Inspire Empire Articles

"A reflective presentation that was eye opening to the things you've always thought about but never verbalized."

Angie Chen, Workshop Participant

Houston, TX


What's Making You Less Productive and What Can You Do About It



The other day I brought my MacBook into the Apple store to see why my computer was slowing down. Moving between programs, I would sometimes get the rainbow disk for a few seconds and loading up something new took longer than normal. This is unusual for a Mac. The technician at the store gave a quick diagnosis and told me that every time I closed a program, it would still run in the background, slowing down my computer. He showed me how to fix the problem and later that day I felt like I had come home with a new laptop.

With our busy lives, our brain works much the same way. Like an overrun hard drive it too runs useless programs in the background, even though we think we've turned them off. What programs run repeatedly inside our minds?

The biggest culprit is our running to-do list. We are in constant fear of forgetting the things we need to do, even though we have written lists, reminders on our phones, and online calendars. The reason for this, in part, is due to the fact that we all have a lot more on our plate. An employee isn't just employee these days. No. We also need to be the charity liaison and take on the extra projects someone suggests will be "good for your career". We are also in the golf foursome your boss invites you to, which means we are also committed to the golf lessons after work everyday for two weeks so you can pick up some game. Top that off with the continual "strategy train" running through your head about how you can get ahead and bam, you could sit in a room for hours and not even notice you are conversing with only yourself.

The happy homemaker too isn't sitting around getting fat and watching soap operas anymore. No, she too, is expected to be heavily involved in her children's school, and in the community, do a little part-time work, and plan more than enough extra-curricular activities for the kids. She is also at the gym twice a week so she can stay in shape and is well read on how to raise the most well-rounded respectful children, how to garden her yard with only organic materials and how to still keep it hot under the sheets.

Woow! Can anyone say "pressure"? This running to-do list boils down to all of the things we - "society", our friends, our family, our neighbors - think we should be doing. And hell yes, we are scared stiff that we will drop one of the balls we have flying so fervently in the air.

So what happens to us in this kind of environment? We find it harder to process information and are less able to focus for any length of time. This mental fog clogs our abilities to make sound decisions and get things done.

Have you recently been at your computer and realized that the one thing you had to do still isn't done and five others things have been feebly started? Are you finding that at any given time you can only get 60% off your to-do list when you used to be able to bang out a similar list in half the time?

So how do we slow down our lives enough to regain our productivity? Is there a way we can become productive, even if we've never been? Here are five things you can do to clear your mind of the endless running to-do list:

1)First off, sit down and write everything on your to-do list. Then, going forward learn how to park your thoughts. Place "parking lot" notepads where you work (by your desk, in your car, etc.) or where you can readily park a thought that comes along (purse or jacket pocket, kitchen junk drawer, etc.). Jot down ideas, to-do's, and random lists you worry you will forget. Then forget them and go back to the task at hand.

2) Do Morning Pages every morning. Julie Cameron's Artist's Way suggests you wake up and write three pages of anything. The dream you had last night, your running to-do list, the joke you heard, the big worry that hangs over you, the fight you had with your colleague, the pay raise you want...anything. Just verbal diarrhea all of it out until you have three pages of written notes. You don't need to go back and read them, or share them with anyone. Do this each morning. The very act of writing down the mental clutter can quiet your head. Try it. It works.

3) Evaluate the list of things you think you should be doing and start saying no. Yes, even at work. What is really making the biggest contribution to your success and to your happiness? If you have signed on as co-treasurer for the school PTA and don't ever balance your own checkbook, is that the right way to spend your time? If you are on that committee at work that doesn't have any true deliverables or autonomy to make real change, are there other ways to raise your profile at work? Get out of anything that you aren't loving, learning from or levitating (meaning making you move up in your career).

3) What can you tweak to make your life more fulfilling? Look at your list again. Are there items that just need to be tweaked to become more fulfilling? Are you volunteering for the marathon when you'd rather be running it? Are you baking gourmet pies for charity events when you would rather be running your own bakery? Many things come into our lives because there is a natural talent or a true love for something but we get involved in it in the wrong way. What things in your life can you change slightly to align more succinctly with your success or your happiness?

4) Become aware of the societal pressures you feel. As people get older societal pressures sometimes become more evident. The thought, "At my age, I should have..." causes a number of my clients to severely criticize their past choices and apply a huge amount of pressure that doesn't really exist outside the client's mind. There will always be someone making more than you. There will always be someone who is more successful. Get to know them. Learn from them. But don't think you now have to achieve the same as them or you can't be happy or feel successful in your own right.

5) Find your ideal environment. Your environment can often blow the embers of your mental clutter if it does not match your ideal space. Because mental and physical clutter are so closely linked, looked at your physical areas and evaluate if they work for you. I work from home but too many distractions there can leave me folding laundry or cleaning the kitchen instead of working. If I have anything substantial I need done I hit the local coffee shop or library. At work, if you find your cubicle a little too loud to concentrate, see if you can reserve a meeting room or unused office for a few hours. Invest in earplugs or use a noisemaker app you can listen to with your headphones.

Remember, like we read long ago in Stephen Covey's First Things First, get your important and urgent things done first, your important and not urgent things done second and then you can worry about the not urgent or unimportant. The not urgent and unimportant is sometimes what clouds our headspace.

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