Four thieves of your productivity

Sometimes good intentions are not enough, especially while we are talking about productivity. In 1978 J.M. Darley and C.D. Batson constructed the experiment in which they tested the possible facts behind the modern version of the parable of Good Samaritan concerning altruistic behaviours. The experiment showed that the major reason why people didn’t stop to offer some help to a victim was the haste of their lives. There were different groups of people involved in the experiment, but the most peculiar one were students who were going to deliver a speech about helping others. They were in such a hurry that they didn’t even notice people in distress on their way to the conference spot. More about the experiment “From Jerusalem to Jericho. A Study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behaviour” you can read here.

It hasn’t changed much since then. We are still in a rush from one place to another. We often lose main focus in life even if we really have no intention to do it. Multitasking has caught on in the modern world. Every day people are deconstructing themselves to do many things at once. But more tasks frequently lead to more mistakes. And don’t get me wrong here as I am the last person to say that we shouldn’t make any mistakes or that we should’t focus on more than one task a day. I am just saying that heavy multitasking is frequently a logical consequence of the lack of focus and may just lead to a failure.

What is surprising (or maybe not at all) is the fact that some people can still be productive at work whereas others don’t. I probably would be a hypocrite if I said that I am always productive, but I am trying to be and I think it makes a huge difference. Yet there is ONE THING, literally one, which makes it easier for me and it is thinking about my priority, about the one thing which makes me one step closer to the success. And I choose my ONE THING wisely. It is not always the same thing though. But today I will not tell you about it. I am going to tell you about the opposite, the thieves of productivity, things that can make our everyday life harder and less effective. It is just good to be aware of them. Gary Keller in his book mentions four of them:

  1. The inability to say no
  2. Bad health habits
  3. The fear of chaos
  4. The lack of support from people around you

Let's take a closer look at each and every piece.


It’s not easy either to say no at work or in private life . But the point is to realise that this “no” is a vital part of achieving the hight level of productivity and success. When we are saying no to something, at the same time we are saying yes to something else. And the clue is to realise which thing out of these two is just more important.

If we want to concentrate on one thing, we have to say no to another one. To achieve great results we have to choose our priority and stick to it. Saying no is nothing bad. We just have to learn how to do it. It is crucial to choose between more and less important things at work. And it is crucial to say no to these less important tasks unless they are connected with our priority. But remember the priority is always one. If you feel you are going to bury under a pile of work, you can always think about the Eisenhower’s Matrix which may help you decide which of your tasks are less and more urgent and less and more important.

And remember that being assertive is nothing bad. Just do it smart.


If we could not manage our energy resources well, we would not also manage our productivity well. Losing energy may lead either to losing motivation or burning out too early. And it happens very often. We work till late hours, sleep little, eat unhealthy, skip physical exercises.

Imagine a car with a rattling engine, with no headlights or poor tires. Would it go as effectively as one which is well-maintained? Our body is like this car. If you want to get somewhere and literally don’t break down, you have to be in a good physical and mental state. So take care about yourself. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, sleep well. Organize your daily life in such a way that you will have time both for work and regeneration or relaxation. Don’t forget about “me time”. Spending time on work or with others is important, but spending time with yourself is equally important. Make plans with yourself and search for pleasure.


Chaos – the word itself sounds ominous, much less everything it leads to. The disorder and unpredictability created by chaos may feel uneasy at first, but it’s simply a byproduct of focusing intently on ONE THING. It’s something that naturally happens because instead of struggling to juggle everything, you decide to attend only to what really matters. You can compare the tasks you are going to delegate or schedule to the rubber balls that having been dropped just bounce around, but fially they will fall down.

The only way to achieve great things through focus is by letting the smaller stuff slide. We should not be afraid of the chaos our action may create. You may even find letting the chaos happen quite liberating when you do not run back and forth trying to keep everything in order.


What is around you, heavily influences your actions, decisions and the ability to focus. When the physical environment is full of distractions and does not support your goals, working toward them is an uphill battle.

The people you interact are the biggest influencers in your environment. You should never automatically assume that people around you would be onboard with your ONE THING. The point is to be among people who will support your goals and who will lift you up. Don’t let your performance and productivity suffer because you spend time with a wrong person. Surround yourself with positive, goal-oriented people that genuinely want you to succeed.

To sum up, I would follow the words of John Carmack saying that “focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.” We should learn how to prioritise work effectively and identify how urgent and how important our different tasks are. When we set out top priorities, we can cut the remaining tasks and focus on them another day. We have to measure the value of tasks and how they will help us get our ONE THING done. It may not be easy at first, but there are so many smart techniques that help million of people all over the world to improve their productivity that you just have to give them a try. For more tips take a look here and here.

Good luck with your ONE THING!