The One Reason You Are Unproductive

We know that multi-tasking makes us unproductive when we choose to be productive.  But why do we sometimes choose not to be productive in the first place?

Intentions are positive and motivation is decent, but when it comes to daily living, we may find ourselves watching Youtube videos, lurking on Facebook, or tweeting our lives away. After pondering over and analyzing my own activities of time-wasting and procrastination, I have discovered the reason that I and so many others do it instead of engaging in productive tasks.

Productivity’s benefits are not fully or even mostly realized in the same day tasks are accomplished. There is often some benefit (such as the sense of satisfaction), but it typically fails to meet the satisfaction gained from “shooting the breeze” on the web or elsewhere. We will always act in our own best interest, and this is a case where we fool ourselves.

The Thinker vs. The Barbarian

If we’re not actively engaged in deep thinking, we will process and decide on daily events in the following barbaric, over-simplified manner.

Productive tasks:

  • Results are often delayed
  • They are more work than play

Unproductive tasks:

  • Results are immediate
  • They are more play than work

This over-simplified comparison the brain runs through in a non-active mind is the one reason you are unproductive.  Your brain actually believes that watching funny youtube videos for an hour is better for you than brainstorming ideas for writing a book or starting a company.  It immediately sees the value in enjoying youtube, facebook, or twitter;  but unless your mind is active, it will fail to quantify the value of things like studying for an exam or cleaning one section of a messy house.

It takes mental effort to consider individual parts’ value if their value is attached to a larger whole. For example, in writing this blog post, the real value is that it will be an integral part of my library of content – helping people for years to come.  On its own in the present, the value is fairly limited as my blog is young and my audience is relatively small.

Stop Looking At The Big Picture

It seems like a good idea to view the big picture because we can align all of our actions with it, right?  No!  The big picture is something you glance at in order to make sure you’re doing things correctly.  Think of a jigsaw puzzle.

Puzzle Girl

Life is a puzzle. Not because it needs to be solved, but because it has so many individual components that shape it.

In a jigsaw puzzle, the big picture on the box serves as the point of reference.  You cannot stare at the box for a long time and then put the pieces together from memory.  You cannot stare at the box while moving the pieces into place blindly.  No, most of the time you’re looking at the small pieces and seeing how they fit together, occasionally glancing at the box to see where they fit within the big picture.

Life is no different than this.  The big picture is something to be glanced out, but we need to focus on the 1,000 parts that make it up.  These tiny pieces are so small and seemingly worthless on their own, but when combined over time they form a beautiful (or not) “big picture” of your life.

Black belts got to that level from thousands of small decisions that formed a chain of cohesive intention to get a black belt.  The big picture shows a black belt and the details show daily decisions to work hard and maintain focus towards accomplishing the goal.

Reward Your Productivity

After I finish this article, I’m going to play NBA Showtime on Nintendo 64 as a short break and reward for my productivity.  After that, I intend to exercise to continue my productive day (which also includes another guest post submission to Problogger).  Being an active thinker, I can see that my actions today are building a very meaningful and exciting tomorrow.  I still engage in social media and entertainment, but it is no longer at the expense of important productive tasks.

Don’t make barbaric decisions based on over-simplified information.  Think actively and choose the daily activities that will connect together and lead to the picture you want to see on the jigsaw puzzle box of life!  If you focus on the box itself, you won’t see how each piece connects and the picture will stay a dream rather than moving forward to becoming a reality.

Change your thinking.  Change your life.

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Hugo Martins

I suffer from unproductivity almost all days of my life…I’m constantly fighting it but my brain still thinks Youtube for an hour is better than writing or reading, or doing something productive. As always, excelent post!

sguise

I hope you can convince your brain otherwise Hugo! Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you enjoyed this.

Denys Yeo

I liked your comment:

“in writing this blog post, the real value is that it will be an integral part of my library of content – helping people for years to come.”

We should not restrict ourselves to thinking that a blog has a “short” shelf life. In the future improved search engines will be able to seek out the “pearls of wisdom” contained in our blogs, integrate the results, and present this to a person interested in a particular topic in a useful format. We are part of the large group of people producing this “raw” material. We should do a good job of it!

sguise

Denys, I hope that search engines do improve to the point where they are most beneficial for the searching person instead of the best SEO manipulators. Google does an ok job now, but I know my blog should be ranking higher than it does in many areas. Just because my blog is new, doesn’t mean it isn’t quality!

I agree with your thoughts on blog “shelf life.” I want my blog content to be useful to others for decades, and so I mostly write timeless content. Thanks for your insight Denys!

Ashvini

Hi Stephan,
Sometimes bigger picture gets a little demotivating. For e.g. if I want my business to be in top businesses, I have a goal and a plan. Many times goals are not met, plans do not work. If I understand this, it is fine. But many people who have grand plans and goals tend to think that once they make 1m$ they will achieve everything. This is not so because as soon as goals are met emptiness sets in and it might get more sadness than joy.
To me meeting smaller goals such as writing a good blog post is more easy and provide more happiness than the fact if my blog were ever to get PR 7 ( which is probably not in my hand and may be a long term goal). I hope you get my point . All small things do add up , sometimes they show and sometimes they dont.
Great writing thanks .
Ashvini

sguise

What you said makes me think of the article I wrote earlier on motivation – how it is better to motivate yourself for smaller goals that have a high probability of success. I agree with what you’ve said. Even when we reach a huge goal like $1 million, we realize that life still isn’t perfect.

Thanks for sharing those thoughts Ashvini!

Ashvini

Can you please post the link to that article ? Thanks!!!

Armand Polanski

Hi Stephen,

There are actually times people think that doing more is being productive but sometimes it’s just being efficient not effective or it does not produce results. Before, I used to do things because it makes me feel very productive but when I reflect and think about it, I just acted I was being productive.

sguise

Hey Armand,

That is true and something I have been guilty of frequently. I can say I worked 8 hours on my website, but I wonder how much of that time was used efficiently. Focus on the task or goal can help us with being more productive.

Gabriella - The Stepford Wife

great article! I like the end where you say that one should reward themselves for productivity – maybe a bit of online shopping? I like this post a lot! It made total sense. Will apply it in my life for certain 🙂

sguise

Online shopping for some, video games for others. I’m happy to hear you plan on applying it to your life! I think it will make a difference! It has for me. 🙂

Oil Pastels Artist

Recently I have started by keeping a list of small action items that I can check off throughout the day. For example, it could be something as simple as upgrading wordpress on my blog sites, or it could be taking care of that mail in rebate form that’s about to expire. Or writing a list of ideas for a blog or website. The smaller tasks need to be done to get the larger tasks achieved. I find that if I reward myself with a few minutes of gaming or facebook browsing (ok sometimes it’s more than a few minutes!) – I still get these tasks done during my day, rather than fumbling around wasting all my time!

sguise

Wow, those are some saucy lips there!

I like your system. Haven’t you found that you’re more satisfied by gaming/facebook when it is done as a reward? I used to play video games all day, but now when I do it is as a treat. It is more enjoyable as a result.

Oil Pastels Artist

LOL thx – well I don’t have time for games all day – but I do feel better when I play some gaming if I’ve knocked out some tasks first! I find that the longer I put things off the worse I make it when I finally get to it.

Archan Mehta

Stephen:

Thank You.

One writer wrote: You are efficient, but are you effective?

To feel productive is different from actually being productive. I can complete a task and feel good about myself, but how does that add to my quality of life? How has it helped to achieve my goals?

Both “big picture” thinking and detail-orientation are important. You need to grow your business, so figure out a strategy that works for. However, you also need to clean your home, or else the health inspectors and other professionals may come calling after a while.

It is not an either/or dichotomy. You need to focus on both, but in order of priority. For example, if giving an exam is a priority, give the exam. Save the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink for later.

Cheers.

sguise

“I can complete a task and feel good about myself, but how does that add to my quality of life? How has it helped to achieve my goals?”

I love that.

No, it isn’t either/or with big picture and details. The big picture is the reference point and the details are where the action is.

Benjamin K.

Hey Stephen,

This productivity issue is very real and present for me right now. I not only get overwhelmed by gazing at the big picture too long but I also tend to get tangled up in the details. In the puzzle analogy, I have trouble choosing a piece to work on and, once I have chosen it, I doubt that it is really the best piece to have in my hand at the moment. An important step for me will be organizing the details before I dig in, like finding all the edge pieces.

As always, thanks for adding true quality to the internet.

sguise

Hey Ben,

It sounds like what you need is conviction. Something I’ve been realizing that may help you is that starting something that is aiming at your goal is the most important thing. You don’t have to pick the perfect starting project – just pick one that looks decent and go with it.

I challenge your need to organize the details before you dig in. Why not just dig in and learn as you go? I could have planned starting this website for weeks – but I decided to just buy the name, get web hosting and start playing around. Once I started, I solved thousands of tasks through trial and error. Don’t be afraid of error and plan for a year just to avoid it. We can’t know everything in advance.

Money making tips

It seems equivalent a discriminating air to range the big situation because we can ordinate all of our actions with it, proper? No! The big interpret is something you bounce at in rule to attain careful you’re doing things right. Imagine of a fretsaw teaser.

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