Still looking back at my last year and inspired by a post by Manal Ghosain, I wanted to reflect on why I wasn’t fully happy with my personal productivity last year. I think it can be really revealing to ask deep questions about what I did in the past. My goal is always to get new insights and to profit from them now and in the future. And I think there are patterns that apply to all of us.

Not being as productive as I could comes down to not spending my time where I should, according to my set priorities.

Why am I doing that?

The #1 Reason for Low Productivity

Simple answer: Because I lack self-discipline. It means that still I’m saying „yes“ to things that are not important. I say „yes“ to things to which I really should say „no“ to be more productive.

Now, I wrote The Tiny Guide to Self-Discipline where I said:

#2 Take Courage to Face the Difficult Things. This is kind of the ultimate tip in order to really grow your self-discipline. It is a practice of continuously doing the right thing, and resisting the urge of getting an immediate gratification.

This means in order build up your self-discipline your have to focus on your long-term goal, instead of following short term pleasures. Simple, right?

Instant Gratification Habits vs. Long Term Goals

Yes, in theory. But in everyday life it turns out that not giving in to short term gratification is really the hardest part. Especially when you have habits that are not obviously bad (the bad ones are there too!) but are just not a good fit anymore. So it’s not only about not going after instant gratification, but it’s also about breaking out of habits that are in conflict with your long-term goal.

For instance these unproductive habits could be: reading email too often, checking any statistics, looking for new „information“ or even checking what your friends at facebook are doing. It sounds trivial but take a look at your own life and tell me it isn’t true!

Why are you going after these seemingly unnecessary tasks?

It’s because, as already discussed:

1. They give you instant gratification
2. They exist as part of a (bad) habit

If you tackle these two and overwrite them with actions that lead to your long-term goal, all would be fine. And in fact, my Tiny Guide to Self-Discipline has very good tips to do that. But when we want to look deeper, we have to look at what happens at the moment of decision…

Fighting the Feeling of Missing Out

At the defining moment when you make the (maybe even unconscious) decision of going after instant gratification, you have a choice. The choice is to say „yes“ or to say „no“. And why is it so hard to say „no“?

Because you feel you would miss out!

You feel that when you don’t do the thing leading to instant gratification, then you miss out on something important. And this something important is mostly a short good feeling. The joyful feeling of instant gratification. A short relief, a little break, or a way of avoiding negative feelings.

But that’s exactly what you have to do: You have to take this feeling of missing out and … actually miss out! Feel this lack. Know that it’s ok. Because it doesn’t matter. It’s an illusion. You don’t lose anything. In fact you will gain something: you’re building self-discipline and you will feel good for it later on.

That’s the turning point. Then you do the task leading towards our long-term goal instead, knowing that this is what will give you ultimate pleasure.

This missing out on purpose is exactly what is representing saying „no“ from above. To do this, you need to be aware when it happens. You need to stay conscious and notice that little space between your thoughts to make that choice (see #4 Develop Your Awareness in the Tiny Guide to Self-Discipline).

When you notice the moment and consciously say „no“, you are actually exercising and building your self-confidence.

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