The problem may go deeper than “poor time management skills.”
Last week, I had one of those unproductive days—the kind that have you feeling guilty for at least 24 hours. The you’re not doing enough and it’s because you suck kind of day.
But this week, I had a string of very productive days. You know, the kind that make people wonder how you get it all done.
Often, when we talk about being productive as a small business owner or creative, we bring up things like…
- Using techniques such as time-blocking
- Eliminating distractions
- Prioritizing your to-do list
- Organizing the hell out of your stuff
- Buying a goal-setting planner
And we’re not totally off-base. These things seriously help. But here’s the thing: I have done and continue to do all these things every day, yet my productivity levels still fluctuate (sometimes pretty dramatically).
While I’m, on average, making more of my time than I was before I started using time-management techniques, I still experience plenty of unproductive days. In fact, I don’t know anyone who’s completely eliminated their unproductive days. Do you?
I think that’s because there’s something else going on, something deeper than time management.
At the heart of it, what makes the difference between a productive day and an unproductive day is a lack of confidence.
On my most unproductive days, something has triggered my sense of insecurity. I’ve read through the blog of someone who’s wildly more successful than I am. I’ve been hit with a social media feed of people celebrating big moments in their career that I feel I’m lightyears away from achieving. (And what? They’re only in their twenties?!) Maybe I’ve gotten some bad feedback from a client, or I’ve found my work redlined to shreds by an editor.
Even with my built-in productivity tools, it’s exceedingly challenging to give my work my entire focus on these days. Because in the background is a throbbing insecurity, reminding me that whatever I do, I’ll never be good enough.
This crisis of confidence leads to three of the most common culprits for unproductive days:
A willingness to be distracted.
Anything to take your mind off your hurt feelings. A text from a friend? Sure, that’ll definitely make me feel better. A quick scroll through social media? Yes please, take me outside my own life for a moment. Am I a tiny bit hungry? Better make myself a quick snack before really settling into the work day.
A pace that’s a lot slower than usual.
As you chug through your work, you find it difficult to focus without a belief that you’re doing things correctly…Which makes every task take longer and only adds to your stress and insecurity.
Second-guessing every decision.
From how to spend your time to who to hire, you make dozens of decisions every day that affect your bottom line. A lack of confidence can have you putting off decisions until later or changing your mind too often, which result in missed opportunities.
How to recover from or avoid productivity-killing confidence drops
I don’t think there’s a way to guarantee you’ll feel confident for the rest of your days (and if there were, we’d probably all be terrible people). But there are some tricks that I’ve realized help me recover or avoid drops in confidence before they derail my day.
Don’t check social media or email first thing in the morning.
Yeah, yeah, this has been said before. But, uh, most of us still aren’t doing it. I find that I’m particularly vulnerable to comparison syndrome when I haven’t yet started my day. Here I am in bed, just sleeping through the night like a slob, while all these other people are making their business amazing! Later in the day, I’m much more likely to see things as they really are.
Recognize when your confidence has dropped.
Instead of trying to avoid feeling because you’re feeling low, face your emotion head on. Once you’re able to name it for what it is, you’ll have an easier time getting past it—or at least not making it worse. I like to journal every morning before I start work so that I get ahead of whatever icky feelings might have cropped up in the hour or so since I woke.
Do the easiest thing on your to-do list.
When you’re feeling not-so-confident, don’t try to tackle the biggest, most important thing right away. Go for the easy win, even if it’s just responding to all the emails in your inbox. Crossing something off your list can make you feel productive, which can actually make you be productive for the rest of the day.
If you can’t shake your feelings: stop, drop, and exercise.
My last resort is to just say “f**k it,” and hit the street in my running shoes. If you’ve tried everything else and you still feel stuck in a rut of insecurity, cardio can often be the thing that shakes you out of it. Yet, this one’s kind of tough to do, because it feels like you’d be wasting precious time you could be working!
Remember that how productive you are isn’t a measure of your worth
As I wrote this article, I felt a twinge of guilt, like I was operating under the idea that being productive is the only reason that self-confidence matters. I know just how often we’re encouraged to do self-care as a way to “hack our productivity.”
So, I’d like to leave you with this note of realness (which is as much a reminder for myself): We’ll never get to a place of perfect productivity, no matter how much we curate our time, invest in workflow software, or strictly regiment our social media.
Just as I’m trying to make sure a lack of confidence doesn’t undermine my productivity; I also don’t want one unproductive day to take a toll on my self-confidence.
What about you?
Content courtesy of Krista Walsh, creative copywriting for purpose-driven companies and passionate people
Contributing Author, Krista Walsh
Krista Walsh writes website copy, blog posts, and product descriptions for small eCommerce companies and service-based solopreneurs. Her writing and messaging strategies help her clients speak to their customers’ values and emotions, for meaningful sales.
In her free time, she writes about purpose-driven business and freelance life at kristawalshcopywriter.com. On the off chance she’s not writing, she’s volunteering to walk the big ole’ dogs over at the Dog Café LA or watching (pretty bad honestly) TV dramas on Netflix.
Connect with Krista through her website, Krista Walsh Copywriter