I don’t think that’s it’s always deliberate. But, when it comes to productivity, we’re sometimes our own worst enemy. For example, you did your due diligence by adding your most important tasks to your calendar. But, you didn’t schedule them around when you’re most productive. Here are 12 ways to avoid self-sabotaging your productivity.
That may sound inconsequential. But, since you didn’t plan your day around productivity peaks, you may be working on an essential task during an energy dip. As a result, it may take you longer since you don’t have the energy and focus.
But, that’s just one example of how you may be self-sabotaging your productivity? If you want to avoid participating in this self-destructive behavior, then here are 12 ways you can do so.
1. Manage your attention.
Maura Thomas is an award-winning speaker, trainer, and author of several books, including “Attention Management.” According to Thomas, if you want to avoid self-sabotaging your productivity, then you should first pay attention to your attention.
“We have framed our efforts around productivity and efficiency as ‘time management’ for way too long, all the while knowing that no one can actually ‘manage time,” Thomas told Forbes. “It passes, no matter what we do. We can’t slow it down or create more of it, and we all have the same amount.”
In other words, not having enough time isn’t the culprit when it comes to productivity. “It’s a distraction and misplaced attention that interferes with our ability to achieve the results that are most significant to us,” argues Thomas. The solution? Attention management.
Thomas defines attention management as “the practice of controlling your attention.” While not necessarily a new concept, this idea can be traced back to William James in the 1800s, Thomas believes that this “is an essential productivity skill of the 21st century.”
At its core, attention management is about being proactive and not reactive. It’s deciding where we want our attention to go. And, it’s identifying and changing the bad habits that prevent us from being productive.
To get you started, Thomas suggests:
- Either put your phone away or put it in do not disturb mode.
- When on your computer, work offline or close distracting websites.
- Allocate specific times to focus on less important tasks like email.
- Declutter your workspace.
- For uninterrupted work, find a quiet space where you aren’t distracted by others.
Most importantly, “plan, organize, and make thoughtful choices about what gets our attention.” Ideally, this should be based around your priorities.
2. Don’t get too comfortable.
“The critical inner voice likes to keep us in a box, pigeonholed by an identity assigned to us and not necessarily one we earned,” writes Lisa Firestone Ph.D. “It can be tricky and flood us with thoughts that are seemingly self-soothing. After all, it’s much easier “to recognize an internal enemy when it’s yelling at you that you’re stupid or a failure.”
However, most of us struggle with identifying those thoughts that encourage us to engage in unhealthy habits. For example, when you’re exhausted after a hectic week, you may tell yourself that you’ve earned the right to eat junk food and veg out on the couch all weekend.
“Listening to this voice may feel comfortable at first,” adds Dr. Firestone. But, “once we give in to bad habits or avoid going after what we want, our inner critic starts in with the self-punishing thoughts,” such as “You’ll never amount to anything.”
Definitely — make (and schedule) time to rest and celebrate your accomplishments. But, at the same, don’t get too cozy. Keep looking for ways to learn, grow, and get out of your comfort zone. When you do, you’ll embark on more productive and healthy habits. It’s also a great way to silence that pesky inner critic.
3. Create a Pavolian reinforcement system.
We all have those days when we don’t feel like doing squat. As a consequence, we end up procrastinating. Next thing we know, your productivity has taken a hit. More worrisome, this could screw up your entire schedule for the day or even week. And, you may also put your business in jeopardy by failing to meet deadlines.
The good news is that you can use some good old classical conditioning to address this problem. It’s a simple way to trick you into doing anything that you don’t want to. For example, I was having difficulty getting in the zone this week. But, I promised myself that as soon as I completed my work, I would treat myself to a trip to the movie theater. It was simple, but it worked.
The key here is to find a reward system that works best for you. If you don’t want to go to the movies, then treat yourself to a healthy snack, having lunch with a friend, or purchasing a new book.
4. Get over your preconceived notions.
I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of forming an opinion about someone or something before meeting or experiencing them. For example, you may skip a party or networking event because you assume that it will be a waste of time. Other times you won’t try new food, tool, or business process since you’ve already told yourself that you won’t like it.
Sure. There will be times when your preconception was right. But, if you always listen to this bias, then you aren’t opening the door to new experiences, ideas, and perspectives. What’s more, by refusing to try out new things, you’re potentially missing out on an improved routine or system that can boost your output.
5. Working through breaks.
In theory, it’s understandable why we do this. You’ve got a million things to do, or you’ve fallen behind on a project. To resolve these problems, you don’t take any breaks throughout the day. You even work straight through your lunch break, subsisting on a Snickers bar — or two.
You begin to believe that it’s counterproductive to stop what you’re doing merely to take a breath — a breather, or eat a healthy lunch. But, breaks are essential to productivity. We need these intermissions to decompress, rest, and recharge. We can also use these lulls to process everything that’s going around us. And, they give us a chance to refuel so that we have the stamina and mental energy to get through the remainder of the day.
6. Making decisions — quickly.
As a leader, you’re expected to make tough decisions daily. Because some of these decisions are important, you should take your time so that you can weigh the advantages and drawbacks.
But what about less essential choices? You should be able to make them quickly. If not, we’ll spend a portion of your day ruminating over something insignificant.
Author and former clinical psychologist Alice Boyes use picking a hotel as an example. Instead of doing extensive research each time you search for a room, you should have five criteria points that you look for. If the hotel meets your requirements, then book it.
“This helps me de-prioritize marginally productive behaviors, like spending 30 mins returning an unsatisfactory low-value item to a store when I could be doing something much more productive,” Boyes writes for Harvard Business Review.
7. Avoid comparing yourself to others.
“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
It’s so easy to fall into this trap. Between conducting market research or just scrolling through social media, you’re tempted to compare yourself to others. Whether it’s sizing up your competition or seeing which tropical location a college friend is currently at, comparing yourself to others isn’t just a waste of time. It also sabotages your productivity because you’re more worried about others are doing than how you can improve yourself personally and professionally.
8. Don’t fear change.
Change is a part of life. But, that doesn’t mean that it comes easy. Most of us resist change because we’re petrified of the unknown. Others are just creatures of habit and don’t want to shake things up.
Whatever the exact reason, change is confusing and frightening. But, by embracing change, you can evolve into a more well-rounded, knowledgeable, and productive individual.
Some ways that you can fight back against this resistance is to seek out different perspectives and try something new. For example, if you’ve never had Indian cuisine, make visiting that new Thai restaurant in town a part of your date night agenda. And, make sure that you ask lots of questions.
9. Seek out inspiration.
Although often attributed to C.S. Lewis, it’s most likely Les Brown, one of my favorite quotes is, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” The reason? It encourages me to chase my dreams and find new sources of inspiration constantly.
If you feel like you haven’t felt excited in quite some time, then everything from motivation, residence, and productivity will stifle. Eventually, like The Boss, you’ll get stuck in the mud somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.
Thankfully, there’s an inspiration all around you. Books, podcasts, exploring your city, or taking in the arts are all simple ways to give you an inspiration spark when you need it.
10. Lower your standards.
Obviously, you don’t want to ditch your high standards when it comes to your work or the products and services you offer. You should also expect your team to deliver quality work. But, it’s unreasonable and not possible to demand perfection.
Perfectionism prevents you from improving, discovering new opportunities, and wrecks your productivity. To avoid this cycle, lower standards just a little — a smidgen won’t kill you or anyone else. Try:
- Not being so demanding and nitpicky.
- Setting realistic goals.
- Welcoming feedback from others.
- Not comparing yourself to others.
- Admit to the fact that you’re imperfect.
11. Delay gratification.
Our brains prioritize instant gratification. The main reason for this is because of the emotional part of the brain that responds positively to immediate rewards.
“Our emotional brain has a hard time imagining the future, even though our logical brain clearly sees the future consequences of our current actions,” says David Laibson at Harvard University. “Our emotional brain wants to max out the credit card, order dessert and smoke a cigarette. Our logical brain knows we should save for retirement, go for a jog and quit smoking.”
While you should savor the moment, you also need to find the right balance. If you stay up all night drinking, then how productive are you going to be the next day? If you keep neglecting your health, then you aren’t going to have the energy and focus to power through your to-dos.
So, definitely have fun. But, it should be within reason. And, more importantly, don’t immediately reward yourself. Save it for later so that you’ll make a better choice.
12. Embrace failure.
Finally, don’t fear failure. You should welcome it.
I know that it isn’t fun and wasn’t your intention. But, failing is one of the best ways to learn and grow. You can take that painful experience and use it to your advantage so that you can become a smarter and stronger entrepreneur. It may even make you a better person overall.