Why haven’t you finished your novel? What happened to starting your own blog? Why haven’t you gotten around to working on that exciting project?
We want to start many projects, but we can never find the time. Maybe we’re just too busy, overwhelmed by the scope of a project or simply exhausted after finishing up the day’s responsibilities.
But there’s usually more to it than that, according to productivity coach and author Hillary Rettig. She shares her insight on overcoming anti-productivity traps, which can even stop people from pursuing the projects they’re most excited about.
Get clear on your mission. People get stuck, Rettig says, when their values or identities conflict. She gives the following example: People who may “devote significant time to caring for children or other loved ones, but then punish themselves for not being as productive in other spheres as people who haven’t taken on those responsibilities.”
Journal. Journaling helps you better understand what your hurdles are. It helps you dig deeper and go beyond the obvious reasons you’re unproductive.
While being overwhelmed and exhausted might at the top of your list, “you need to delineate the specific nature of your overwhelm or fatigue,” says Rettig, who’s also author of the forthcoming book The Seven Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism and Writer’s Block.
Identify your snarls. It isn’t just one immense issue that gets in the way of progress. It isn’t a “giant monolith,” Rettig says.
Instead, it’s a combination of things. “For most people it’s more like a spaghetti snarl — many small impediments that knot together to create the underproductivity.”
So journal “to identify the strands in your snarl — typically, there are 2-3 dozen — and problem-solve around them.”
Time yourself. When we’re procrastinating, many of us think we’re being lazy or we lack self-discipline or motivation, Rettig says. But procrastination is neither of those things. Instead, it’s “a disempowerment caused by fear,” which sabotages people’s problem-solving skills.
What lurks behind this fear?
According to Rettig, perfectionism is to blame. Our society is steeped in perfectionism, she says, and this creates false ideas about what it means to be successful and accomplished. So people set sky-high expectations, which they won’t be able to reach.
Perfectionism “causes us to both define failure overly broadly, and over-identify with our projects to the extent that any perceived failure is a kind of ego demolition.”
Rettig says that the “cure” is doing timed exercises. To do the very thing you’ve been procrastinating on, use a timer, and set it to a time you can easily achieve, such as five minutes.
Approach the task with compassion and avoid judgment. As Rettig says, what you accomplish during your timed exercise doesn’t matter. What matters is that you approach the activity without perfectionism.
Once you’ve done that, you can increase the intervals on your timer, and work until you want to.
Surround yourself with a supportive community. Being part of a good community and having mentors are important for overcoming productivity pitfalls.
“If someone is isolated, or hanging out with the wrong crowd (unsupportive or themselves blocked or unsuccessful), I can pretty much guarantee that they will be underproductive.”
What has prevented you from starting a project you’re excited about? How do you overpower procrastination or other productivity barriers?
For more suggestions, check out Rettig’s free e-book, The Little Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Blocks, which you can download here in various e-book formats.
Photo by Uwe Hermann, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.