Five Productivity Pitfalls and How to Overcome Them
By Jena Kroeker
Have you ever had a fly in your soup? That’s what productivity pitfalls are like. You’re all set to sit down at your desk and power through a task. You’re prepared to accomplish your goals in a certain period of time. And then something unexpected happens, or maybe you fall into old habits you’ve tried to break. In any event, you’re suddenly distracted from your work. It’s like sitting down to enjoy your favorite bowl of soup, and just as you raise the spoon to your mouth, a fly lands in it.
Personalizing Your Productivity Recipe
Productivity is a recipe — your personalized recipe for success. It’s done to taste. As Freelance University co-founder and instructor Craig Cannings says in the Productivity Power course, “there is no one-size-fits-all productivity system…what works for one person will not necessarily work for the rest!”
So, although you have a great recipe right now, it may not be right for you. Maybe one of the elements doesn’t agree with you. For example, getting up early in the morning often enhances productivity. But if you’re more of a night owl than a morning person, that practice could make you sleepy partway through the day and reduce your productivity.
In other cases, you might have the perfect productivity system, but it’s missing one ingredient, like the time I made brownies and then realized I didn’t have any eggs. Or when I baked bread and used too much flour – not all the elements were put together in the right amounts. For instance, maybe you’ve created the perfect work environment, but you’re constantly interrupted by email and social media notifications.
And perhaps you’ve become “busy but not productive,” as Biron Clark describes in his article, “4 Overlooked Mistakes That Sabotage First-Year Entrepreneurs.” He suggests,
“For example, if you emailed a proposal to a potential client and then refreshed your inbox 100 times while anxiously waiting, you were ‘busy,’ but not productive at all. You would have been better off looking for more potential clients to pitch.”
Consequently, it’s important to think about all your business tasks when we’re looking at productivity pitfalls. Determine whether it’s the pitfalls themselves that are reducing your productivity or the types of tasks you’re prioritizing.
And with that, let’s examine five types of pitfalls described by Craig in the Productivity Power course.
Five Productivity Pitfalls and How to Overcome Them
1. Personal Pitfalls
Here’s where you shine a spotlight on yourself, without shame or judgement. Think about your own personal habits that most often cause you to lose productivity. When you fall into them, you feel sleepy, unwell, or anxious. Make a list of those pitfalls as they come to mind. Here are some common ones:
• Unhealthy eating habits
• Health issues
• Limited exercise or activity
• No consistent breaks
• Lack of consistent sleep
• No free time to do things you enjoy
• Inability to say NO to others
To overcome these pitfalls, adopt the the following productivity practices:
• Take regular breaks and never work for more than 60 minutes at a time.
• Manage your energy by taking care of your physical and emotional health:
◦ Eat healthy
◦ Sleep well
◦ Spend time doing things you enjoy
◦ Spend time with friends and family (or your pets)
• Have the courage to say “NO” so you stay focused on what’s most important.
The courage to say “no” is essential. In an article titled “How To Manage Your Time: Time Management Tips For Freelancers,” Viktor Marinov puts it this way:
“It’s important to understand that you will not be able to accept all the projects that come your way. Some projects need to be turned down so that you can accept the more interesting ones. Experts recommend having a fourth of your regular schedule free so that you can have some wiggle room and be prepared for any unexpected twists of life.”
And Liam McIvor Martin warns us of “the planning fallacy” in his article, “8 No-Nonsense Tips on Time Management for Freelancers in 2021.” He describes it as “the tendency to underestimate the time needed to complete an assignment,” causing you to “think” you can achieve more tasks than are possible. To combat this, he recommends limiting how many different projects you’re doing at once.
2. Digital Pitfalls
As I write this blog post, my phone notifications are on silent, and I’ve put the landline phone in another room. But a couple times, I’ve found myself scrolling down my Facebook news feed, and I was tempted to watch more than one ‘90s music video on YouTube. Digital pitfalls are everywhere when you work in a digital world. Here are some that may distract you too:
• Smartphone with constant notifications
• Social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest)
• Online chat or instant messaging
• Random internet surfing
• Digital multitasking (e.g. writing a blog post and checking Facebook at the same time)
• Streaming music (if you’re listening to songs that are distracting rather than focus-boosting)
To overcome these productivity pitfalls, try these strategies:
• Remove any unnecessary mobile devices from the room.
• Batch regular tasks like email and social media, so you’re checking them at certain times of the day rather than reacting to every notification.
• Use a tool like Focus Booster, which we describe in a previous blog post, “Seven Productivity Tools to Add More Time to Your Week! It helps you see where you’re using your time.
• Use tools like RescueTime and Freedom to block distracting websites and apps so you can work uninterrupted.
As Craig Cannings says, “Rule your technology; don’t let it rule you.”
3. Environmental Pitfalls
If you’ve been working from home for a while, you may find it easy to list these pitfalls. And you may not have noticed their effect until you began doing remote work. They’re often subtle, but they creep in and distract us:
• A disorganized office
• Background noise (e.g. a lawn mower, barking dog, or traffic noises)
• Ongoing interruptions (e.g. family and friends phoning or stopping by to talk)
• A fridge full of food located nearby
• Entertainment (e.g. your favorite show on Netflix)
• Household chores (e.g. laundry that needs to be folded)
To overcome these pitfalls, follow this recipe for a productive environment:
• Create a primary work space or office in your home.
• Keep it clean, organized, and quiet.
• Ensure it has good lighting.
• Invest in an ergonomically sound chair.
• Add a touch of inspiration with decorative pictures and plants.
• Keep a full glass of water on your desk.
• Use noise-cancelling headphones or an app with soothing music, like Noiz.io or Calm.
• Establish boundaries with others living in your home so they know not to interrupt you when you’re working.
• For a different perspective, schedule time at your favorite “work locations” outside the home.
4. Organizational Pitfalls
Organizational pitfalls are tricky because they’re often disguised as the “busy work” we discussed above. You may feel like you’re doing a lot but accomplishing little. If this is the case, consider creating a “time diary,” as Jen Hubley Luckwaldt recommends in her article, “Time Management Tips for Freelancers.” She explains,
“For a set period of time, say a day or a week, write down everything you do and when you do it. (Think of it like a food diary, but with time and activities instead of calories and nutrition.)
“At the end of the allotted time, it should become clear if you’re wasting hours on social media or just failing to bill appropriately for time spent on a project. Either way, you can adapt accordingly.”
As you fill out your diary, see if you’re falling prey to these productivity pitfalls:
• Too many tasks on your list
• No goals, system, or clear plan guiding your tasks
• Too many urgent tasks caused by a lack of boundaries
To overcome those pitfalls, try these strategies:
• Focus on only one task at a time.
• Prioritize tasks that will provide the best ROI for your freelance or virtual assistant business.
• Establish a consistent schedule and routine ahead of time.
• As Craig Cannings says, “Act on the important; don’t react to the urgent.”
When it comes to boundaries around urgent tasks, the article above provides similar advice, taking into account the dynamics of the freelancer-client relationship. Basically, you’re not an employee, and the client is “not the boss of you.” With that in mind, Jen Hubley Luckwaldt recommends,
“It’s always a good idea to accommodate client requests when you’re able. It builds the relationship and inspires trust and confidence. Plus, it’s just the decent thing to do.
“But if at any point, you start to feel like your client has fallen into the habit of telling, not asking you, to do more work, start gently establishing boundaries ASAP. It’s not helpful to anyone if you both get confused about the way things work.”
5. Motivational Pitfalls
Sometimes all the other ingredients are there, but a lack of motivation is the fly in your soup. You feel unfocused and distracted, or you simply don’t want to do the task. Your mind latches on to anything else that will provide a diversion. Often, motivational pitfalls are rooted in certain behaviors and emotions:
• Procrastination on difficult projects
• Boredom or lack of interest in the work
• No plan or schedule for performing tasks
To overcome these productivity pitfalls, take a big-picture view and a small-picture view:
• Meet regularly with an accountability partner who can help you stay focused and on track with your goals.
• Determine whether you need to adjust your niche to include different or more challenging tasks that will pique your interest.
• Choose a personal productivity method that works best for you.
The Productivity Power course outlines seven top personal productivity methods you can choose from. Here are two examples:
• Create a schedule of daily tasks with blocks of time designated for specific tasks.
• Divide the time blocks into short intervals of no more than 60 minutes.
• Start an egg timer or digital clock, forcing you to focus intently on what you need to accomplish in the allotted time.
• At the end of each day, evaluate your progress.
• You could also try dedicating a whole day or part of a day to a certain activity.
Must Do, Should Do
• This method is helpful if you find yourself consumed by urgent tasks. It allows you to prioritize them by figuring out what’s critical today and what can wait for another day.
• MUST-DO tasks are non-negotiable and must be done today.
• SHOULD-DO tasks are important, but they don’t need to be done today.
Above all, spend time researching various methods so you find the one that best fits your personality, preferred work style, and the specific challenges you need to overcome.
Final Thoughts and Encouragement
Just like a favorite recipe handed down through the generations, your productivity system will take on a flavor unique to you. And don’t be afraid to let that happen! Test the strategies we’ve shared, and add or change ingredients to suit your needs.
Also, be patient with yourself. It may take a while to figure out your ideal productivity practices, but as you concentrate on reducing your pitfalls, your system will evolve and improve. Ultimately, hold on to Craig’s advice that “your level of productivity will have a direct impact on the successful growth of your business.”
And now we’d love to hear from you! Which productivity pitfalls affect you the most, and how do you overcome them? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.