Are You Struggling To Stay Productive?

Written by Emilie Brunet

Are you struggling to stay productive?

You’re not alone.

There’s a lot going on in the world right now.

Combine that with the fact that the days are getting shorter and we’re less than a month away from the start of the holiday season means that we may not be showing up as our most productive selves right now.

And that’s okay!

However, if you are not in a position where you can slow down or afford to take a rest without jeopardizing your financial situation or career you might be looking for ways to keep focused and stay productive for these last few weeks before the holiday.

There are countless books, articles, videos, blogs, lectures, courses and content around being productive. Everyone wants to know how they can optimize their time to be more efficient, get more things done and be their most productive self. And there are endless “productivity hacks” that claim to address this.

But as someone who has ADHD and struggles a lot with focus, I have a bone to pick with the most common ones.

Let’s go through these 3 common productivity “hacks”, why they are severely overrated and what you can do instead!

Hack #1. Eat the frog first.

One of the most reiterated productivity “hacks” I hear is, “Eat the frog first”.

The concept came from a Mark Twain quote where he stated, “if you have to eat a live frog, do it first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.”

The idea is that if you do the hardest thing at the beginning of the day to get it out of the way, you’ll be able to enjoy the rest of your day more. Get the tough, long thing done first and then BAM, you can chill.

While I appreciate the concept in theory, this rarely works for me. Mostly because while I’d like to get the hard thing done first, doing the hard thing means mustering the most amount of motivation you have.

When we have a difficult task to do, putting it first on your to-do list means that you need to muster the most energy to get the hardest thing done.

It also means that you are more likely to procrastinate.

I have an alternate strategy: Eat the cake first.

This strategy is based on the idea that if you can get a small win, then it goes on to motivate you to get another small win, and then the next thing you know, you’ve got momentum.

And when you do not have the motivation or drive to get things done, momentum can carry you through.

So the next time you’re finding yourself at a standstill because you have something really difficult to do on your to-do list, hop to the easiest thing and get yourself a win. See if that makes a difference!

Hack #2. Have a consistent working environment

This was a hack brought forward when everyone started working from home during the pandemic (might not be relevant if you’re not someone who works remotely).

The idea behind this productivity tip is that having a designated area in your home dedicated to work allows your brain to associate that area with focus, work and productivity.

It allows you to keep your work at your desk and your personal space free from work.

This tip makes sense in theory.

It can help you:

The problem with this tip is that it doesn’t take into consideration the fact that:

Repetitiveness can lead to boredom which can lead to a lack of motivation.

If everyday you are coming to sit at your same desk, stare at the same screen and be surrounded by the same plants on your desk, it can start to feel incredibly boring and draining.

While routines are important, switching up routines every once in a while can be helpful with your focus.

So yes, aim to mainly stick to the same work environment, but also be adaptable.

Here are three things you can try instead:

Leave your house

If you’re really struggling to focus, getting out of the house and working somewhere else can be really helpful.

This isn’t always doable, but if you can, leave your house or the office and try working at the library or a cafe.

Being surrounded by other people who are also working and in a new environment can be just enough motivation to get you back on track at work.

Rearrange your office space

If you have a job that has you on calls all day, leaving the house might not be possible. But rearranging your office space can be helpful too.

When you realize that your work space is starting to feel repetitive and dull, consider changing the placement of the furniture, or buying a new plant for your desk.

Make your space “new” and exciting again!

Sometimes you just need to work from the couch

When I’m really struggling to stay focused, sometimes just moving away from my desk and sitting at a different place in my home, can renew my sense of focus.

Especially on days when you are feeling really mentally low, working from the couch can actually be a solution.

Do I suggest you work from the couch everyday? Definitely not — it’s not the most ergonomic option and could lead to back and neck pain.

But sometimes if you are really struggling to work, making a compromise with yourself to do your work from your couch might allow you to feel like the work you’re doing is more enjoyable again (just be careful not to turn on that TV haha!)

Hack #3. Take a big project and break it into smaller steps

Again, this is one of those tips where on the surface it definitely can be helpful. But in practice it can lead to further overwhelm.

When you are faced with working on a big project, breaking it down into smaller steps can actually be a really huge project in and of itself.

It takes a lot of foresight and practice to be able to look at a complex project and predict all of the small details that will need to go into getting it done.

That’s kind of what project managers are for!

So if you are not a project manager, this “productivity” hack can actually just ultimately lead to feeling paralyzed, not knowing where to start and prevent you from even getting anything at all done.

I’ve wasted hours trying to plan out all of the details of a project instead of just f*ckin’ starting it.

Instead take your project and break it down into the first two steps. That’s it.

Forget about what comes after that. Just figure out what is the first thing you need to do and what is the second thing you need to do to complete this project. If that’s too much, break it down into just the first step!

While looking at the big picture is important, if all we ever look at is the big picture it prevents us from recognizing the easy work that’s right in front of us and just buckling down and getting that first step done.

Also, doing the first step and seeing how long that takes you, can allow you to get a better idea of how long the project as a whole is going to take you and what steps will come next.

So the next time you are struggling to be productive, just think, okay, what is just one thing I can do to move this project forward? And start there.

Looking for more productivity tips? We wrote a blog a few weeks ago about adapting the Pomodoro Method to work for you! Check it out here.

Are there other productivity hacks that you find don’t work for you? Let us know by replying to this email!

About the author

Hey, I'm Emilie 👋🏻

I'm the Business Support Manager at Journey Education. I have always had a passion for writing, organization and finding creative solutions. I aim to be personable, empathetic and compassionate and believe that kindness can go along way in both business and life.

Having worked and organized with anti-capitalist, feminist and queer organizations, I strongly believe that EVERYONE deserves, not just a living wage, but a thriving wage and that it should be the priority of every business to create an inclusive, caring and diverse work environment that doesn't just ensures the work happens, but allows people to be people while the work is happening!

My approach to everything I do reflects my training in trauma-informed practices, active listening and harm reduction as well as my interest in understand the way people work, behave and exist as their full human self. I want to create safer spaces for people to explore, create and excel in a supportive environment - whether that's in life or at work.