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Four Failures of Productivity (and how to solve them)

After teaching more than 15,000 people about productivity and time management, we’ve identified four failures to productivity (and the solutions to each).

These four failures are easy to avoid. And that matters a lot because, as you can see from the image below, the four failures work together in a flywheel. A failure of one area leads to failure of the next and so on.

4 Symptoms of broken productivity

Failure One: A Lack of Clarity

When you lack clarity, you default to busywork. You’ll find yourself doing tasks and activities that are not rewarding, that don’t add up, nor do they compound into anything substantial over time. They don’t move things forward. Simply put, they’re not the best use of your time — especially over the long-term.

How to solve for clarity

You need to create and optimize your system for getting clear on what matters so you can stop spending valuable time spinning your wheels on busywork.

If you lack clarity, the solution is often as simple as setting aside a little bit of time. From a few minutes at the start of your day to decide about your most important task, to a few hours to pause and to identify what is most important in your life.

Failure Two: A Lack of Planning

A lack of planning leads to reactive work. And, as a result, instead of dictating the flow of your day, you spend your time reacting to whatever gets thrown at you…

When you find yourself reacting to the needs of others and unable to follow through with your own priorities, it can feel frustrating. There is always something else coming your way that you have to react to, and you’re not able to proactively focus on the things that you know you should be doing.

Solve: How to Plan

Once you’re clear on what needs to be done, you need to decide what you’re going to do about it. And, if possible, decide when you will take action. My go-to and long-preferred strategy for planning is to map out my most important tasks for the day and then time block them.

Failure Three: A Lack of Execution (i.e. procrastination)

When you have a difficult time following through on your commitments, then tasks get put off to the last minute or skipped altogether.

You need to create and optimize your system of execution so that you can follow through on your plans and commitments more often and finally overcome procrastination.

Solve: A few strategies to beat procrastination

  • Set an appointment: Do you know when you’re next going to work on your project? Set an appointment with yourself and honor that time the same way you would if it were booked with someone else.

  • Plan first, act later: Eliminate dual focus by outlining the work you need to do on a project in advance. Jot down the action steps first so that when you sit down to do the work you’ll be ready to get started.

  • Get accountable: Having accountability goes a long way in helping us keep our commitments.

  • Set the initial bar of quality low: Give yourself permission to produce a crappy first version or to have a bunch of horrible ideas right off the bat.

Failure Four: A Lack of Reflection

When you fail to recognize and celebrate your progress, it leads to the hamster-wheel of hustle. You end up feeling burnt out, unmotivated, and can’t see how your current activities lead toward your desired outcomes.

You need to take steps that will help you pull back from boredom, frustration, and burnout.

Solve: Celebrate Your Progress

If you don’t want to stay stuck in place, it is critical to recognize and celebrate your progress.

One of my favorite ways to do this regularly is with something called Productivity Journaling.

  • A productivity journal reminds you of the important work that matters. By writing down the wins of your day, it helps reinforce the right behaviors and actions you are doing.

  • A productivity journal boosts your motivation. When you see that you are making meaningful progress on the important work that matters, it creates a boost of motivation to keep going.

  • A productivity journal helps you become more efficient and realistic. As you track your time and celebrate your big wins, you will begin to discover what you are capable of getting done in a set amount of time. Thus, you will improve and refine how you can manage and schedule your day going forward.

Free Workshop (this week only)

This Thursday (Jan 5), I’m hosting a free online class on my favorite tactics for solving these common “failure points” to living a focused life. If you liked what I shared in this article, you’ll love the live webinar.

When: This Thursday, January 5 @ 3pm Eastern | 2pm Central | 12pm Pacific

Where: Online. Click here to RSVP and save your spot.

What: You’re going to learn…

  • The one thing you need to eliminate busywork
  • A simple method for managing your tasks, goals, and priorities
  • The template we use stay focused on the right habits and tasks every day while also boosting motivation
  • The science behind habit tracking and “The Progress Principle”
  • The #1 piece of productivity advice that can save you hours each day

FREE BONUS: Everyone who joins live will get a copy of my productivity cheat sheet, habit-tracking template, and daily planning template.