Have you ever thought about how much time most of us spend on the internet, or watching TV, and suddenly felt guilty that you haven’t written your memoir, doubled your income, revealed your 8 pack abs, and are still not interested in prepping food for the week on Sunday nights? It used to happen to me all the time, and I still struggle with feeling like I could be doing more, hustling harder, and I wonder if I’m just lazy, or maybe just don’t “have it.”
Perhaps you wonder where everyone is getting the motivation to make all this damn banana bread, and you look at your stack of half finished projects and you think, I’m not getting any younger. I’ll never get it all done. Why can’t I be more like so-and-so? Should I be making banana bread? I must not be doing enough.
Hold the phone.
Here’s the thing. None of us are getting any younger, no matter how advanced or affordable cosmetic procedures become. The fact that we’ll probably never get it all done is true, too, unless you set a low bar. As we age and grow we find new interests, hobbies, and goals, and our priorities change. We’ll never get it all done because we’re constantly evolving. That’s a good thing!
It’s true that we are all on our own timelines, and those timelines are not going to look identical to one another. Just because you’re not where you thought you’d be, where you’d like to be, or where you feel you “should” be doesn’t mean you’re not exactly where you’re supposed to be, and it doesn’t mean you’re not making progress.
Oftentimes, we’re too close to our own work to see our progress, and we can become discouraged if we don’t step back and see the bigger picture.
The thing about pressuring yourself to be somewhere faster is that it often has the reverse effect. When you can relax and accept exactly where you are, you’re more likely to get to where you’re going. If you feel you’re on the right path, you will keep moving forward, and one page a day becomes a book in a year.
When you’re glum because you’re telling yourself you’re falling behind, you’re more likely to say fuck it and give up.
So, what are three things you can do to increase productivity when you feel like you’re not doing enough?
1. Prioritize Rest and Play- Let Yourself Have Some Fun Instead
Taking time to rest and play in order to boost productivity may seem counter intuitive, but studies prove that rest really does increase productivity. Play can also increase productivity by up to 20%, according to research.
Take yourself out. Make plans with a friend and drink champagne in the sunshine. Dance to WAP in your skivvies. Watch reruns of your favorite TV show and eat pizza in bed. Go find a beach or a lake and spend an afternoon eating snacks, getting sun, and playing in the water. Watch some stand up comedy. Go on a date. Take a bath. Get all dressed up and go get yourself a burger and check out a new neighborhood. Spend an evening painting. Go hiking. Go spend a night in a hotel. Think about what sounds fun, what sounds pleasurable, and do that.
The reason I encourage this is because if you’re spiraling out about how you’re not doing enough, doing something fun gives your brain a break, and will actually help to juice you back up. So, if you feel guilty enjoying down time, tell yourself it’s better for your productivity.
Plus, getting out and living our lives instead of forcing ourselves to be glued to our desks gives us new ideas, material, inspiration, and creative solutions to our work. Great ideas don’t happen when you’re sitting on the coach willing them to happen. Great ideas happen when you are out in the world, living your life, not thinking about your problems.
Your joy and your pleasure is directly related to your creativity and your productivity.
2. Celebrate Your Small Wins
According to Harvard Business Review, recognition of and support of small progress can enhance long term performance and improve inner work life.
I like to make a list of what I’ve accomplished so far when I find myself getting frustrated by slow progress.
If you have a goal in mind, even if you’re reaching it slowly, write down what you’ve done so far. It may not feel like much, but often it helps to see a list of your progress to realize you are on the right track, and gaining momentum. It also helps us clarify what we have to do next.
When you accomplish something, stop and acknowledge it before immediately jumping to the next task or goal. Celebrate the small victories so your brain associates small progress with reward. Your rewards can be as simple as taking a break, or for bigger milestones, taking a vacation.
So often, we get caught up in thinking that since we’re not where we’d like to be, all the work we’ve done so far has been for nothing. It’s simply not true. It’s hard to see your own growth in real time. You have to zoom out to realize the progress you’ve made. You need to stop and celebrate your small wins to stay motivated, and remember that it’s not all for nothing.
Write down everything you’ve accomplished so far, and give yourself some credit. It will motivate you to keep going, because you’ll see that your efforts are paying off, or that they’re about to.
3. Make Small To-Do Lists
Studies show that people are more productive when they write down their goals into actionable to-do lists.
If you’re anything like me, keeping your to-do lists in your brain is not always reliable. Write things down. Don’t overwhelm yourself with millions of tasks. Delegate. Prioritize. Break things down into bite sized pieces so you can keep the momentum.
Make one item to do lists to start. Do one thing every day that gets you closer to your goal. If you want to do more, great, but if more is going to burn you out, chill. Make your actions sustainable so you can integrate them easily into your daily life, and then, when that becomes easy, you can add on more work.
It’s so true that small, incremental steps make huge differences over time. Cutting out one 140 calorie can of soda a day would equate to a 50 lb loss in a year if you don’t replace the calories with something else. Writing 1000 words a day for two years is a book. Forgoing your daily $5 latte is $1825 in savings in a year.
Shift How You View Productivity
Give yourself a break, and realize you’ll get much further being imperfect than you will being perfect, and let go of the illusion that anyone is doing it perfectly.
Give yourself some credit. All trees grow from seeds. Do you think those seedlings knew they’d be trees when they were just seedlings, year after year after year? Do you think they believed they’d ever grow tall and strong when they saw their peers get stomped on or swept away by the wind? Some of those seedlings went through massive, seemingly unfair growth spurts since they got a spot in full sun near a stream. You’ve got to grow where you’re planted, and work with the sun, water, and soil you’re given. Trust that growth is happening, even if you can’t always see it.
“The best time to plant a tree is thirty years ago. The second best time is now.”
Keep going and keep growing. It’s the only way you’ll ever turn into a tree.