Why does it feel like you never get as much done as you could (and should)?
Your procrastination habits keep getting in the way. And while there is a lot of advice out there, it’s not very helpful.
Quick tips like “use the Pomodoro Technique” and “change your work environment” will only get you so far. They don’t solve the root problem. You’re productive for a day, maybe a week. But then what?
Read on to learn exactly why you fail to keep productive – and what to do about it.
Here’s the real reason you fail to be productive
Productivity isn’t something you magically learn in a day. Instead, the primitive parts of your brain are the reason you procrastinate and don’t keep productive.
You see, your brain has a lot of functions that were useful thousands of years ago… But not so much today.
Your brain’s fight-or-flight response
For example, the brain has a “fight-or-flight” response – an automatic response to life-threatening situations. This reaction was extremely important for ensuring that your ancestors could fight off or flee an animal or enemy attack.
Today, that same function creates anxiety and stress because your brain interprets events around you to be life-threatening even if they aren’t. So for example, a stressful meeting or a nerve-racking call can trigger this reaction. And this, again, keeps you from focusing on your work.
Your brain’s reward system
The same goes for your brain’s reward system. In short, your brain has two parts. One of them likes quick rewards and the other is all about long-term consequences.
The part that likes quick rewards was incredibly useful back in the day. Then, life expectancy was short and food was scarce. You ate or you were eaten. And even today, this part of the brain makes us drink water and do other life-sustaining tasks.
But today, it sabotages your productivity and success. Facebook, interesting (but unimportant) articles, unhealthy snacking, binge-watching Netflix… They’re things you prefer to do instead of those important work tasks because of your “monkey brain”.
Your brain saves energy
Your brain runs on the energy your body produces. It only has so much energy, so naturally, it conserves energy to focus on things that really matter to you.
However, that also means you don’t necessarily notice important things or you forget them because your brain doesn’t register they’re important.
You try to multitask and focus on many things at the same time.
The thing is:
These three brain functions contribute to your unproductive behavior.
Because your behavior is based on habits, it’s hard to change. Your brain takes the easiest way out and your habits stick.
That’s why you need to actively change them. And this is key to becoming productive.
Fortunately, there are simple ways to change your habits. And here below, you get a 3-step solution to master your productivity once and for all:
Start with a goal
First things first:
Be specific with what you’re working on. Only then do you know what your brain should focus on.
So which alternative should you go for?
The one that comes naturally to you.
Just one thing to keep in mind when you set your goals:
It’s easy to abandon a goal when you lapse and don’t keep up your commitment to achieving it. You give up on the entire goal because you’ve “failed”.
But even if you temporarily go back to your bad habits, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Just that it’s time to steer back to focusing on your goal.
In fact, here it is essential to recognize that there are two different mindsets – a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset”.
A fixed mindset means that you (subconsciously) believe you’re born with certain traits. Your intelligence is static and your behavior can’t change.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, is all about taking on challenges and recognizing that this is how you develop and grow. Your behavior can change – but you might have to face a few challenges on the way.
By going from a fixed to a growth mindset you can’t fail. It’s just a matter of pursuing your goal until you reach it.
So in your work, set a goal. For example: “I want to get more done every hour.” Now pursue this goal until you reach it. If you fail along the way – it doesn’t matter. You try again until you reach it.
Take your first steps
Now you might be thinking:
“Setting a goal, that’s easy. But how do I get started?”
And yes, getting started is half the battle won. Most people never act on their goals.
So here’s a task to help you take your first step:
Figure out a simple task you can do today. This task is a task you can repeat tomorrow, the day after, and so forth to move closer to your goal.
“Today, I start monitoring an hour of work – what I get done in an hour. Tomorrow I’ll do the same.”
You continue until you have a good understanding of how you use your work time.
That’s it – that’s all you need to do right now.
Then, when you know how you use your time, you set your next task.
“Today, I use my first work hour to focus on my most important and urgent task. Tomorrow I’ll do the same.”
If you fail, don’t think: “OK, that was it.” Instead, focus on your next opportunity to work on your goal: “I didn’t do it today, I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Do this over and over until you develop a habit.
Keep it simple
It’s easy to think:
“I have these 10 goals. I’ll start working on all of them.”
Unfortunately, you set yourself up for failure.
Remember how we talked about your brain and how it saves energy?
Yeah, that’s what’s going to happen. Your brain just can’t focus on that many things at the same time.
You’ll start multitasking, trying to manage all your goals, and end up losing track of them.
Instead of overwhelming yourself, start with one thing. When you master that goal, move on to the next.
That’s how you get productive.
“But I want to be productive every day”
Goal-setting is great… once you master it.
Unfortunately, you know how much your brain craves quick rewards.
To satisfy that part of your brain, use these productivity tips to start your day in a productive way:
1) Start working for five minutes. You know just how tough it can be to motivate yourself to start working. So instead of thinking: “I’ll start now and work until lunch” or “My workday ends at 5 PM today and I’ll work productively until then”, tell yourself to get started for five minutes.
That’s it. If you don’t feel like working after this time limit, you don’t have to. You can do whatever else it is you want to do… like checking your Facebook feed or even binge-watching Netflix. Sweet deal, right?
The beauty of this technique is that your brain does not like interruptions. It likes to finish what it started. So most probably, you’ll keep going beyond your self-imposed time limit.
2) The Pomodoro Technique. The most productive people take breaks throughout their workday (20 minutes for every 90 minutes they work). And that’s exactly what the Pomodoro Technique helps you do. You work for 25 minutes and then take a 3-5 minute long break. Do this four times. Then, you keep a longer break (15-30 minutes). And once that break is up, you go back to your Pomodoro sprints.
Just notice that your breaks should unplug you from your work. So instead of checking your email, checking something online, or scrolling through your Facebook feed, do something relaxing. For example: go drink a glass of water, meditate, read, take a walk or talk to a coworker.
3) Set yourself up for success. It’s impossible to keep productive unless you have some basic things working for you. You need to keep hydrated, eat the right food, exercise, sleep, and rest.
So keep a water bottle on your desk, eat breakfast and a light lunch, exercise at least a few times a week, sleep for 7-8 hours a night and give yourself time to unwind from work.
Conclusion: Practice makes perfect
Now you know why it’s so difficult to keep productive (your brain just keeps messing it up for you)…
…But you also know that there are ways to fight back and keep productive.
There’s no magic pill and productivity takes work.
You’ll probably struggle. But by taking small and deliberate steps, you can overcome your unproductive habits.
All it takes is setting a goal, taking the first step to achieving it, and realizing that even if you don’t keep productive all the time, you haven’t “failed”.
I’d love to know:
What’s your biggest struggle in terms of productivity? How will you use this 3-step plan to overcome this?
Write a quick comment below.