Have you ever done that thing where you look up from your desk at the end of the work week and think, “Oh my god. What did I even do all day? I felt busy, but absolutely nothing has gotten done!”
And then the stories start:
“I suck at time management.”
“I’ll never be successful at this.”
“There simply isn’t enough time in the day.”
I have clients who tell me these stories on a daily basis, and I’ve personally beat myself up about procrastination so much that I have learned something verrrry interesting about the truths behind a severe lack of productivity.
It isn’t actually your fault.
Yep, your sucky levels of time management aren’t because you’re a hot mess who’s doing everything wrong. Your lack of productivity isn’t because you’re a creative, intuitive type who’s not great with schedules and routines. And your procrastination problems certainly aren’t because the Universe hates you and gives you less time than everyone else to accomplish your goals (I may have thought all of these things at one point, don’t judge).
If you aren’t accomplishing what you want, it’s not even a You Problem. It’s because one or more of the Four Big Productivity Poisoners is sabotaging your success. Luckily, I have the antidote to each.
At this point in my journey, I am a time management queen. I have actually—in real life—been described as “nauseatingly efficient.” But it definitely hasn’t always been that way. After helping dozens of clients transform their productivity practices (and struggling with my own procrastination problems), I started to see four main patterns hanging out underneath, keeping us blocked.
So as a time management queen, I could give you my top ten get-shit-done tips, but I’d rather treat the cause, not mask the symptoms. Take a whirl through the Four Big Productivity Poisoners below to figure out which antidotes you need.
Productivity Poisoner #1: The Other People Problem
“They need me there. If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.”
What it is:
The Other People Problem attacks many loving, caring do-gooders when they prioritize other people’s goals, projects, and needs before their own. This is the girl with a thousand meetings and social events on her calendar, most of which she doesn’t need—or want—to attend.
How to spot it in the wild:
Feeling guilty about saying “no” to projects, meetings, or events
Feeling afraid that if you say “no” at work or to clients, you’ll get in trouble
Being the go-to gal that everyone asks for help
Taking care of everyone’s wants and needs before your own, usually by saying yes to projects, events, and commitments and then feeling resentful about them later
Complaining that there’s never enough time in the day, yet maintaining a calendar and to-do list full of other people’s priorities
The fix: Know Your Goals and Set Boundaries to Protect Them.
Time for some real talk about boundaries. When you are a super loving, giving person, you can develop a tendency to get taken advantage of. It’s easy to vilify the serial takers in your life as narcissists, but the truth is that it is your responsibility to set boundaries and to have the courage to stand up for them. It’s normal to feel freaked out about setting a boundary, but if your calendar, to-do list, and brain are cluttered with other people’s stuff, there’s no way you’re getting anything important done.
This Fix requires you to move from orienting yourself around everyone else’s needs to considering your needs first. For example, let’s say you have a boss or a client who works till midnight and loves to go back and forth over email all night. Instead of orienting yourself around his needs, consider what you need. Perhaps you’re okay with being on the clock till 7PM, but after that, you want to work on your own project or hang out with family. Have the courage to proactively communicate that boundary, and then turn the computer off at 7PM. Your boss or client is simply seeking to get his need met by working late. You are allowed to do the same. What do you need? What’s your main goal? What boundaries do you need to set to protect those goals and needs?
Productivity Poisoner #2: The Lack of Clarity Conundrum
“I should totally check my email one more time before getting started.”
What it is:
The Lack of Clarity Conundrum loves to sabotage smart, heart-centered ladies who know they need to move forward but have no clear direction. This is the gal with all the energy, motivation, and enthusiasm, but since she has no clue where to put it, she stands still.
How to spot it in the wild:
Believing you must have everything figured out before you can get started
Feeling so confused about where to start a big project that you drop out altogether and end up watching Netflix instead
Obsessively answering every email in order to feel productive without making any real progress
Seeing options, but staying stuck in paralysis-by-analysis
Complaining about how you need more clarity, qualifications, or training to take your next steps
The fix: Take small, aligned actions. Adjust frequently.
This is probably the most common and most misunderstood productivity problem I see with clients, and I love the relief that washes over their faces when I tell them, “Yeah. Of course you’re not moving forward! No one wants to move forward when they don’t know where they’re going!”
When you are transitioning into a new career or business, particularly one you feel deeply called to explore, all of the Unknowns are going to pop up and scare the pants off you. Fear is normal, but the only way to make the Unknown more known is to take tiny actions that align with where you think you want to go. If you are trying to create a crystal clear vision of the next 20 years of your life, you are going to drive yourself crazy. Start with the next 1-3 years. Where do you want to be 1 year from now? How do you want to feel about your work in the next 3 years? What 3 tiny, aligned actions can you take in the next month to move you one step closer to this vision?
For example, if you know you want to build a nonprofit that helps the environment, but you don’t know where to start, stop trying to figure out the hairy details of nonprofit management, and go back to the basics. Schedule an informational interview with a current nonprofit professional and just ask questions. Like Marie Forleo preaches, “clarity comes from engagement, not thought.” Stop trying to think your way to clarity, and get into action. Even if you take the “wrong” action, you’ll know to cross that path off the list and head down a different one.
Productivity Poisoner #3: The Liz Lemon Lie
“I can have it all!”
What it is:
The Liz Lemon Lie attacks incredibly smart, conscious, well-meaning badasses with an entirely unrealistic idea of how much they can accomplish in a given time period. Much like Liz Lemon in 30 Rock, this is the chick who thinks she can have it all and do it all, all at once.
How to spot it in the wild:
Consistently optimistic, but consistently late to events or behind schedule on projects
Says yes to events or social engagements and then has to back out when she's double-booked
When the calendar has 30 things scheduled for one day
Attempting 3 or more separate jobs/businesses/side hustles at the same time
A frequent victim of shiny object syndrome mixed with overwhelm
The fix: Prioritize.
Here’s the deal with highly conscious people like us: we see opportunity everywhere, and while that’s a huge strength, it often shows up in the form of distraction. The truth is that yes, you can win at your day job, start an empowering women’s travel blog, and become a real estate mogul...but you cannot do all of those things in one day. Your new mantra is this: “Yes, I can have it all, but I can’t have it all at once. This is okay because I know my current priorities.”
Grab your journal and a pen, set a timer for 10 minutes, and write down every single thing you want to do. Now circle 5 things you want to do this year. Of those 5, circle 1 thing you want to do this month. You can also do this on a daily basis with your calendar. Instead of creating a to-do a mile long, choose 1-3 things you must accomplish that day and commit to those. Build your schedule around those top priorities rather than the latest big idea. Progress only comes from knowing what is important and giving it your attention. Let those distractions sashay away.
Productivity Poisoner #4: The Sad Self Care Story
“I consume only Red Bull and Cheetos! Why don’t I have the energy to focus?”
What it is:
The Sad Self Care Story afflicts over and underachievers alike by stealing their ability to practice healthy self care habits, which leaves them unproductive, which leads to even worse habits, which leads to even less productivity, and the cycle continues. This is the ladyboss who thinks pulling an all-nighter to catch up on a late project isn’t going to bite her in the ass the next day.
How to spot it in the wild:
When the 2PM caffeine crash might as well be a religious observance for you
Working late nights to make up for slow mornings
Mistrust of self care activities as a waste of time when you’re already behind
Thinking that getting 6 hours of sleep a night is completely normal and reasonable
Frequent, harried visits to the candy machine
The fix: Create a Rules for Sane Living List.
Maybe you don’t suck at getting things done. Maybe you just need a nap. Pretty much anyone burning the midnight oil, scarfing M&M’s at lunch, and forgoing vacation time would be struggling to accomplish their goals. You’ve probably heard me talk about my Rules for Sane Living list before, but the idea here is that when you put certain self care practices first, you’ll be able to get more done and feel less stressed by your schedule.
The truth is that if you want to be more more productive, you’re going to have to put yourself in a productive state—both physically and mentally, and that includes creating some non-negotiable self care practices that support your most productive self...like committing to eating breakfast before leaving the house, or taking a scheduled 10-minute break from the computer. What you lose in time, you’ll make up in results. Check out this post or this post and write a list of 10-ish Rules for Sane Living that you can apply right away.
You can’t fix something until you’re aware of what’s really behind the problem. Now that you know what’s behind your get-shit-done struggles, you are in an immensely powerful position to make some changes for the better.
When I need a productivity upgrade, I literally set aside 30 minutes to an hour and create a calendar event called “Get Yo Life Together, Girrrl” (My inner drill sargeant is a supportive but tough drag queen). Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I have that hour to spare, but when I sit down to make my Rules for Sane Living List or journal out what boundaries I need to set, I feel so much more in charge or my life and ready to make my impact.
So...which one’s got you down? For me, The Other People Problem used to be my main culprit, and now I’m working on my Sad Self Care Story. It’s your turn. Post a comment below and let the tribe know: What are the top two Productivity Poisoners in your way?
Remember, you may have issues with several of these, but to improve the situation right away, pick the main one that plagues you and put the fix into action.
Give yourself a designated time to do this, and most importantly, get someone to hold you accountable. One of the most magical things about coaching is that you have someone who asks you, “Hey. Did you do that thing you said you were going to do?” If you want me in your corner, reminding you to stay on track, set up a quick and easy call with me to talk about coaching, no strings attached. Regardless, leave a comment below to let us know your intention for a productivity upgrade. Once it’s out there in the Universe (or in Cyberland, at least), it’s real.
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