4 Questions To Ask Yourself If Your Productivity Is Lower Than You Want

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I am currently in a weird spot between insanely stressed and blissfully relaxed. My classes are winding down, and after I take my exams next week, I see my life getting really good. I have jobs I love doing that also leave me a good amount of time to relax and be a Real Person again, and my schedule for my Last Semester of College is shaping up to be a pretty relaxing, with only three classes instead of my regular six. I see a little bit of my life freeing up on the horizon, and I’m excited for it to start — mostly so I can have time to focus my energy on being productive in ways that I want to, rather than focusing everything I have into school (like dedicating more time to TFD posts, and working on other fun projects).

But sadly, the past week or so has been bad for my to-do lists. I am ambitious, scribbling down countless tasks per day, and then feeling shameful as hell at the end of the day when I look back and see that I accomplished none of them.

And I think to myself, where did that time go? Because I sure as heck wasn’t napping or watching television or dicking around all day. It is one of those rare weeks where no matter how much I go go go, it feels like nothing is getting done and the to-do list is hardly dwindling. Every task I scratch off is promptly replaced with three more, and the chaos of that itself is enough to make me want to flip the list over, pretend it doesn’t exist, let Jesus take the wheel and casually bow out of the rest of the semester.

But with only eight days left until the semester is ~officially~ over, I want (and need) to be productive more than anything. I want to feel like a goddamn savage as I highlight every task on my daily to-do list until there are no tasks left to highlight.

With that thought in mind, I decided to do a little bit of a production-overhaul to find out exactly why I’m not getting what I want out of each day — and to help me figure out how to fix it so I can be the productive beast I so deeply aspire to be. Here are four questions I asked myself to get started, and the four questions you might want to ask yourself if your productivity is lower than you want.

1. Am I being realistic?

Sometimes, simply seeing a to-do list that feels impossible is enough to halt your productivity before you even start checking things off. I know that, personally, when I give myself too many deadlines in one day, I’m so overwhelmed that I get less done than I would have if I started with just a couple, and then added more as I checked off tasks.

A trick that helps me deal with this is writing a big, long, master to-do list with everything you see yourself needing to accomplish in the next few days, and sticking it next to another to-do list where you can add the two or three things you’ll focus on each day. If you finish up with the tasks you’ve assigned yourself on that particular day, pull a couple more from your master to-do list and put it on your “today” to-do list. You’ll feel such a confidence boost from checking everything off and being able to add more that the motivation just might help you be even more productive than you planned.

2. Am I being honest with myself?

On the other side of the to-do list spectrum, I’ve fallen victim to the trap of putting too little on my to-do list in an attempt to not overwhelm myself. But being honest about all of the things you actually have to do (like project deadlines, meetings, and other time-sensitive things) is the only way you’re actually going to get them done. Sometimes, if there is a project I’m really not looking forward to and trying to avoid as long as possible, I’ll casually leave it off my to-do list even though I know somewhere in my mind that it does, in fact, exist — and needs to be accomplished. This is just all-around a stressful and dangerous behavior, because you run the risk of genuinely forgetting to do the project because you didn’t have it on your list of things to do. I’d suggest sucking up the fact that it stressful to look at the words “Work On X Project,” and write it down anyway. An honest to-do list is a great to-do list.

3. Do I need help?

Although you are most likely entirely capable of successfully doing your job, a really important part of being a consistent and productive worker is knowing when you are in over your head. A personal example: my semester ends next week (!!!!) so I’m currently wrapping up four (yes, fucking four) huge group projects. I’m often the one in my classes who pioneers the group projects and emerges as a leader, simply because I’m organized and like to get shit done as quickly and efficiently as possible, unlike many other students who procrastinate. (Procrastination is not a good look for someone as high-anxiety as myself.) Although I usually do a pretty good job getting all of my projects done and doing right by my groups, I realized this week that the quality of my work just isn’t what it should be. I had to retract a lot of my “I’ll do it” statements that I’ve made over the past week, and ask for a little more help from some of my teammates. Trying to be superhuman isn’t always the thing that is going to lead to higher productivity or more success — sometimes, giving in and delegating tasks to others who can more effectively complete them will help you accomplish even more, even if you don’t get to bask in all the glory yourself.

4. Am I happy?

As a student in an organizational communication program, a lot of my coursework emphasizes something I’ve found to be very true in terms of my own work-related productivity: personal satisfaction = job satisfaction, and job satisfaction = increased productivity. It is hard to perform well in any area of life when you’re feeling personally dissatisfied, or have unmet needs outside of work. It is an internal distraction that often goes unnoticed, and isn’t factored in when you write your to-do list in the morning. Being happy obviously isn’t something that can be fixed just by deciding it needs to happen, but taking some time to do things that matter to you and satisfy some of your personal needs (even when you’re stressed as heck with work and projects) is a good place to start. Cook a good meal, take a walk, take a half-hour Netflix break from work, or practice some other gentle self-care. You can do this. Now do it.

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at mary@thefinancialdiet.com!

Image via Pexels

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  • Judith

    I’m trying out switching my normal todo lists for something I heard in an agile training recently, keeping a global backlog of all the tasks and then picking the most important ones for every day into a smaller todo list for that day and stop caring about the rest. I’m curious how it pans out and how it will affect my day-to-day motivation for getting shit done.