Roadblocks to Productivity

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Feeling stressed, over stimulated, overworked and just plain tired? In today’s world, we all have numerous responsibilities and tasks that fill up our days. At times, it feels as if there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything.


But maybe it’s not a time management problem.


Maybe the issue isn’t how many hours you have in a day to get all your responsibilities completed. Maybe the problem requires you to step back and get a new perspective on what’s REALLY blocking you from living a productive life.


You clutter your life with tasks and responsibilities that just aren’t important anymore. At one point, they were important to you. However, your life has evolved and over time, you’ve added new responsibilities that are more vital to your current life. However, you haven’t taken the time to let go of the old to make room for the new. It’s possible that you’re trying to accomplish a daily weekly list that is not relevant to your life NOW. Step back and take a fresh look at your life. Do each one of these tasks and responsibilities lead to your overall short-term and long-term goals? Maybe you need to do some purging and throw out what’s standing in the way of your goals.


You have trouble prioritizing and looking at things objectively.

Last week, I was having a conversation with my husband. He informed me that he had way too much to accomplish on his daily list. He had some extremely important paperwork and also had to pick up all the leaves in the yard. He was on his way out to clean up the yard, which I knew would take hours. I stopped him and asked how the leaves could possibly be as important as his required work. Yes, the leaves had to get done, but they could wait another week. The work was much more important. Sometimes, everything seems important in our heads and we have difficulty assessing what truly is priority for that particular day.


Being busy does not mean we are being productive.

There’s a big difference and in order to be truly successful at work, you need to be clear on the difference. You can fill your days with all kinds of activities that get you not even in close proximity to your life goals. Sure, it makes you feel good but it masks the truth. It doesn’t address the fact that without the right kind of activity you’re not going to succeed in your ultimate goal. You’re just fooling yourself into believing that you’re making progress. Be strategic in your daily, weekly tasks and monthly to-do lists.


We feel good about working non-stop but eventually, this backfires.

I know plenty of people that eat lunch at their desk so they can get more done at work. Smart, right? WRONG! Numerous studies have proven that it’s impossible to work at peak performance for long periods of time. Yes, you’re working, but you’re not working at full capacity. Sitting too long depletes your brain of oxygen and glucose. The good news is that a walk around the block or even through the building will reenergize you so you can be much more productive. Take breaks regularly that don’t involve your computer or phone.


We get lost in the hidden expectations and beliefs that we attach to our responsibilities.

Take a good look at your responsibilities and do a self-check. Are you holding on to any unrealistic or unhealthy expectations that you need to let go? For example, a belief that “I must join every committee and attend every event associated with my company in order to be successful” will eventually drive you crazy. Sure, it will make you busy, but does it truly lead to real success? Decide whether your expectations of self are fair and accurate.


With a few tweaks, you can live a successful, productive life.






I had just taken my seat at the IMAX theatre to see the movie. My friend was visiting from out of town and we decided that this was the perfect thing to do on a cold day. Apparently, so did everyone else in our city— the place was packed and as the people piled in, it became obvious that we were going to run out of seats.


Eventually, one of the employees asked if everyone could move to the middle so they could make room for the people still being seated. Quickly, my friend and I stood up and moved one more seat to my left. We sat down and continued to enjoy our time talking. Suddenly, we overheard the women to my friend’s right begin to complain.


“That isn’t fair— why do we need to move when we got here early and they didn’t?” My friend and I heard this and smiled at each other. Five minutes later, she went on. “Why should I be punished for getting to the theatre on time? I shouldn’t have to move and be made uncomfortable!” I whispered to my friend that some people are never happy and she smiled back.


I finally took a good look at the woman who could only view her world half-empty. The reality was that moving over one seat actually improved her visual experience. She truly had a better seat now. However, she couldn’t see that. She couldn’t see anything but misery.


People can focus on the smallest things in life and become unhappy. However, when they take these attitudes to work with them, it becomes everyone’s problem.


Steffanie Wilk, an associate professor at Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University, studied employee mood and it’s impact on job performance. In the study, she asked telephone customer service representatives from a Fortune 500 company to record their moods during various times of the day over a three week period. They took into account the impact of individual temperament and the moods of their customers. The results proved that when beginning their day, the employee’s mood influenced their mood for the rest of the shift.


It should be no surprise to hear that employees that were happy at the beginning of the day generally stayed that way throughout their day. They responded more positively to their interactions with customers, which resulted in better customer service. Those that came to work miserable tended to continue to feel worse as the day wore on. The important point to glean from this study is that these negative mood shifts resulted in more than a 10% decline in employee productivity.


If you do the math, you can see the implications for revenue loss for any organization. Companies, big or small, can’t afford to have chronic negative employees on their team. Now imagine what happens when the negative employee spreads their bad attitude to the people around them. It’s like an infectious disease that can destroy the culture, productivity and in turn, the profitability of any organization.


Now, back to my miserable friend at the movie theatre. Hopefully, she will change her ways. Maybe it was a one-time thing and I just hit her on the wrong day. But in all probability, she goes to work somewhere every day with this same perspective on life and infects her co-workers with this attitude.


I hope that’s not the case.

Embracing Failures

image cake baked


My son requested a homemade birthday cake for his celebration this year. He wanted his special treat to be a yellow cake with chocolate frosting made by me. This request might not be a difficult one to most people— but to me, it was huge. I don’t enjoy baking. Frankly, it’s hard for me to understand why I should spend time baking a cake when I could be doing so many other interesting things.


It really isn’t that hard to follow a recipe on a box of cake mix. In spite of this, I managed to mix all the ingredients without including the needed water. This dawned on me when I went to pour the batter into the pans and the batter wouldn’t budge. Apparently, water is an essential ingredient in this recipe. I put the batter back in the bowl and added the water.


Thirty minutes later, I took a look in the oven and decided that the golden-brown cake layers were ready to take out and cool. I left to do a quick errand and figured I would ice the cake upon my return. With the cake cooled, I turned the pan over to release it. Nothing happened. I ran a knife around the edge and hit the bottom of the pan— still nothing happened. I tried the other pan with the same results. After much work, the cake came out in pieces.


Refusing to feel discouraged, I began to problem solve. Being my optimistic self, I decided to piece it back together with the frosting. My brilliant solution didn’t work. That’s just about the time when my husband walked in and stared at my masterpiece. I could tell it was hard for him to keep a straight face.


Now, if you’re wondering if it was as bad as I’m making it out to be, take a look at the included picture of my cake. It was truly, truly bad and my attempt to bake this birthday cake was an epic fail.


I should be good at this type of thing. I should be able to bake a cake for my son. I should be talented enough to follow an easy box cake recipe. All of the “shoulds” flowed through my mind as I stared at my cake. All the “shoulds” just made me feel worse about the situation.


Like you, I enjoy succeeding in life. I have high expectations and I work daily to develop my talents. This experience didn’t fit in with my view of self. This experience made me feel really bad. I searched for the reason that I failed so miserably.


And then, I began to think about the situation objectively. It’s hard to go through life without failing miserably now and then. Bad things will happen— much bigger things than my disastrous cake. Eventually, it will happen in your career, your relationships and every facet of your life, no matter how hard you work. You will give your best effort and still, things will not turn out as you expected. It will be disappointing and disheartening, but where you go from there is what truly matters.


Letting go of the “shoulds” and allowing your self the freedom to mess up now and then is key. Keeping your eye on the horizon instead of over your shoulder is also important.


Accept that the experience of failure is just another part of your life journey. The ability to be resilient and move on after failure is what truly matters.



Technology Overload

When I get into bed at night, I attempt to review my day. Did I have a good day? Have I been productive? Are there any positive changes that I need to make? This past Monday, I took a good honest look at my last 24 hours. The truth was that it was a day full of distractions. I struggled to focus and I accomplished very little. As I searched for the reason, I pushed myself to be honest with my behavior. The answer came to me…


I was addicted to my smartphone and it was getting in the way of my success.


I decided at that moment that I was going to make some changes. I suppose being licensed as a Mental Health Therapist has its advantages. I outlined a plan for the next day. I would check my email and all Social Media ONLY four times during the day. I would count each time that I had the mental urge to look on my phone or search on my computer. Each time that I would have this urge, I would tell myself to “let it go” and focus on my current activity.


I really didn’t expect this goal to be so difficult for me. I’m shocked to tell you that the first day was much harder than I ever imagined— I counted 46 times. Just think about that. 46 times, my brain signaled me to connect on Social Media. 46 times, my brain ran this loop and instructed me to pick up the phone.


No wonder I was having so much trouble focusing and accomplishing my goals! My brain had learned to be rewarded with the “ding” of an email and the excitement of a like or response from social media. My brain wanted more and more of that same reward.


In a study by the Associated Press, the average attention span in 2013 was 8 seconds. When you spend enough time on the Internet, the neural pathways in your brain change. You can become rewarded, not for staying on your task, but instead jumping to a more exciting thing. In other words, you can quickly rewire your brain.


It has been demonstrated over and over that your brain cannot effectively or efficiently switch between tasks. In the long run, multi-tasking causes you to accomplish less and run the risk of making multiple mistakes. On top of that, you have a much lower rate of retention.


If you’re looking at your phone 46 times in one day, it’s safe to say that you have formed a habit. Everyone knows that habits are hard to break since there is a payoff for continuing the behavior. In the short term, my behavior made me feel good. However, I knew that this unhealthy habit had to go.


Having awareness and recognizing that you have an issue is the first step to solving a problem. The interesting thing is that the first day I monitored my use and attempted to stop my behavior, I felt so much calmer, was able to focus and was definitely more productive.


I would be lost without my technology so I’m certainly not an advocate to disconnect. However, as with all things in life, moderation is key.


So I have a challenge for you. Take one day and limit your phone and social media use. Write down how many times that you get the urge to connect, and monitor how your overall productivity and how you’re feeling. Let me know how you do.