When it comes to doing the important things in our life it can be mind-boggling how unproductive our behavior can become. It’s also amazing how many good reasons we can find to avoid the obvious task. We need to build awareness of why we are doing this and then find a way of breaking this unproductive habit.
1. Lack of Clarity
The number one reason for bad productivity is a lack of clarity. A lack of clarity means no clear direction with fuzzy and low motivation. Low motivation means few actions. I see this for myself, especially with projects that tend to be more complex in nature, it needs some clear thoughts or a clear vision driving me to take action.
Solution → Break projects down into smaller steps
I’m just in the process of writing my first real book and it’s quite a difficult undertaking, especially since I don’t have instant gratification as in writing a blog-post where I get real people giving me feedback relatively fast. What helped me a lot was increasing clarity (also see: 5 Minutes to Total Clarity) by defining the general framework of the book and finding 5 questions I want to answer in each chapter. So breaking something bigger down into smaller tasks and giving the project a clear framework helps a lot.
Solution → Create clarity with a vision and goals
It is even more basic to have a vision and specific goals for what you laid out to accomplish. Get a little imaginative and paint out a vision of what you try to accomplish. Make it as clear as possible because that image of your final result will give you a lot of direction and drive.
Goals are thoughts made more concrete and are part of the process of creating something new. They give direction and produce clarity and therefore help to stay focussed and break the unproductive habit.
2. Fear of Failure
This can be a very powerful blocker. The fear of failure can make you very unproductive because by nature it triggers an avoidance mechanism. We run when we fear something. So when we fear a possible result of our actions, we may also rather run than go for it. So it takes a certain courage to face your most important task. Sometimes a lot depends on it and it is personally really important for you.
Solution → Expect success and a positive outcome
When you visualize your end result (as described on 1.) it gets easier to keep your mind focussed on a positive outcome. This will naturally pull you into the right direction and makes failure much more unlikely as if you were constantly haunted by the fear of a negative outcome. It is like the Law of Attraction: You attract what you focus on. And you move away from where you don’t focus. If you expect success it reliefs your mind from the fear of failure and actually improves your success-rate.
Perfectionism can really lead to procrastination because you constantly think about how you could make it even better without actually ever starting. Some people see perfectionism as something positive. After all it means you have high standards and always go for the best. But strangely enough you can exactly reach the best quality by not being a perfectionist.
Solution → Start small and grow big
The secret is optimization: a constant improvement of what started completely not perfect. Mark Twain once said „The secret of getting ahead is getting started.“
I also think when perfectionism shows its face it also can be some kind of fear of failure as well. The underlying notion here is: „It’s (read: I am) still not good enough. When someone sees this it will be embarrassing and I will be perceived as a failure.“
Solution → Don’t take yourself too seriously
From my personal experience people usually don’t expect you to be perfect right from the start. Most of the time when I thought this is just not good enough, I still got tons of positive feedback. I’m not saying you should be sloppy, but if you have high standards on yourself chances are you are already good to go. Remember, you still will optimize. This way you are a lot faster and by the time you would have had your perfect result, you are probably out-optimizing that by large just because you got so much feedback already.
4. Fear of Success
This one sounds funny – but it actually happens a lot. What if everything happens as planned? Wouldn’t that be a huge change in my life? Fear of success is really a fear of change. And most importantly a fear of not being able to live up to your own expectations. Am I really good enough for what I dream about? Do I have what it takes?
Solution → Trust
Trust in yourself and trust in the world. Learn to be comfortable with change and welcome it as a positive improvement of your life. It takes courage to make something happen and to go for your hearts desire. Risks are always involved, welcome them. They are the bloodstream of your live. It is much riskier not to go for your desires and stay in your comfort-zone, because then you risk to become a real failure in life.
We got to move to be alive.
The last reason for being unproductive is chaos. In other words: just not being organized enough. If you are chaotic you basically lack direction. Maybe you haven’t found your way yet. The reason for that is probably a lack of clarity (see 1.) or the self-limiting belief that you have to do a lot of things simultaneously.
Solution → Simplify and focus
Quite the contrary is true because by multitasking you divide your mental focus and your energy. I believe simplicity is the key to success: unite your energies to do one thing really, really good. That’s the way to be outstanding, to be remarkable. A simple productivity system helps as well.
To focus your energies more be clear about what you are after (see 1.) and know that nobody accomplishes anything worthwhile with fuzzy goals and following distractions.
How are you unproductive?
Those where my top 5 reasons of being unproductive. What is your biggest sin that makes you unproductive? Write your comment below…
Great work, you inspired me a lot. Thanks so much
Thanks for this post and the one about clearing the mind. I’m a student in high school taking IB and I find it incredibly difficult to work sometimes with a full head. I think numbers 1-3 are my biggest problems. I guess my other biggest sin is distraction. For example: I’m supposed to be writing a 1200 word essay right now. Oops.
You’re welcome Hannes. Indeed I personally struggle with clarity and perfectionism from time to time … :-)
Thank you for this one. I find myself falling into most of these traps, and it’s great to find some solutions for them.