9 Reasons You're Not Being Productive

5 months ago   •   5 min read

By Zero Machina

Are you finding it hard to stay productive?

As of 2022, only 12.4 percent of workers contribute more than six hours a day doing actual work. And only 53.3 percent of time working is spent on being productive. To make the best use of your time, it’s important to identify why you’re not being productive so you can make the necessary changes.

Here are 9 reasons why you're not being productive, and tips for moving in the right direction.

1. You Have Too Many Choices

With so many choices, it's hard to know where to focus your time and energy.

Too many choices make most people feel stressed and indecisive: This is often called "choice overload." When you have too many options - perhaps multiple tasks or projects to work on - it can start to feel overwhelming.

As a consequence, you'll spend long hours making a decision or never start at all. Very unproductive.

You can overcome this by weighing the opportunity costs of each decision, and narrowing down your focus to the most important task.

2. You Don’t Have Ideal Choices

Another reason you're unproductive is that you don't have ideal options on the table.

This is a paradox in our modern world–too many options, yet none of them are ideal. You may not like what you're doing, or you recognize it's not aligned with your overall goals.

You can overcome this by generating more options for yourself, being proactive, and focusing on your circle of influence.

3. You’re Distracted

Do you feel like every time you get into a flow, your phone dings or a meeting request pops us?

We live in a culture of distractions–social media, e-mail, instant chat messages, and people who demand time on your calendar. We're pressured to be available, at all times. This makes it hard to be productive and focus on important tasks. Some days, it's nearly impossible to concentrate for just one hour.

Productive people overcome this by scheduling focused work time, turning off notifications, and setting boundaries with others.

Spend less time distracted and watch how many more hours you get back.

4. You Can’t Do Deep Work

In a world of constant distractions, it's hard to do deep work.

The term “deep work” refers to professional activities that take place in a state of “distraction-free concentration.” These activities require you to focus without interruption for long periods of time. This type of work is essential for knowledge workers who want to create tangible value.

Focusing on one task at a time has become rare.

But when you're able to concentrate without distraction, you can push your cognitive abilities to the limit. You can achieve a flow state where you're fully immersed in an activity and solve problems more effectively. This is peak productivity.

If you can’t remember the last time you engaged in deep work, try scheduling uninterrupted focus time into your week. This is one of the most productive habits you can implement in your life.

Use a timer. Set a time constraint. Turn off all distractions and give yourself permission to work on your highest priority task.

5. You Keep Trying to Multitask

Our culture values multitasking. Some even consider it a key skill for time management.

In reality, though, multitasking makes you less productive.

Humans are not good at multitasking. Working on more than one task at a time forces our brains to rapidly switch contexts, causing us to be less effective. Some studies even show that multitasking decreases productivity by approximately 40 percent!

Bouncing back and forth between tasks impedes your ability to work deeply. And as we've mentioned above, deep work is most conducive to being productive and making progress toward your goals.

Since our culture values multitasking and normalizes it, it's hard to break free. But if you want to be productive, it's time to start focusing on a single task at a time.

6. You’re Looking for Instant Gratification

We're used to getting things quickly.

With the click of a button, we can order a product and have it delivered to our doorstep within days (or hours). We've become accustomed to this level of instant gratification, and it's seeped into other areas of our lives.

We value entertainment over effort. We want the rewards now, and we don't want to wait.

But this mentality can actually lead to less productivity throughout the day since the most important tasks require focus and dedication.

If you’re always on the hunt for instant results, it’s hard to buckle down and get things done. You might struggle to be patient and put in meaningful work every day, which leads to wasted time and trouble meeting your deadlines.

This also leads to subpar work. It takes more time to fix mistakes versus doing the job right the first time.

If you're looking for instant gratification, try to find ways to delay it. Earn it first. This can be as simple as setting a timer for yourself and working for a set amount of time before taking a break.

7. You Don’t Have Clear Goals

It’s hard to be productive when you don’t have clear goals and deadlines.

If you’re not sure what you’re working toward or why you’re doing it, then staying motivated and putting in the effort is tough. Having clear goals gives you something to work toward. It keeps you focused. And it allows you to track your progress and see how far you’ve come.

When setting goals, be specific and realistic. Trying to accomplish too much at once can lead to overwhelm and discouragement. Start small. Set time constraints. And gradually increase the difficulty level as you go.

8. You’re Too Rigid

Rigidity leads to inflexibility and a lack of productivity.

Having discipline and structure is beneficial. A morning routine, for instance, can help you start the day productive. But it’s easy to take this to an extreme. If you’re not willing to adjust your plans or change your approach, you might miss out on opportunities. You might also get bogged down by details and miss the bigger picture.

It's important to be adaptable and go with the flow. If something isn't working, stop doing it. And don't feel guilty for changing direction or wasting time. Be open to feedback and willing to make changes.

Rigidity can also lead to perfectionism. You'll waste time aiming for perfection when a good enough solution exists. Remember, done is better than perfect.

If perfection is stopping you from being productive, cut yourself some slack. Do the best you can and move on.

9. You’re Neglecting Other Aspects of Your Life

Being productive extends beyond your professional life.

If you're so focused on work that you neglect other aspects of your life–such as time with your loved ones, exercise, or sleep–you might struggle with long-term productivity.

Neglecting your personal life can lead to burnout, making it harder for you to re-engage with work and make meaningful progress. Expect your work quality to diminish, too.

Fill your free time with activities that rejuvenate you.


Next Steps: Time to Start Being Productive

There are a number of reasons you might not be as productive as you’d like to be. But by identifying what is holding you back, you can make changes and take your productivity to the next level.

Want to learn more productivity tips for avoiding distractions and staying focused? Check out our article: How to Avoid Distractions While Working from Home.

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