The Internet is littered with advice about how to fix your procrastination issues and develop that legendary work-ethic that shall help you crush your goals in record time.
According to popular opinion, fixing your procrastination is the missing link between your current state of despair and the nirvana of extreme productivity that you have been wanting to achieve for ages.
In my opinion, this approach is wrong because procrastination isn’t a thing to be fixed… because it isn’t a problem in itself.
In my opinion, a lack of productivity and a tendency to procrastinate mercilessly are mere symptoms of issues that run at a deeper level and require a more robust intervention than just reading an article or buying a PDF from your favorite Twitter account.
According to my experience, and in line with what the latest survey we conducted at sefmastered.net, the average low-productive person links their “productivity problems” to three core variables: focus, motivation, and discipline (or lack thereof).
These have always been the three culprits of what I call “self-management failure”. If you fix these three (and it can be done using a systematic approach towards self-management), you can fix it your productivity problems at once.
These three things are not to be addressed as isolated phenomena, independent from each other, because each is in fact stacked on top of each other. They are closely related.
Have you ever met an ultra disciplined person that lacked motivation or focus? Exactly.
Let’s dive in.
The truth about focus
A lack of focus is the #1 problem of the average person, especially entrepreneur, who tends to be a neurotic do-it-all type of person prone to trying as many things as possible to avoid missing out on relevant experiences/events/etc.
Choosing too many things at once and, more importantly, not finishing them is a fancy way of wasting time, energy, and potential chasing things that don’t matter.
This seems to be the default mode of the average person but, at the same time, who is to blame here? There is a battle going on for your attention, and your ability to choose one course of action, commit to it, and focus intensely shall be the first assets disputed at the front lines.
In the end, after working with people from all walks of life, I have come to realize that the real culprit behind a lack of focus, especially among the most ambitious, hard-working individuals, is that they don’t understand the difference between being effective and being efficient.
In short, efficiency is performing any given task, whether it is essential or not, in the most economical way. Effectiveness, on the other hand, is about doing the things that get you closer to your goals in the most efficient manner.
Efficiency is about shooting right every shot. Effectiveness is about only shooting the right shots, right.
Being efficient, with disregard to effectiveness, is the default mode of the Universe, but it isn’t the best way of creating a productive life because it leads to exhaustion. It stretches us too thin, and make us waste time pursuing goals that aren’t aligned with a coherent long-term purpose for ourselves. So we waste time.
This distinction is present across everything we do, yet we don’t pay attention to it. A few examples of the difference between efficient and effective top performers are as follow:
On the one hand, we have the “efficient people”, who are excellent at setting goals and taking MASSIVE ACTION towards them. They put as many hours as necessary to get the work done, maybe even working themselves to exhaustion “because the efficient thing is to get things done”. They answer all emails, messages & notifications, making sure they remain connected at all times. To increase his clout or impulse his business, they are always willing to attend as many podcasts, events, and parties as necessary to make sure they convey their message effectively.
Efficient people, especially if they are top performers, are good at doing a lot of things and do it quickly. Unfortunately, this approach to self-management can’t last long because by stretching themselves too thin, they scatter their focus and don’t apply not applying enough energy on the right things. And probably end up burning out in the long term.
Effective people, on the other hand, understand the need for focus, and only work on the things that are likely to advance his long-term goals. This approach to saving time and energy for what matters only is present across all dimensions of his life: in their business (an effective person is always looking to work less and achieve more), in their communication with their peers (answering only what matters), in their relationships (attending only the right events), etc.
Effective people understand the value of focus and actively try to reduce the surface area of their lives by choosing to only work on the most important things.
A lack of effectiveness implies a lack of focus, which sits at the base of a motivational problem.
The truth about motivation
A lack of focus and proper prioritization skills inevitably lead to a lack of motivation. Why? Because your scattered focus can’t sustain your efforts in a single direction for long enough to reap the fruits of that labor.
Not being able to sustain motivation in the long term is directly linked to having trouble choosing an effective target for your attention. When you don’t commit to a single cause of action, you stretch yourself too thin and become unable to sustain your efforts in the long run. You run out of patience and start doing other things that bring novelty to your life.
Lacking motivation is, in reality, a problem of patience, a lack of commitment to a single cause of action for long enough to enjoy the fruits of that effort, which is what will ultimately create the positive feedback loop that shall reinforce that behavior in your mind.
Short-term motivation is, therefore, guaranteed if we don’t change course. What about long-term motivation?
Long-term motivation is predicated on two things: working on something that intimately matters to us, on the one hand (which we will be discussing in our next article), and being able to assess our progress as it unfolds, on the other. The last part is crucial: only with the relevant feedback loops, we are able to inform our perspective on the amount of progress we are developing and pull us towards a higher degree of achievement and resolve.
The final culprit for a faltering motivation is the amount of time we have left to complete something. If our deadlines for completing something is far away, we won’t feel motivated to complete it. This is why it is so easy to procrastinate on goals that are too far away. When your goal is due in 3 months, it feels unimportant to work on it today, which is why having a system that tracks our performance is so essential to make our efforts sustainable.
The truth about discipline
The inability to choose a single course of action leads to a lack of motivation, which in turn leads to a lack of discipline, which is the last culprit in my understanding of why most people fail at self-management.
Discipline is no other than an inability to push through the pain (what authors like Steven Pressfield call “The Resistance”) that comes with creating work while in a deeply-focused state. This failure is intimately related to your psychological stability or lack thereof because it depends on how suboptimal our attentional system may have become after years of engaging in shallow work.
If you regularly get distracted by your impulses, you’ll always struggle to take action on meaningful long-term projects. Nowadays, as you know, it is easier than ever to get distracted. The easy path of not-doing-work is always there. The more you give in to this impulsivity, the less motivated you’ll feel overall, and the less ready your brain will be to tackle ambitious projects. If you are giving in too much, you will create a negative feedback loop that will inevitably be extremely detrimental to your long-term performance.
In the long run, if you are unable to push through the pain, you will never reap the rewards of good work. You will miss out on the possibility of creating yet another feedback loops that illuminate your performance and sustains your motivation.
Binding it all together: a systematic approach
How to solve these three things at once? By rigging the game in your favor. The solution to these three things at once is to engage in what scientists call “purposeful practice,” which is an intentional way of directing your efforts following a specific set of guidelines.
In a nutshell, to solve your focus, motivation, and discipline issues, you must:
- Understand what makes you tick, and create clear goals that intimately matter to you,
- Follow a roadmap that gets you out of your comfort zone in a controlled and sustainable way.
- A system that tracks the relevant variables and creates the necessary feedback loops that may inform your performance and sustain your motivation in the long run.
If you do these three things, you will lead a productive life by default, and you will avoid wasting time, energy & money chasing fruitless endeavors.