No matter how long you’ve been attempting to amp up your productivity, there are some mistakes that reach out and trip you before you realize you’re going down. These mistakes often happen due to ingrained habits, maybe built in childhood or learned early in adult life. Or, sometimes, a high-stress situation, a new environment, or other life change keeps us so engrossed that we miss obvious symptoms of failure.
Awareness can save us all; give these common mistakes a quick read, and see if any sound familiar. If you can acknowledge your mistakes, you’re already halfway to the cure.
Trying to Fix Everything At Once
Productivity can’t be a one-time endeavor. The very nature of productivity is ongoing. It’s a pursuit, not a goal. A way of life rather than a single achievement.
But that means that being productive is not going to always look the same, in every area of your life, all the time. You might have aspirations to reach certain levels or goals in every single category you divide your life into. That’s great. So do I, and I’m energized and motivated by the freedom to see and pursue those possibilities.
But I can’t actively pursue them all at once, I’ve learned. Or, if I do, I force myself to move toward them all at such a slow, constrained rate that it’s depressing.
The better method is to choose a few areas or goals at a time, focus on them, and put most of your energy and effort into improving them. The rest of your life gets to stay as is, operating on maintenance mode or on the imperfect but functioning systems that currently support it.
You might be amazing (I’m sure you are) but focus must be, well, focused. A shotgun approach is just going to destroy the target, and probably everything around it.
Not Acknowledging Your Own Achievements
If you don’t consciously think about, it’s easy to skate right over that project you finished, or speech you made, or sale you closed without truly acknowledging that you made it happen.
I’m not saying you need to brag about yourself, or take all the credit. Almost anything noteworthy is the result of a group effort, at least on some level. Acknowledge your group, thank them, give them credit. Don’t forget to acknowledge yourself as well.
Notice that you did hard things. Notice that you overcame your own tendency to procrastinate or that stacked-up schedule you thought would kill you, and you finished. You met your goals (even if late or imperfectly), and now you can enjoy the achievement.
If you tend to lose your motivation when you fail and question your abilities, start a list of your accomplishments. You don’t have to show anyone. But whenever you finish, complete, end, close, reach, or achieve, add it to your list. Recognize your own ability, because failing to do so makes every failure a big deal. If, instead, you see each failure in the light of your successes, you can learn and move forward rather than being derailed.
Building Incomplete Systems
Building incomplete systems is almost always followed by an attempt to use incomplete systems, and that is inevitably followed by disaster. If you’re building a system, make sure it’s complete, from one end to the other. Even simple systems (and simple is better, usually) require certain essential elements, like a defined purpose, a trigger, and, in some cases, space and supplies.
If you miss the essentials, you’re not building a system. You’re building a trap, and you’ll waste time trying to make it work when its very structure (or lack thereof) necessitates that it can’t work.
Build systems. Use systems. But don’t try to use incomplete systems.
Attributing Failure to the Wrong Cause
It’s easy to attribute failure to a wrong cause. In productivity circles, it looks like someone tweaking a complete system when the problem is user error. It looks like someone reading another time management book when they need to actually use a calendar. It looks like someone buying an expensive label maker and 200 matching containers when they need to haul the pile of clutter out of their lives. It also looks like someone seeking and collecting endless amounts of information when they need to just take one small step forward.
Failure happens, and it’s going to happen, and it’s not the end of the world. It’s certainly not the end of productivity. But failure is useful only when we’re aware of the cause. When we see the cause, we can see how to fix it and how to avoid repeated failure in the future. When we don’t, we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes until we do realize what’s actually going on.
Ignoring Who You Are
If you haven’t gotten to know your own personality, start now. Your preferences, the way you think and feel, your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your background, your education and experiences, your goals and motivations, all contribute to what works best for you.
One man’s detailed and effective scheduling system, in other words, is another man’s personal ticket to hell. One woman’s ideal work environment is another woman’s torture. We don’t all need the same methods or systems, we don’t all work the same way, we’re all unique. Like snowflakes.
We’re also fragile; we compare ourselves to other snowflakes, think we should be able to work the same way they do, and assume there’s something wrong with us if we can’t. Or, flip side, we judge others who need different systems or who approach projects in a different way. Comparing and judging, whether it’s self-deprecating or other-judging, is pointless. Instead, get to know who you are and how you work, and why, and seek out productivity measures and methods that fit you.
Diminishing Your Need for Support
While you’re at it, seek out a community. It can be online. It can be not online. It doesn’t matter. The truth is, however, that having support is essential for everyone who wants to be anything other than average. And average isn’t usually a goal for productivity freaks such as us, my friend.
If you don’t find supportive people who understand and even share your insatiable obsession with being productive, you will feel lonely, resentful, and uncertain. You don’t have to feel that way. Not everyone cares about efficiency or time management. But a lot of people do. A lot of people care, and finding them, getting to know them, and sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm with each other can be the difference between giving up and getting there.
The Internet, as you well know, has made finding support a thing you can do anytime, from almost anywhere. You can still essentially be alone while engaging in community. It’s a dream for introverts (like me). The extroverts can plan an actual meeting in the real world. I’ll watch from my screen. Maybe I’ll Skype in. Who knows. It could get crazy.
Mistakes happen, right? They’re always going to happen. But I bet, in reading this, at least one of these popped out, and you flinched and realized that you were reading about yourself. Know your weakness or your tendency, and know that you can do something different. You can focus on one or two things and achieve them, instead of burning out as you try to reach 10 different goals. You can acknowledge your successes, thus diminishing your failures. You can build complete systems, work with your strengths, find and appreciate support. Growth is good. It makes life easier.
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