7 Reasons Why You’re So Unproductive (and How to Fix Them)

by Corey Pemberton 8 Minutes

Image via Unsplash.

Being self-employed is pretty great.

You can choose which projects to work on. Set your own hours. Shape your business however you want it to grow.

But, as Uncle Ben from Spiderman would say, with great power comes great responsibility. Without a boss hovering over your shoulder, it’s all on you to stay productive.

Sound familiar?

Making the most of your time is a constant struggle. But spotting the most common productivity pitfalls is the first step to avoiding them. Keep reading to find out how.

Stopping the Most Dangerous Productivity-Killers

If you can become more productive as an entrepreneur, you get more output in less time. Instead of waiting for the boss to call you into the office with good news, you can literally give yourself a raise at will.

But it’s also easy to fall into bad habits when you don’t have a boss holding you accountable.

Here are seven of the most common reasons why people are unproductive – and how to fix them so you get more done moving forward.

1. Spending Too Much Emotional Energy on Things You Can’t Control

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It’s so tempting to give your power away.

The world is full of things to invest your emotional energy in. The sad part? Many of them don’t have any impact on your business.

Celebrity gossip and petty office drama. Sports and politics. These things might occupy the typical 9 to 5 office worker, but to thrive as an entrepreneur, you have to be different.

Starting – and growing – a successful business requires a ton of energy and emotional investment. If we let ourselves get distracted too often, we won’t have enough left over to pour into the business.

I caught myself doing this lately, constantly stressing about how much real estate prices are going up where I live. Being in the market for a home in the near future, it made me frustrated and anxious…

Until I decided to just let it go. I recognized that: 1) I didn’t have any control of it, and 2) agonizing about that wasn’t bringing me any closer to my ideal business.

You can do the same.

Which websites do you visit to distract yourself from work? Which things in your life make you angry and powerless… even though you can’t control them?

Identifying where you’re pouring all your emotional energy is the first step to fixing the leaks. Once you realize just how many of these are outside your control, it’s easier to let them go and tackle your work with renewed focus.

2. Feeling Completely Overwhelmed by Your Vision for the Future

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Some of us know exactly what we want our business to look like a few years from now. But that vision is so far from current reality that it makes us completely overwhelmed.

It’s like looking up at the summit of Mt. Everest. Climbing the whole thing seems so intimidating that we procrastinate, worry, and never really make progress. Then, a year or two later, we find ourselves in the same spot as before!

Breaking that massive task down into manageable chunks makes it a whole lot easier to get productive.

What do you need to do next month to take you closer to your ultimate goal? This week? What about today?

It’s easy to underestimate the cumulative effect of consistent, daily progress.

If you give yourself a concrete task to do today, you can accomplish it and build momentum. You rack up tons of small victories by hitting your daily quotas instead of just staring at the mountaintop feeling constantly disappointed.

By all means, think and dream big! Just remember to reverse engineer that dream into a series of smaller tasks. Don’t try to climb Mt. Everest. Instead, worry about training, acclimating yourself to the altitude, and getting to base camp.

3. Paralyzed by Doubt

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Have you ever felt like an impostor?

I know I have. For the first year after I launched my copywriting and blogging business, I didn’t feel like a “real” entrepreneur. Sure, I was finding clients and finishing projects. But I felt like I didn’t belong with all the other accomplished professionals out there.

I figured it was only a matter of time before someone figured me out and labeled me as a pretender…

But that never happened! It took overcoming that initial lack of confidence to prove to myself that yes, I could build this business.

One of the best ways I’ve found to fight this is to write out the potential worst case scenario.

What if I start this new business or take on this client and things are a disaster? Write out the effects in great detail. Seeing it all laid out on paper will help you see that the worst-case scenario probably really isn’t so awful. Even if things go wrong, you can recover.

Now write out all the potential consequences if everything goes right. Think about the skills you’d gain, the connections you’d make, and the increased income.

Makes the decision a little easier, right? Self-doubt comes and goes. But I’ve yet to make it disappear forever. The good news: you can manage it, move forward anyway and rack up small victories as you gradually build confidence.

4. A Lack of Discipline

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Go to an office job and refuse to work, and you might walk out fired.

Slack on your own business, and the effects aren’t so immediate. You might find yourself slacking off for a while before you inevitably lose customers and clients.

It’s easier to coast when you’re the one calling the shots, working alone from a home office. No one is going to yell at you for messing around on Twitter.

This lack of discipline can absolutely ruin your chances of success. Because it’s so easy to fall into bad habits when you’re self-employed, this is something we have to be mindful of constantly.

I know it doesn’t sound fun or sexy, but it might be time to build some discipline. We can’t expect perfection because we’re only human. But we can train ourselves to put in consistent effort and stick to a schedule.

Building discipline takes time and conscious effort. You can’t expect to wake up next week magically more disciplined. This is something we build gradually, like muscles in the gym.

You can and will build discipline over time. But you can make it a lot easier on yourself by creating an environment that encourages focused work.

Instead of relying on discipline and willpower alone, what if you cut off the internet and other distractions? Tools like RescueTime and StayFocusd make this simple. Instead of trying not to text, why not leave your phone in the other room until your dedicated work hour is up?

A combination of discipline and the right environment will maximize your creative output.

5. Being Reactive Instead of Proactive

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If you’re checking things off your to-do list constantly but still don’t feel productive, you aren’t alone.

You might have fallen into the reactive trap. Instead of using your work hours to accomplish your most important tasks, you’re spending that time responding and putting out fires.

Without a clear plan in place, it’s easy to wake up and start your day by being reactive instead of proactive. You open up your email client, and before you know it the better part of your morning has gone by answering emails.

We’re naturally drawn to easy to accomplish, low-impact activities. It only takes a minute or two to check them off our to-do list, and we get a nice dopamine hit for “getting something done.”

But this is a trap. Spend too much time in reactive mode, and you never quite get to those important tasks that will have a real impact on your business.

Take a minute to think about how you’re handling your first few work hours every day. Do you have a concrete morning routine in place? Something that empowers you and leaves space for high-leverage creative work?

This simple change has had an enormous impact on my productivity. It takes time to build the habit, but if you set aside the beginning of your work day (when you have the most energy and motivation) for the truly important stuff, you’ll accomplish a lot more with less stress.

6. A Lack of Motivation

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Some days it’s easy to shoot out of bed and dive into work. Other days… not so much.

One of the biggest challenges of self-employment is to overcome those inevitable bouts of low motivation. With a 9 to 5 job, there’s always the threat of getting fired to get you out of bed. But things aren’t so clear in the self-employed world.

Motivation is a nice tool to help us work harder and longer. But we can’t afford to sit around and wait for it to show up. This reminds me of the quote from author W. Somerset Maugham: “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

One of the most frustrating things about this: once you simply start working on something, motivation often shows up right after and carries you to the finish line.

Instead of worrying about motivation, get a timer and simply worry about starting. Set it for 10 or 20 minutes and work on your project for that time without any distractions. When it goes off, don’t be surprised if you keep working now that you’re more motivated.

7. No Clear Vision

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Why are you putting yourself through all this?

This is a question I asked myself a few times during my darkest days as a fledgling entrepreneur. It would’ve been so much easier to find a job, to work for someone and get a guaranteed paycheck.

A lack of vision was ruining me, and it can ruin you too.

It’s time to get clear on exactly why you’re running your business. There are plenty of things you could do for income. I’m talking about significant impacts beyond the financial sense.

Why do you wake up to work on your business every morning? What’s the impact you are trying to make?

Your vision gives you a target to aim at, and a reason to press on during tough times. Without it, every day becomes a bland struggle to earn more money than you spend.

It’s amazing how many people haven’t thought about this! Take a day, a week, or as long as you need. But think it out, write it down and review it when things get tough.

Your vision can – and will – change over time. That’s totally normal. But without one, it’s hard to put in the sustained effort required to use every hour as best you could.

Get More Done in Less Time Than Ever Before

Being more productive allows you to finish the tasks that really matter and grow your business. It gives you the keys to get more done, make more money, and live life to the fullest.

As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to slide into bad habits. But once you recognize the most common mistakes, you can act fast to fix them.

Have you ever struggled with being unproductive? How did you handle it? What’s the best productivity tip you’ve ever heard? Leave a comment below and share your experience!

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by Corey Pemberton
Corey Pemberton is a freelance copywriter and blogger who helps small businesses and software startups get more traffic and conversions online. You can find him on his website or follow him on Twitter.