Jul 31 · 5 min read
Why You Make No Progress
You have to-do lists, priorities, even clarity on what you want to achieve. But your day is still escaping you. You get done what you didn’t even plan for: you deep clean your fridge, organize your inbox, look up 50 Useless Facts You Really Didn’t Need To Know on the internet before lunch and find yourself shocked at how time went by so fast!
I have written about productivity since 2012. In all of the gained head knowledge and experience, nothing has helped my progress more than increased awareness, including clarity around the topic I share here.
Let’s start with the three contributing factors you’re not seeing the progress. You will need to keep those in mind even after you read how to boost your achievement.
Reasons for Lack of Progress
It’s the obvious one, isn’t it? Procrastination means kicking the can further down the road and not dealing with it at all, or waiting until the last minute to pick it up. Psychology calls procrastinators that push things off until the deadline “arousal types” because they seek the thrill of the last-minute pressure. I’m not one of them.
We can procrastinate because we avoid decisions that would make us responsible for the results. We also procrastinate because we fear success or failure.
Reasons for procrastination vary, but chronic procrastination is mainly based on lack of self-control and signified by impulsiveness taking precedence over goals. The concept of delayed gratification is not rewarding enough, so instant gratification gets prioritized.
I don’t want to encourage procrastination, but you could use this to your advantage. Knowing that your brain wants to be rewarded quicker and/or if you like to “work under pressure” (science disapproves, but let’s test your belief), do this:
- Break tasks down to small enough chunks that get you faster satisfaction of a task accomplished.
- Build small rewards into your achievements.
- Turn your to-do into a small challenge: Set a timer for less time than the task would normally take. Tic toc. Did you beat the clock?
Fear is the hidden obstacle on your road to progress. If you don’t know what drives you, you can’t steer your vehicle. Fear might even be a driver toward progress (e.g. fear of consequences), but that rarely is the case with your personal goals. No one but you has the desire and ability to envision your future for you in a meaningful way. As an adult, you are the one to set your goals in life (health, family, career, education…). So what fear’s could you be facing?
Fear of success or failure is one of them. It is rooted in what people think about you, also called approval addiction or people-pleasing. Unless you invest time in discovering the reasons and work on changing your mindset, your vehicle will be steered by the world around you. You’ll move in all directions, except toward your goals.
- Why am I hesitating?
- What reasons am I giving for why I don’t complete this task?
- If I am being honest with myself, are those reasons valid?
- What can I do to remove them (with help from others)?
You can have all the clarity you want – without commitment to your clearly defined goals, you still won’t make any progress. The lack of commitment could be based on the above two reasons (procrastination, fear), but likely has another reason:
We pay attention to things we find interesting. We are interested in things that matter to us. If we see no value in something, we don’t pay attention. Ergo: If you set goals and to-do’s that don’t really matter to you (no value), you won’t (commit) to do them.
If you say you would like to achieve something but put no serious effort into it, can you seriously say that you are committed? No. We prioritize what we value.
So, if your task list is full of things that you logically need to get done (have-to’s) and has only a few things that you really want to work on (want-to’s), you will prioritize accordingly.
You can use this to help yourself:
- What’s important about my goal? Why does it matter? What do I really want?
- What impact will accomplishing this goal have on my life? My wellbeing? My finances? …
- How important on a scale from 1-10 is it that I accomplish this?
How to Make Progress
The Value-Progress Connection
I used to create task lists that were logical, highly organized and using well-known prioritization methods. Over time, I used technology to get more sophisticated in my time management. I had fun with it, too. It was a weird form of procrastination because a shiny new object in the form of software was a nice way of not progressing on the actual tasks I had organized so well. How ironic.
I realized that my elaborate method and sophisticated tools didn’t improve my progress much. I started reflecting each night for a week on what did and did not work every hour of my workday. Anything that didn’t work got eliminated or changed. It helped some ways by increasing my awareness and made me more mindful and present in each moment. Something was still missing.
One day I discovered that I did not even attempt to work on my goal because I didn’t care all that much about it.
We prioritize even when we are not aware of it. Our values, interests, passion will drive a goal to the top even without the need for reminders. We focus first on what matters most. Passion will push inconvenient and irrelevant obligation into oblivion. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t perform tasks we have no passion for. Some things just need to get done and we may not like it.
On your grande agenda (your big goals in life), get clarity on what matters to you and why. Gauge your commitment level. Only then work on the tasks you’ve created to achieve those goals. On all other tasks, use good time management paired with assessing the impact they have when done (value assessment).
The Value Rating
Many motivation theories exist out there. They all have their standing. For the sake of the discovery about our values and the connection to our motivation to achieve our goals and get things done (a.k.a. productivity), I propose you rank your to-dos by the value of the output they create.
Instead of looking at everything at equal value, try to use your value system (what matters to you) to assess the priority of a task and the worthiness of being pursued at all. Know what matters most to you and what you need to do to accomplish your “big A agenda,” then check your commitment level to achieve this goal. Once you have both clarity and commitment, you will be able to focus and square off things that matter and contribute to progress on your goals.
You need both your values in combination with commitment, pushing past fear and avoiding procrastination to make this work. Your values will help you to focus on outputs that matter.
Image credits: 20minutelife, TheOatmeal.com
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