It can be hard to focus and be productive when everything that needs doing seems to be swirling around us in a proverbial tornado. There is always something to do it seems, something that requires our attention, which gets sliced up in many ways and goes in diverse directions.

Add to all of this, we have the tendency to fill up our schedules to give the appearance of being busy. We have a love-hate relationship with being busy. We don’t like the stress of being busy, but we love to tell people how busy we are. For many of us, it is as if we are constantly wearing a ‘busy badge”. We are busy, but are we productive? Are we getting things done and moving forward, or are we spinning our wheels and becoming more stressed and overwhelmed in the process? Busyness and productivity are two very different things, but we tend to think they are the same.

Busyness Vs. Productivity

When we are productive, we usually get results and can see progress. We typically feel satisfied and accomplished, not stressed. When we are busy, but not productive, we are not focused. We use up our time and energy doing activities, whatever they may be, but, in the end, we drain our emotional, mental and physical energy and feel as though we have not gotten much done.

Productivity is a mindset and action. It is not a list of techniques and it is not dependant on having the best App or a colorful day planner. Productivity is a goal and lifestyle. Let’s face it; we are either moving forward and getting things done so that we can enjoy the fruits of our labor, or we are on the busyness treadmill, always moving,  always stressed, but never getting anywhere

So how can we become more productive in our lives? Productivity is not just a work term. We can become efficient and productive in all areas of our lives and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

1. Start Talking to Yourself

SWe get what we get as a result of how we think and what we do. It is how we think about problems and not the problems themselves that determine the results.

It’s not the problem that’s the problem. The problem is how you think about the problem – Jack Sparrow

Productive people talk to themselves – that is to say, they tell themselves how to think rather than let their minds tell them how to think. They don’t go into the default panic mode and try to do everything all at once when they see a mountain of things that need to get done. Instead, they ask themselves some important questions such as; Is this important to do now or at all? Can it wait? What is the best and most efficient way to handle this? Is this my responsibility or does the responsibility belong to someone else? 

By asking themselves questions like these, they can sort out what needs to be done by whom and by when, if at all. In this way, they help themselves avoid getting caught up in panic and stress. They don’t allow themselves to be dominated by panic, either their own or other people”s panic.

2. Step Out of Your Way

The cliché is so true – we are our own worst enemies. Most of the time we sabotage our own efforts and then we blame it on circumstances or people around us. You know t his is true. You have done this and so have I. If things aren’t going as well as we would like them to, whose fault is it? Luck (good or bad) has nothing to do with it. The truth is, we make excuses. To us, they may seem like good reasons (because we believe ourselves). Sometimes, there are valid reasons, but, most of the time our “reasons” are not valid – they are excuses to avoid doing what we know we should do, but don’t want to do.

The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand? – Jack sparrow

2. Don’t Listen to Your No  Excuses

Excuses bring out that disaster monster we call procrastination. Procrastination hangs over our heads, reminding us of what we should or need to do and makes us feel guilty while at the same time buying us a little more time. It s that constant nudging in our mind that hounds us and even amplifies as time goes by. It makes us anxious and stressed and it robs us of our focus. Procrastination keeps us ‘” stuck in the mud”, so to speak.

If we continually procrastinate; if it has become a habit or a way of life, then we have no excuse for why things are going badly. the only way to get “unstuck. is to take action and do what needs to be done. No one else can stop you from procrastinating; only you can do this. Why not follow the advice of Nike – “Just Do It”?

3. Focus on Majors, Not Minors

Most of what we do in a day doesn’t matter or contribute to anything. We do a series of little and sometimes repetitive tasks over the course of a day, but these do not necessarily make us productive. Out of habit, we might check our social media, catch up on the news, or watch youtube videos. While they might not seem to take up much of our time, they do cut into our day and use up time that could be dedicated to something of more importance. The minors might be cutting in on our majors.

Our minors (distractions) are a form of procrastination. We call them our little rewards, but these rewards can add up in lost time. They are our time stealers and can very easily get us off track and lost in what we have to do.

4. Remember the Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle states that 20% of what we do is responsible for 80% of our accomplishments and productivity – only 20%!!  So, that means that 80% of what we do is nonessential to being productive. That is a lot of our time caught up in doing things that don’t matter very much. Imagine how much time we could save if we cut out those distractions that take up our time but also cause us to waste our time. Imagine the time we could save to be able to do things that are truly important for us.

If you think about it, whether it is in a work environment, home or school, a lot of time could be saved by focusing on the essentials and eliminating the time-wasters. Imagine health and family benefits – more time to enjoy life and spend time doing what you love.

5. Set and Respect  Limits

Another enemy of productivity is the lack of limits and the lack of respect for them. If we do not know our limits and make them clear to others, we can not expect anyone to respect them. We first have to begin by respecting ourselves and knowing where we draw the proverbial line. A big problem that many of us have is the difficulty t say “No. We are people pleasers and we are often deathly afraid of what will happen if we say no. Some of us fear that we will lose our jobs if we say no to unreasonable or excessive requests. Parents often struggle with saying no to their children because they don’t want to deal with the tantrums. There are, I am sure, deep-rooted reasons why many of us experience this inability to say no when we want to say no.

It is important to let ourselves and others know when we are available and when we are not, what we will participate in and what we will not. Our time belongs to us and it is a gift that is running out. We can not allow others or ourselves to steal our time on anything that is not important.

6. Keep the Goal in Mind

The ultimate aim of productivity is to accomplish something and to derive satisfaction from having accomplished it. We will not gain this satisfaction if we are allowing others to infringe on our time and direct it however they want. Our time is not theirs to manipulate.

If you want to be more productive, it is crucial to becoming a staunch protector of your time and guardian of your limits. No one else is going to do it for you, that’s for sure.

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Check out this blog post How to Get Unstuck When You Feel Stuck