The Inner Game of Productivity

I remember being very impressed with the book “The Inner Game of Tennis,” which pretty much began the trend of looking inward to find and reduce the sources of many different performance problems.

Later, I was happy to lead the editorial work of a similar approach to productivity, this one aimed at improving stock and bond investing results.

More recently, I’ve begun to think it’s not just techniques, but a productivity mindset that is a critical element in success, because it supports and increases efforts to accomplish more and to achieve larger, more satisfying goals. A big problem, though, is that too many people have a hard time adopting a productivity mindset.

One reason may be psychological, stemming from the same kind of “inner” issues that have been shown to hamper performance in sports, investing, and other activities.

For example:

Procrastination May Result from Fear

I’ve spoken with many people over the years who habitually put off working on their most important, most desired tasks, projects, and goals. After much investigation and thought, I’ve found that one reason for this behavior is often simple fear. For various reasons, people may be afraid of:

  • Failure,
  • Success,
  • Inadequacy,
  • Humiliation,

or some combination of all four.

There’s no room here to dissect these fears or suggest remedies. However, simply recognizing and naming them are big steps you can take toward overcoming your fears.

Poor Priorities May Result from Uncertainty

I can’t count how many times I’ve lectured and written about priorities, and the importance of using them to pick and choose from all the tasks, projects, and goals you’d like to accomplish.

I remember, during my early days of time management consulting, being astonished at how many people I encountered who were working hard without any clear idea of what goals they should aiming toward nor where their hard work was actually leading them.

When you’re not clear on what you’re trying to do, it’s only natural to be hesitant about which of your many tasks, projects, and goals to work on next. Conversely, when you’ve got the big picture in focus and you’ve clarified your main goals, your priorities become painfully obvious.

Poor Concentration May Result from Poor Organization

These days there’s a lot of talk about distraction. One obvious reason is that we’re working in an environment at least partially controlled by “attention engineers” who get paid to pull us away from whatever we’re doing and into particular activities.

That’s an important battle, of course, one that you must fight continually with no hope of permanent victory.

So it’s dangerous to leave ourselves more easily distracted – even by such simple “attractors” as shiny objects, cute animals, or traffic accidents – by remaining less organized than we can be.

In my experience, solid organization helps us greatly with establishing priorities, meeting deadlines, and gaining the satisfactions that come from delivering on-time, on-target results.

In this context, solid organization refers to:

  • Knowing how all your upcoming tasks, projects, and goals fit into the big picture of your values, mission, and purpose,
  • Having all the resources required when (or even before) it’s time to work toward each operational target,
  • Feeling comfortable and confident that your skills, knowledge, and abilities are adequate for the work you’re attempting to accomplish.

When you’re well organized, you’re clear on what you need to be doing at each moment of your work and your life, which automatically leaves less opportunity for distractions to creep in and pull your attention away from what’s really important.

Slow Progress May Result from Poor Preparation

I’m a little less certain about this item, but most people seem to find there are times when it’s easier to make good progress toward a task, project, or goal, and other times when it’s more difficult. One prominent factor that seems to be associated with this variation is the level of preparation.

Just like “the harder you work, the luckier you get,” in many situations the more fully you prepare, the faster and more easily you produce good results.

One reason may be that the process of preparing helps prime your subconscious mind for the work ahead, and perhaps even give it a kick start before you actually begin the first step.

I know the subconscious mind works on solving problems even after you’ve knocked off for the day and surprisingly can present you with a solution the next time you take up the matter. In the same way, the subconscious mind may get started on a task, project, or goal from the first moment you begin to prepare for it.

Even if that’s not true, however, fully preparing to work on a task, project, or goal tends to smooth the way, eliminate many obstacles and difficulties, and allow you to concentrate more fully – all of which works to increase your productivity and level of success.

If you’re having trouble developing and strengthening your productivity mindset, you can introspect and think through whether one or more of these factors might be increasing your difficulty. In productivity and success, as in so much else, getting your “inner game” in order often leads to significant improvement in your “outer” effort and effectiveness.

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