Working Hard But Hardly Working?
"The average American worker has fifty interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with work." -W. Edwards Deming
I’m a pretty productive person.
I set intentions, goals, and have what my guy calls “lego mode” focus - a term he made up after watching me zero in and systematically put together an intricate, lego robot one night. When I’m engrossed in an activity, I tune out the outside world and get “in the zone” until I’m finished.
I have no idea of how much time passes. I often have to set an alarm to remind me when to break and switch gears or get prepped for a coaching client.
I’ve got this whole productivity thang down.
Except, a few weeks ago, my productivity went out the window.
It took me an entire day to write a few Facebook posts and a blog.
I felt discouraged. Antsy. Annoyed. Overwhelmed. And behind.
What had been different about this day and week compared to others? Why was my usual flow state feeling more like a stress state?
A little digging pulled up a few culprits.
1. I was lacking clarity.
Clarity is incredibly important for everything we do. It’s the first essential step we have to take to ensure our actions align with our values and intentions. Clarity is also a key ingredient to focus.
This is one of the reasons setting goals helps us. Goal setting forces us to sit down and define what we want to spend our energy on; goals create clarity.
Assembling the lego robot created such focus because I had absolute clarity of my end goal and why this was important to me.
I usually spend a good deal of time planning. This allows me to sit down with clear focus and know what my next priority is.
This particular week, I had a loose idea of some larger goals I was working towards but nothing else. I had a busy week and had decided to save time by cutting my daily goal-setting and morning routine, and as a result, I cut out my clarity.
Without a roadmap for the week, I meandered.
Sure, I sat down to work, but without clarity, I wasn’t sure which task was most important and what I needed to focus on first. I’d start one thing, then jump to another, then another without actually completing anything.
I lost hours to non-essential tasks like tweaking my website.
Most of us aren’t at a loss for things we can do or take action on and this can easily lead to overwhelm and distraction. Without clarity, we don’t prioritize, and evvvverything seems super important.
I’ve talked about this before, but every time we switch gears and switch focus, we decrease our mental ability and temporarily lower our IQ.
Without clarity, we also allow our subconscious fears to take the reign, which can cause us to lean into self-sabotaging and avoidance behaviors.
Takeaway: Create space to get clarity and make time to plan every day. You can do this solo, with a group, or with a coach or mentor. However you do it, decide to commit to seek clarity, outline your action steps, and your intentions.
2. I was wide open for interruptions.
Most weeks, my loved ones would tell you I can be a little MIA during my working hours. I’ve been known to miss a group text and come back to my phone with 60 plus messages. I’ll miss phone calls and personal emails.
This isn’t because I don’t care! Quite the contrary. I love my friends and family, but I want to be present when I’m with them. Juggling between emails, texts, social media messages, coaching clients, and content creation leaves me scattered and the opposite of present.
A while back, I started a very simple practice. When I sit down to work, I close my email and social media. I put my phone on night mode (I’ve found airplane mode still allows texts to come through with a wifi connection!), and I set the do-not-disturb on my computer.
I let my guy know I’m going dark, and I close the door to create.
I set a timer and work until it goes off.
It’s incredibly simple and it works. But this particular week, I made myself available to all the interruptions. Every time a message came in, I read and responded.
To add insult to injury, it would take me a few minutes after each interruption to bring my attention back to the task that was, admittedly, not essential to begin with. Then, another text message or phone call would come in, and I allowed the interruption again.
I barely got a sentence down on paper before my attention was thwarted.
I’d wager a bet that interruptions are costing us all a lot of time and money. As I sit writing to you now, I’m focused and have shut everything off. I’m even wearing earplugs to drown out the city construction outside my NYC apartment window (true story), and I’ve written this in minutes versus the entire day my other blog post took when I wasn’t focused.
Takeaway: Set yourself up for success and turn off electronic distractions before you begin working. Don't leave it up to willpower. Communicate with loved ones that you can't be interrupted. Use the power of timers. (Wear earplugs if necessary!)
3. I got pulled into perfectionism.
All the insecurities and fears were coming out because I'm working on something new.
I’ve noticed with my clients and myself, any time we’re in the process of upleveling, all our mindset blocks tend to come out to play as if to taunt us and see if we’re really ready for the new level we’re stepping into.
One of my blocks? Perfectionism.
When I’m in creation mode and getting ready to share something new or vulnerable, there’s a part of me that is terrified and uncomfortable. This part of me wants to tinker and perfect ad nauseam.
Maybe you can relate to this as well? I have a subconscious belief that if it’s perfect, I can’t fail. If I just keep tinkering longer and longer, it will be perfect. There's also a part of me that knows it will never be perfect, so if I aim for perfection, which is unattainable, I’ll never have to actually share my work.
Oye, what a brain circus.
While I don't suggest phoning in subpar crap, overthinking and constantly obsessing over perfection stalls us out. It keeps us going over the same thing again and again instead of moving forward.
Perfectionism is the nemesis of productivity, progress, and prosperity!
Takeaway: The memes are true, progress over perfection, done is better than perfect, and perfect is the enemy of good. Remember imperfect action creates results.
A few weeks and adjustments later, I’m happy to report I’m back in flow - earplugs in, allowing the imperfections to be as they are while I move forward. I find, so often, our “missteps” and frustrations are really opportunities for growth and can give us insights into where we may need to make a change.
Have you noticed any of these time sucks killing your productivity? What zaps your focus and how do you get yourself back in "the zone"? How can you lean into your "missteps" and see them as opportunities for growth?
It's imperative we have awareness and a game plan to get back on track if we want to consistently create meaningful productivity instead of mindless busywork.
Wishing you your version of success!
P.S. Have you ever experienced this? Let me know in the comments below what you've noticed zaps your productivity and how you regain focus!