Why Are You So Unproductive?

Last week I talked a little bit about getting past the symptoms and digging down to the real causes – What really keeps us from being productive? Why am I so unproductive?

As in, not saying, “Oh, it’s because you procrastinate,” but figuring out what’s behind your procrastination.

What reason or motive or reward is there?

Find that, and you find out how to end the procrastination.

Unproductive Life
Unproductive Life

I think there are a few common “real causes” that produce all sorts of unproductive symptoms. Here are three.

1. Fear, the Mind-Killer

Fear is the biggest one, and to do a blog post right you should lead up to it. Why wait? Let’s get right to it. Maybe you won’t read the rest of the post now but maybe all you need to read about is fear.

I’ve written about fear quite a lot: how it keeps us from starting, kills our creativity, how to overcome it, so on.

Why so much with the fear?

Because I am afraid. And instead of hiding the fear, pretending like I don’t have any, shuffling it around, wall-papering it, or calling it some other name, I’m just going to bring it on out where we can all point and laugh at it together. Because pointing and laughing is kind of the right thing to do with fear.

Fear thrives in shadows, in hidden places, in corners, in recesses, in quiet backgrounds. It murmurs and whispers and mutters and twists things around and seems valid, huge, important.

Fear dragged out into the sunlight is a different beast. In your head, it sounds like Leviathan. In a sunny room with a good friend, you see it as it is: a naked molerat, maybe?

Something small and ugly and strange and maybe revolting, but not really threatening. The only real danger is in your perception. If you perceive the fear as real and valid, then it keeps you locked down.

If, however, you examine it and see that whatever you fear is only one possibility out of many, you can choose to move forward. Or not. You can weigh the risks (positive with negative) and decide if it’s worth it or not.

We fear a lot of things, a whole long list of psychological and interpersonal and historical and biological boogeymen that won’t go away. Your childhood and education and experience, the way you look and the kind of friends you have, how affluent or poor you were, how outgoing or introverted you are… all will give your fear its own personal flavor.

Exciting, huh? Artisanal, hand-crafted fear. A pint a day. Delivered to your door.

You’re afraid of, say, failing at some endeavor that means a lot to you, so rather than start it and risk the experience of that failure, you procrastinate and never start.

Fear is producing procrastination.

There are a thousand different ways this sort of thing happens, every day, in my head and yours too.

But what if? is a great question to ask fear.

Fear of experiencing failure, say. BUT WHAT IF I do try and fail? What if? Well, then… I will have failed. It will sting.

Maybe you will lose money. Lose friends. Lose a reputation. Be embarrassed. Question your ability.


What else?

I mean, really: if this fear is the thing keeping you from doing something that matters to you, it should have some really good reasons. Money? Embarrassment? That’s a good enough reason to NOT TRY something you really care about?

2. Chasing the Wrong Thing

Maybe fear is not the issue.

Maybe the real issue is that this thing – this goal, task, job, relationship – is not something you really want.

It is oh-so-easy to get on some road heading toward some endpoint and only realize, a hundred miles into the journey, that this is not where you want to go.

The problem at that point is that you’re a hundred miles in and ugh what a waste and gosh how embarrassing and what will I do instead and I’ve already lost so much time.

So you keep pounding the pavement toward a destination you didn’t pick and don’t want.

Hey bro, you there?

Stop. Just stop it.

Taking a stupid journey all the way to its end is not the mark of diligence or nobility. IT’S THE MARK OF STUPIDITY.

Opt-out of stupidity.

Take the next exit off that highway. Choose a new destination or just choose a new road and figure out the destination along the way.

3. Tying to Be Balanced

If there is one thing I hate more than the use of the word “dialogue” as a verb, it’s the whole silly concept of “a balanced life.”

Let’s say you’re pursuing a thing you genuinely want and care about.

Let’s say you’ve worked through the fear, or rather, that you keep working through it.

But instead of going into all-out pursuit mode, instead of dedicating your energy and time, instead of going for it, you…

  • Schedule in a 15-minute block of time, every other Wednesday, to craft a plan.
  • Dedicate 30 minutes on Monday and Thursday nights.
  • Give it an hour or two of your packed weekends.
  • Spend your in-between, “free time” fiddling around with ideas and plans.
  • Talk to a bunch of people about it (after making them sign non-disclosure agreements).
  • Blog about your idea and what you’re going to do and your goals and how it’s going to be awesome and then don’t do anything else for several months.
  • Join some forums and e-lists related to your subject.

All of these things are sure ways to slowly and methodically kill your goal and any “passion” you had for reaching it.


Because you’re so busy squeezing in a bit here, maintaining the rest of your life there, keeping up with all your obligations, being prepared, being dependable, and staying balanced that you’ve spent all your energy out before you begin.

Pursuit without progress leads to discouragement.

Continual discouragement leads to depression.

Depression leads to you quitting on yourself.

Want to make progress on what you care about?

Follow this easy three-step process:

  1. Don’t talk to anybody about it. (Okay maybe one sane person with good insight who can help you sort through ideas and give you accountability, otherwise: no.)
  2. Get rid of every single optional and semi-optional thing in your life. Cull. Cut down. Put on hold. Get rid of it. Say no, no, no, no, no and then say it again.
  3. Focus all the energy and time you gain from getting rid of all that stuff onto one thing and one thing only: pursuit and progress. Set goals tied to deadlines, make them big, work hard for them, and celebrate when you reach them. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Balance schmalance.

Love your people, get sleep, take showers, eat decent food, go for a walk outside every day, and don’t worry about the rest. Pursue progress, which requires serious running.

Focused, steady, energetic, fast.

None of this “slow jog” business.

What is causing a lack of productivity in your life?

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