, the Yankees/Astros game is on TV in the background, and while mid-June blowouts are not of particular interest to me on their own, it’s more than enough of a distraction to extinguish just about any reasonable chance I have of making some real headway here. If I was just relaxing in front of the TV right now I’d be watching something else. But since I don’t really feel like writing, I’m suddenly way too invested in watching Giancarlo Stanton rope one into the left field corner for his first hit since returning from the IL.
My condition, as unnervingly self-abusive as it may seem, is far from uncommon. Though it manifests in myriad ways, this form of procrastination is perhaps the most detrimental inhibitor of productive action. The kind of distraction that isn’t abrupt or jarring, it’s so subtle that we barely notice. It’s the white noise we don’t realize is there until it envelopes us, knocks us unconscious and leaves us for dead. Only for us to awake in a haze, hours later, astonished at how much time has gone by and how much we still have left to do.
The fact is, the biggest obstacles that stand between us and our most productive selves are normally the hardest to see. That’s what makes them so hard to overcome. We often don’t even see them as obstacles, but rather important tasks that no one else can do but us. Lying to ourselves in order to avoid the things we know we really should be doing. Let’s take a look at five of the most common hinderances to our productivity and how we can avoid them.
1. Phone Overuse
Forgive me for stating the most obvious first, but it’s worth mentioning as, for most of us, our phones are a hell of a lot more distracting than we tend to realize. When it comes to phone usage, we’re probably more hypocritical than in any other area of our lives. We’re constantly complaining about entire generations of people being so distracted by their devices that they no longer possess the skills to interact in any meaningful way. And then we air our grievances on the matter…using our phones…to post to social media…rather than talking face to face.
Device distraction syndrome is almost never intentional. We want to be good, we want to get done everything we said we would that day. We simply find ourselves ambling through our apps or scrolling timelines, without really knowing how or why we got there. Whether we’re reading about important world news or simply checking to see if it’s going to rain this weekend, there’s always one little reason to sneak a quick peak.
But it’s in those moments, those fleeting, almost unconscious moments, that our momentum is crushed. Our minds now buzzing with whatever stimuli we just took a fresh hit of, we must now start the process of getting back on course all over again. Or we don’t try, and just kick the can down the road for another day.
2. Poor Environment
One of the easiest pieces of the productivity puzzle to overlook is the environment in which we’re attempting to do our best work. As I mentioned earlier, distractions are rarely obvious. More often than not our productivity unravels around a string of small, momentary disruptions that add up to a major roadblock in our day. Your environment plays a huge part in how often those disruptions occur, and how they’re managed when they do.
Take stock of the environment in which you attempt to be at your most productive. Is it conducive to the mindset you need to be in to produce? What would need to change to make it that way? How about the people around you? Are there clear boundaries set with them? Do they know and respect your availability?
You would be amazed at how a few simple conversations with colleagues, friends, or loved ones that don’t realize their behavior is distracting can effect your bottom line.
This one just became personal, because I just did it, just now. I had my email open in another tab, saw that I had received a new message, clicked over, saw it was garbage, trashed it, clicked back, completely lost my train of thought.
It’s just so easy to sit there and attack every message as it comes in throughout the day. Especially for us that work in industries where they can really pile up. Stop yourself, be strong. Toughen up your mindset and accept the fact that, unless you’re a world-leader, no one’s likely going to even notice if you don’t respond for a few hours.
Close the tab and get your work done.
4. Doing Too Much
Here’s the reality, there are very few things, if any, that only you are capable of doing. In fact, I would venture to guess that a lot of the things you think only you can do can actually be done better by someone else. But as leaders it can sometimes be hard for us to see it that way. When your paycheck depends on the performance of other people it can be tough to loosen your grip and let the reigns go. But here’s the thing, you only got to where you are by moving forward, continuing to spend time doing things that can be delegated will stop you from moving any further. You need to lead. To pour into others so the team can run like the machine you’ve envisioned.
Take a deep breath, and let go.
5. Doing the Wrong Things
Real estate agents have an insane fascination with their personal brand. They’ll spend months at a time pouring over revisions, requesting logo changes, swapping color schemes, all for a logo that, frankly, no one cares about. Like literally no one. After nearly a decade in the real estate business I think I’ve finally handed out my tenth business card.
It’s not that those things aren’t important, they’re just not as important as, you know, actually doing work. But we often use task-oriented work as a way to distract ourselves from the fact that we really have no idea what to do. Or don’t want to do what we know we have to.
When we’re brand new to the real estate business we spend countless hours perfecting the look of our Facebook business page because going out and forming new relationships is out of our comfort zone. We tell ourselves we’re not ready to dive in because haven’t even come up with a good slogan for our brand.
This lack of prioritization is lethal to any new business. If you don’t know what you need to be doing, seek guidance and find out rather than doing things to distract from that feeling of despondence. And if you’re avoiding what you should really be doing, stop it. Do what you’re supposed to, you know better than that, you read my blog.
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It’s a weird dynamic, this relationship we have with failure. We love stories about it. No one likes a movie where the main character succeeds unchecked. We like the struggle, the adversity. It inspires us, reminds us of what’s possible. But that’s when someone else is the subject. That’s when someone else is going through it. When it comes to our lives, every failure makes us question how much we really value the outcome. How much do we really want to succeed?
The fact is, just about everyone desires to be in better shape, to be healthier in some way, and knows, with at least some certainty, the steps they need to take to accomplish their goals. Lack of education isn’t why we fail. But it’s also not because we set our sights too high. Most of us just want to look good in the mirror, that’s a completely realistic goal. If anything, we give up because we know we can do it.
It’s fundamentally difficult, with so much distraction and opportunity, to find the time to get it all in every day. To truly be productive and not just busy. So, what’s the solution? How do we get back to a place where we’re not constantly being pulled in a million different directions? Where the day doesn’t waste away behind the steady flow of new and completely irrelevant stimulants being thrown at us non-stop? The answer is simple addition by subtraction.
It’s understandable, in a world increasingly full of distraction, that it takes a near herculean effort to put our best foot forward in that department, but that doesn’t make the threat of wasted time any less real.
And while the battle for time efficiency may never cease entirely, there are plenty of safeguards we can implement to systematize our efforts.
Here are a few simple, practical ways to up your productivity and stave off waste.
It’s 3 A.M. and you’re doing that thing where you look at the clock and think about how many hours of sleep you’ll get if