I have to confess: Although I could talk time management and productivity all day long, I still find myself hitting productivity roadblocks. The list of things I want to do is always so much longer than what I could humanely accomplish, and I get overwhelmed, distracted and just plain tired.
Do you know the feeling? Like you’re just spinning your wheels, running around all day but not really accomplishing much of anything? The overachiever in me gets so frustrated when I can’t do everything on that massive list. But the eternal optimist in me just keeps adding on more, hoping that one day I will find a way to do it all.
Last week, I stopped working long enough to go on a walk to think about the things that were getting in my way. Why was I struggling so much? Why wasn’t I getting more done? I came up with six productivity roadblocks that commonly get in the way of my productivity, and I thought might be helpful if I shared them with you, along with some of the solutions I brainstormed to overcome them.
6 Productivity Roadblocks
1. Letting urgent tasks overshadow important ones.
Roadblock: This is a roadblock I run into all too often, and it is a common reason we tend to feel like we’re not moving any closer to our goals. You know you’ve hit this roadblock when you realize you are letting your days dictate themselves. Rather than having a plan in place to accomplish those important tasks, you keep yourself busy putting out fires. I often feel this way, constantly reacting instead of acting with intention.
Solution: Start your day with a plan to do the highest impact things first. I like to identify two or three important tasks for the next day before I go to bed each night, that way I can hit the ground running in the morning. Another method I live by is time blocking my days and weeks. I set aside time for all of the responsibilities in my life so I know nothing will fall through the cracks. This really cuts down on the number of things I have to scramble to finish at the last minute. You can read more about how I organize my entire week here.
2. Not understanding the why.
Roadblock: If you don’t know why a single task is important in the grand scheme of things, it’s easy to keep pushing it off until tomorrow. This one happened to me very recently. I had put off a task for weeks and continued to transfer it from list to list. I was sick of it being on my list, but I just didn’t have any motivation to complete it. When I stopped to think about why I kept putting off that task, I discovered it was because I didn’t remember why it was important in the first place. That small task didn’t mean much on its own, but it was a necessary step toward a much bigger goal that I have.
Solution: Make sure you know the “why” behind each of your tasks. Look at those tasks that have been sitting on your list for far too long and ask yourself why they matter. If it helps, you can even add “because ____” to the end of each item on your list. If you can remind yourself how that specific task fits into the big picture, than you are much more likely to be motivated to accomplish it.
3. Neglecting to track your progress.
Roadblock: At the end of the day, you go to bed wondering what you accomplished. You were busy, but what did you actually get done? We’re all busy, and it is easy to feel like we’re not actually making any progress. I often feel this way when I finish work and, although I did check some things off, my to-do list is longer than it was that morning.
Solution: Track your progress and take time to review your achievements. One way I do this is by working from a daily to-do list rather than a massive, never-ending task list. At the end of the day, I can clearly see what’s been crossed off and what I need to carry over to the next day. Another way to track your progress is to end each day by jotting down your accomplishments in a journal. Keep a bullet point list of all of the things you’ve done, and add to it each day before you leave work or before you go to bed. This will help you reflect on your day and remind yourself of the progress you’ve made. Tracking your progress will motivate you to keep working hard every day.
4. Overlooking the importance of defining specific tasks.
Roadblock: If you look at your to-do list and your eyes quickly glaze over with overwhelm, your tasks are probably not specific enough. When we don’t create super specific, manageable tasks, we can quickly feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin.
Solution: Stop filling your to-do list with broad projects, and focus on getting specific. Break down large projects into bite-size tasks, and use action words in each one. For example, if I only write “clean the house,” I am faced with way too many decisions. Should I start in the kitchen? What needs done in the living room? Ooh, but the bathroom needs to be cleaned, too. Instead of writing something like “clean the house,” take it a step further and break it down into clear action steps like “wash the dishes,” “vacuum the living room” and “sweep the kitchen floor.”
5. Overestimating how much you can get done.
Roadblock: This is one of my biggest weaknesses! I am always overly ambitious about the amount of work I can do in one day. I pile on entirely too many things and end the day only getting half of it done. This takes the wind out of my sails, and I feel like I wasn’t nearly productive enough. But the truth is, those expectations were very unrealistic.
Solution: Realize that you are not super human. Be honest with yourself about how much you can actually accomplish in a day. One thing that has helped me is to track my time on projects for a few days so that I’m more aware of how long things actually take. Toggl.com is a free tool that makes tracking time easy. Another solution is to allot buffer time between projects to account for distractions, travel time, transitions, etc. Challenge yourself to keep your to-do list short, with only 3-5 key tasks on it so that it’s realistic to complete in a day.
6. Not giving yourself a break.
Roadblock: When I am in periods of overwhelm and my to-do list is a mile long, my first instinct is to work longer. I jump out of bed and race to get ready so I can begin those tasks right away. I work late, scarf down something unhealthy for dinner and hunker down at my computer to work some more. If you’ve hit this roadblock, you probably feel like you are running on a hamster wheel. It’s so easy to do, but it’s really not healthy. If you are working non-stop, you are not being your most productive self.
Solution: Prioritize quality breaks. While it feels like you should just keep working, you’ll be more productive if you take breaks during your day and allow yourself time to relax. That quality time off is restorative, and it refuels you so you are ready to come back to your work more focused and productive. During my work day, I find it helpful to go on short walks to break up the day and get myself away from my desk for a bit. In the evenings, I try to cut off my work by a certain time each night. Having a regular bedtime can also ensure you start the next day well rested.
I am always on a quest to find little ways to be more productive and to maximize every minute of my day, but I still get sidetracked. I have days–and sometimes weeks–where I’m not at my best. When it feels like life is pulling me in all directions, and I have no idea how I’m going to accomplish everything.
We all have so many responsibilities, and it is easy to be hard on ourselves when we don’t feel like we’re being productive enough. If you find yourself hitting one of these productivity roadblocks, stop yourself for a minute and try to pinpoint why you’re feeling that way. Work to find a solution that will help you overcome that slump you’re in, and, ultimately, don’t forget to give yourself grace. You are not super human, and some days will just be more productive than others. And that’s okay.
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