The Secret to Productivity (and Finally Reaching Your Goals)

As business professionals, we all struggle with productivity. Our goal is always to get more done in less time. Don’t you just hate it, then, when you reach the end of the day and realize you made NO forward movement on your Important Projects?

Artists and writers call this resistance. Productivity experts call it procrastination. The moment it crosses our mind to start work on our project, we feel an urgency to get a snack or do the laundry—anything but the job at hand.

The usual recommendations are productivity tools, to-the-minute scheduling or calendar alerts. But every productivity tool comes with a build-in problem.

For them to work, you have to change your habits.

The truth is, we resist change. Even small changes that will make us more productive and help us reach our long-term goals.

Usually it looks something like this…

An entrepreneur knows he needs to write a book if he’s going to become a respected thought leader in his industry. But he has yet to do anything more than jot down a few ideas on napkins.

Ask him why, and he’ll give you something like this:

I don’t have the time. Just running the business keeps me busy. A book is so long—I’ll never get it done! At the end of the day, I need to spend time with the family.

You’ve probably given similar excuses for avoiding your goals too.

Years ago, I began to suspect that my resistance to working on Important Projects was because I was afraid. What if I gave it my all and they failed?

As long as I only talked about them, I’d never face that truth. I could pretend I was successful, that I was working on other projects because I didn’t have time (or money or whatever)—not because I wasn’t good enough.

Ironically, if those important projects hadn’t mattered to me, I’d have had no trouble getting them done. But because they were vitally important to me, I felt safer talking about them than doing them.

With that realization, I decided to put myself to the test. I would attempt Important Projects that scared me. I wouldfind the depth of my talent and skill.

Only then did I finally prioritize them properly. And got them done. And realized my fears were unfounded. Now, I kick myself for wasting so much time on excuses.

Altrucher talks about this in his article. The thing I experienced first-hand, he cleverly put into words:

There’s ALWAYS a gap between “what I have now” and “what I would like”.

The gap is all of your excuses. All it takes to close the gap is to be creative and work your way through the excuses.

…Excuses are pointers to where the target is. There are NO OTHER pointers other than your list of excuses.

The excuses are the map to success and fulfillment.

Most productivity gurus will tell you to make a list, label list items as a high, medium or low priority, then schedule your time more effectively.

Following their advice, you’d create a list of tasks, activities and busy work.

But Altrucher asks you to make a different type of list: your excuses.

Excuses, excuses!

If you think about it, in most cases, excuses aren’t true. They’re little white lies—and all too often, we believe them.

Look at the definition of excuse (the verb), and you’ll see what I mean:


See #2: To “release” someone from a duty. We create excuses to get off the hook when we don’t do what we know we should.

So what’s your excuse?

We hire coaches to help us get things done. But ironically, if a coach asks us to do something we don’t want to do, the excuses start up.

Time and money are usually the two biggest culprits. We never seem to have enough.

Relationships are big ones too. Maybe, if you write that book, you’ll offend someone. Or maybe, if you accept that perfect job, you’ll have to move away from the people you know and love.

Then there are habits. These we don’t see as excuses, usually. We forget they’re optional because they’re such a part of our lives. Like watching TV before going to bed. Or starting each day with a latte and scone.

I was talking with a wanna-be writer this morning. She isn’t throwing around excuses and her lack of forward movement in her career is caused by very real roadblocks. But nevertheless, she’s stuck. Without a 9-to-5 job, she can’t pay the bills. With a 9-to-5 job, she has little time to develop her writing skills.

As for getting clients, she’s working on that. But her background doesn’t look credible, and she hasn’t figured out yet how to position herself to be attractive to potential clients.

See how all of these can become excuses? Because we don’t know how to solve them, we tell ourselves we can’tsolve them.

When I was starting out, I also worried about credibility. I considered getting another degree so I’d have a piece of paper to prove credibility, but then I realized it was another way to put off doing the things I knew I needed to do.

I started plowing forward, and it was the best decision I could have made.

Do you want to be more productive?

If you want to reach bigger, more important goals, you have to lay down your excuses. If you’re tired of settling for “good” when what you want is “great,” it’s time to stop resisting and get to work.

Here’s your action plan:

First, be clear about what you want to do

No cheating. You need to be honest with yourself.

As a kid, I decided I wanted to be a “rich and famous” writer. At that time I thought I wanted to write novels, but when I got older, I realized novelists are rarely rich. (Average annual income from novel writing is about $5,000.)

So I had to be honest: In reality, I wanted to make a decent living with my writing. I could be flexible about what I wrote.

You need to do the same self-analysis. What’s your real goal? Not the vehicle. Not the tasks. The deep goal.

Second, list your excuses

When someone asks why you haven’t done [insert your goal], what do you tell them? List your excuses. All of them.

Don’t edit as you write. Even if it seems stupid, write it down. You can’t address something you won’t acknowledge.

Finally, tackle and overcome all of them

Your goal, should you choose to accept it, is to overcome all excuses.

You must find a solution to every excuse on your list. Not all at once, mind you. But one by one, you need to address and solve every bit of resistance that stands between you and your goal.

Is time an issue? Find the wasted minutes in each day and figure out a way to reclaim them.

Is family an issue? Explain to them what you want to do and ask for their support. (This is a hard one, I know, but there is a solution. You just have to find it.)

Is money your problem? Ask for help. Borrow. Take out a loan. Trade services. Whatever. Be creative. Think outside the box and you may come up with a terrific solution.

So what will it be?

Remember, excuses keep you from embracing your goals. They make you feel like you’re moving forward when you are, in fact, just treading water. You’ll only reach your goals if you overcome all excuses.

And let’s be serious. If you haven’t reached your goals yet, you aren’t doing the right things. You’ve got to change something.

Of course, for most people, the challenge is knowing what to change. But Altrucher nails it when he tells you to focus on your excuses.

Remove them, and there’s nothing standing between you and your goals. It’s that simple.


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