How To Identify A Bottleneck In Your Productivity And Stop Feeling Stuck

6 months ago   •   5 min read

By Colton Hicks

You have blindspots preventing you from achieving a goal. We all have them.

Sometimes it feels like an invisible force is holding us back. But if you feel stuck, this means you're running into roadblocks in your productivity and workflow.  Quickly identifying these bottlenecks will allow you to take the appropriate measures to get back on track.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to identify and fix these bottlenecks so you can enhance your work output.

What Is A Bottleneck?

A bottleneck is a constraint that blocks you from achieving a goal.

This concept comes from the world of project management and lean manufacturing, and it's often referred to as the theory of constraints. But, it can also help us make better use of our time and accomplish more work.

To grasp what a bottleneck is, you must first understand what "throughput" means. This is the rate at which something flows. It measures the movement of inputs and outputs within a process.

A simple example is a drain pipe. If something is clogging your drain, the water flow will be restricted. You'll need to unclog your drain if you want your water supply to flow faster, or have a higher throughput.

The same concept applies to your workflow and productivity

To reach your goals, you must enter a process that leads to your intended outcomes. If your aim is to increase sales, for example, you'll begin following a series of steps in order to achieve it (producing marketing material, having sales conversations, improving your product, growing a community, etc.).

There will be bottlenecks, regardless of which step you choose.  For instance, if you want to produce more marketing content, then not having a content marketer will place constraints on this step.

Here's the biggest takeaway:

Every process has a single chokepoint that determines how fast any goal is achieved. So if we focus our efforts on removing this bottleneck, our productivity throughput will improve and allow us to reach our goals more efficiently.

So what kinds of bottlenecks should you be on the lookout for when attempting to boost your productivity and workflow?  Let's take a look.

4 Types Of Productivity Bottlenecks

We've all been there. You're cruising along, getting things done, and feeling good about your progress... when suddenly you hit a wall. No matter how hard you try, you just can't seem to get anything else done.

We all experience these stumbling blocks from time to time.

Here are the four most common types of productivity bottlenecks—and how to fix them.

  • The ability to focus. When you're trying to get work done, there are a million distractions vying for your attention. It could be an email notification, a text message, or even just daydreaming about what you're going to do after work. To fix this type of bottleneck, you'll want to learn how to do deep work. This means creating a distraction-free environment for yourself, setting aside dedicated time for work, and learning how to say "no" to distractions.
  • Attitude and beliefs.  If you enter work in a negative frame of mind, you're not in a position to create quality work. This could manifest as perfectionism, impostor syndrome, or other forms of self-doubt. To fix this type of bottleneck, you'll want to identify your limiting beliefs and work on developing a growth mindset.
  • Health and energy. When you're in poor health, it's difficult to muster up the motivation and focus to get work done. The most common bottlenecks here are stress, lack of sleep, insufficient exercise, and a poor diet. To fix this type of bottleneck, you'll want to identify the root cause of your health challenges and adjust your lifestyle accordingly.
  • Time management. We only have 24 hours in a day, which means there's only so much we can do. When you don't know how to manage your time, it's easy to waste hours on activities that don't contribute to your goals. This could result in procrastination, perfectionism, or working on low-priority tasks. To fix this type of bottleneck, you'll want to focus on setting priorities, saying "no" to time-wasting activities, timeboxing your tasks, and leveraging other people's time and expertise.

No matter what type of productivity bottleneck you're experiencing, there are always ways to fix it.

How To Eliminate Bottlenecks And Improve Your Workflow

As we've discussed, every process has a single chokepoint that determines how fast a goal is achieved. So if we focus our efforts on removing this bottleneck, our productivity throughput will improve and allow us to reach our goals more efficiently.

There are three steps to eliminating bottlenecks. These are referred to as the "Thinking Processes" within the world of project management and lean manufacturing. Ask yourself:

  1. What needs to be changed?
  2. What should it be changed to?
  3. What actions will cause the change?

If you can answer these three questions, you'll be able to eliminate bottlenecks and improve your workflow.

Step 1: What needs to be changed?

The first step is to identify the bottleneck.

This can be done by looking for large accumulations of things that are a “work-in-process.” Blockages in a process create these large accumulations. For instance, if you have a large number of content ideas, then there's a productivity bottleneck preventing you from turning these ideas into content pieces.  

When you notice things "piling up," look upstream and downstream to see where the blockages are occurring.  And remember to reference the 4 productivity bottlenecks above to help.

Step 2: What should it be changed to?

Once you've identified the bottleneck, the next step is to figure out the desired outcome you want. In other words, what should it be changed to?

To do this, you'll want to keep your end goal in mind. And if you don't have a clear end goal, now is the time to set one. Without a goal,  it'll be difficult to find a solution that removes the bottleneck.

For instance:

  • If you've identified that poor eating is creating a health issue and putting a constraint on your productivity workflow, then your desired outcome would be to eat healthier food.
  • If you find that you're spending too much time on low-priority tasks, then your desired outcome would be to focus on high-priority tasks.

Step 3: What actions will cause the change?

The final step is to take action. This is where many people fail because they never take the necessary steps to see results.

You can have the best productivity system in the world. But if you don't take action, it's worthless.

So once you've identified the bottleneck and set the desired outcome, it's time to take action.

This will look different for everyone, but some examples include:

  • If you need to focus on more deep work, then you might create a daily schedule that includes blocks of time for uninterrupted work.
  • If you need to eat healthier, then you might create a grocery list of healthy foods and meal prep recipes.
  • If you need to spend more time on high-priority tasks, then you might want to learn how to use the 80/20 principle and other mental models for prioritization.
  • If your goal is to write a book, then you may want to develop a writing habit.
  • If your goal is to write two blog posts per week, then block off time in your calendar for writing.

Take action today to start eliminating bottlenecks and improving your workflow. It's the only way to see results.


Next Steps

Remember, every process has bottlenecks. And if we focus our efforts on removing them, you'll be well on your way to improving your workflow and becoming more productive. So what are you waiting for?

Want to learn more about improving your workflow? Check out our article: What Is Deep Work? Unlock Your Mind's Fullest Potential.

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