Updated: 8/23/19 Originally Published: 6/9/2016
Feeling unproductive but not sure what to do about it? Here are some common things that can get in the way of productivity along with solutions for overcoming them!
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 realistically accomplish, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and distracted.
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 it might be helpful if I shared them with you, along with some of the solutions for overcoming these roadblocks.
6 Productivity Roadblocks
1. Letting urgent tasks overshadow important ones
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.
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 rhythms and routines. When I regularly make time for ongoing things like household tasks, I’m always making progress.
- Related: My Provide 5-Step System For Creating A Daily Routine
- Related: How I Organize My Week For Maximum Productivity & Focus
2. Not understanding the why
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 of mine.
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.
Try adding “because ____” to the end of each item on your to-do list. Here’s an example: Meal prep…because I’m on a mission to lose that weight and I know I’ll be too tired to do it after work tomorrow.
If you can remind yourself how that specific task fits into the big picture, then you are much more likely to be motivated to accomplish it.
3. Neglecting to track your progress
At the end of the day, you go to bed wondering what you accomplished. You were busy, but what did you actually get done? It is so easy to feel like you’re not actually making any progress despite feeling like you were busy all day long.
Track your progress and take time to review your achievements. One way to do this is to start each morning with a short list of the most important tasks of the day.
I try to keep this list to 3-4 things that are important. Of course I also have a list of a ton of small little tasks but at the end of the day, those 3-4 important tasks are the things that will really move the needle. If I complete those important tasks by the end of the day, I feel super accomplished even if the rest of my task list is left undone.
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. It’s a great motivator to work hard so you can add some big wins to your list at the end of the day!
4. Overlooking the importance of defining specific tasks
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 even begin.
Stop filling your to-do list with broad projects and focus on getting specific. Break down large projects into bite-sized 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
If you end your day only finishing a fraction of your to-do list, it can take the wind out of your sails. You had such good intentions but just couldn’t get to everything! The truth is, those expectations are very unrealistic.
This is definitely 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 (if I’m lucky!).
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.
And finally, try really hard to keep your to-do list narrowed down to just a few key tasks that absolutely need to get done today. This will help you focus your energy on what’s most important instead of getting lost in the sea of never ending to-dos. And since it’s realistic, you’ll end the day feeling amazingly productive! If you finish those key tasks with time to spare, you can move onto that laundry list of other pesky tasks and knock a few out as extra credit!
6. Not giving yourself a break
When you’re in a season of overwhelm and your to-do list is a mile long, your first instinct is likely to hunker down and work faster and longer. 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.
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 and recharge.
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 computer for a bit.
Set a timer at work to remind yourself to take short breaks, whether that’s a quick walk down the sidewalk or a short walk to refill your coffee mug.
In the evenings, set a cut-off time for yourself. Work hard to get all of your work and household tasks done during the day and then give yourself permission to relax and unwind for the remainder of the night.
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!
More blog posts on productivity:
- The 7 Planning Tools Tools & Systems I Use To Organize My Whole Life
- 6 Tips For Planning Your Day & Free Daily To-Do List
- Creating A 10-Minute Morning Journaling Routine
- My Proven 5-Step System For Creating A Daily Routine
- How I Organize My Week For Maximum Productivity & Focus
Have a fantastic day!
P.S. If you are ready to be more intentional with your time, than you do not want to miss out on my eBook, Crush Your Week: The Complete Guide To Designing An Intentional Weekly Routine.
It includes actionable strategies and worksheets to guide you through the entire routine creation process. You can work through it in an afternoon and finish with a tangible routine you can put into practice immediately. Click here to download a sample chapter!