The 4 Things That Steal Your Productivity

Before going into the 4 thing that steal your productivity, there’s an interesting story that needs to be told.

In the early 1970s, two behavioural scientists from Princeton University were interested in studying why humans do good for others. In what’s known as the Good Samaritan experiment, John Darley and Daniel Batson took their curiosity to the students who were studying at Princeton to be priests. The two scientists led a study to determine whether situational or dispositional factors influenced the students decision making. In other words, to determine whether individual characteristics influenced behaviour (personality traits, genetics, etc.) or situational factors (environment, surroundings). The study ran for three days where two groups were divided and told to prepare a brief talk about the Good Samaritan from the Bible. A story about a helpless man on the side of the road, who had been ignored by religious individuals and helped by a non-religious Samaritan.

steal your productivity

The participants were told they needed to walk to a building nearby and deliver their talk. Before the talk, each group was chosen to have one of three conditions.

  •  1: They had plenty of time, and were early.
  • 2: They were on time, but should head to the building immediately to avoid being late.
  • 3: They were running late and needed to hurry.


What happens next shows us exactly how easy it is to lose focus on our priorities.

What the participants didn’t know, was that the behavioural scientists had put a “stranger” in an alleyway connected to the building, with his role being a helpless individual who was sick and in need. The alleyway was only four feet, so whoever passed through had to physically move around or step over him.


The Results


It was found that fewer than half of the students stopped to help. But the deciding factor wasn’t the task- it was the time. Over 90% of participants who were part of Condition 3 never stopped to help the man in distress. What’s important to remember is the participants were all studying to be priests or rabbis, and 90% of them who were in a hurry did not stop to help. It begs the question that if seminary students can lose focus on their priority so quickly, what’s it like for the rest of us?

The best intentions we put forward can be undone quickly. Which is why we need to understand and act on the four key things that steal our productivity, brought to light by Gary Keller in his book, The One Thing, with Jay Papasan.


The 4 Things


1. The Inability to Say ‘No’

A lot of us struggle to say no. We often want to help, want to be compassionate, and don’t want to be hurtful. Focusing on our own goals to the exclusion of others can feel extremely selfish. I used to think learning to say no was a formula to become a recluse, something that’s not me at all. The truth is, it’s a recipe to gain the greatest flexibility and freedom possible. Time is a currency and our talent and abilities are transactions. We use our time effectively to get what we desire. If we can’t say ‘no’ a lot, we will never truly be able to say ‘yes’ to what we set out to do.


2. Fear Of Chaos

When we work hard tirelessly, we’re bound to come across chaos. Clutter and unrest are inevitable when focusing on our main priorities. Unfortunately, we can’t pause life and wishing we could makes us miserable. Director and Oscar winner Ford Coppola, who is known famously for his role in directing The Godfather tells us that “anything you build on a large scale or with intense passion, invites chaos.” In all of our lives, some things just can’t be ignored: friends, family, personal commitments, work projects. At any given time, we’ll feel the pressure mounting on how we handle it all.

Whether or not someone’s a single parent raising kids, or taking care of a grandparent- our time blocks look different to others. Our alone time may be at a different time of the day. The key is not to be a victim of our circumstances. When I was a health consultant, the biggest reason for individuals not to exercise was “I don’t have time”. There’s always a way to find the time and make things happen, which is why it’s important to learn how to deal with the chaos that comes in life and trust that the work you put in on your own goals and priorities for yourself will provide results.


3. Poor Health Habits

Managing our energy is the biggest factor whether we’re productive or not. Our bodies are like gas tanks, where we need to rest and refuel. It happens all the time, I’ve been victim to it many times- training at the gym tirelessly, not listening to my body and going to bed late. I’ve gone for success at the sacrifice of my health and has led me in cycles I needed to get out of. It’s dangerous to think our health will be waiting for us to come back to after consistently burning out.

Achieving goals and results require high energy. To help manage our energy better, we can plan for the morning. When we spend the start of our day energising ourselves, it becomes easier throughout the day to stay focused and productive. If we focus on having a productive day until lunchtime, the energy we have creates momentum that continues for the later part of the day. Positive energy creates positive momentum. Structuring the early part of our day is the simplest way to become more productive consistently and the easiest way to manage our health habits.


4. The Wrong Environment

Firstly, our environment has to support our goals. Who we see, the places we go, and what we experience daily impacts how productive and useful we are. Every day we come across people who influence how we act, respond, and speak. Whether it’s co-workers, family, or friends, if their output towards you isn’t positive, they’re most likely passing on some of their negativity. Surrounding ourselves with the right people may be more important than we think- they keep us grounded. If they’re supportive, they do all they can to be supportive and lift us.

We are a product of our environment, where who we hang out with influences how we think, act and to some extent, look like. If the people we spend time with are high achievers, then their achievements can influence our own. For example, if one of your friends loses a heap of weight, it can become uplifting and motivational to set your own goals. The wrong people in our environment can dissuade us from productivity and achieving great things.

We don’t succeed alone and we don’t fail alone. If the people we surround ourselves with are the main priority in a supportive environment, the places we go, and the physical environment we put ourselves in aren’t far behind. Imagine you’re going grocery shopping. You’re watching what you eat and need to shop healthily. The chips and confectionery aisle is your weakness. In walking down this aisle, you’re more than likely to give in to temptation and put something in you’re trolley to derail you. Alternatively, you walk straight pass it and forget it’s there. If your environment is full of diversions and distractions where it causes us to feel guilt, then we won’t get to where we want to go. Don’t let it steal your productivity.


What To Do


Start Saying ‘No’

When we say yes to something, we say no to everything else For example, if we say yes to staying at home watching TV, we may say no to going to the gym and exercising. It’s up to us to decide whether we’re saying no to a commitment. Start turning down requests that derail your commitment in the time blocks you’ve created for yourself. Learning to say no becomes liberating and it’s how you’ll find the time for your commitment.

Appreciate Chaos In Your Life

Understand that pursuing your commitments leaves other things on the back burner. It’s inevitable and unavoidable. Let the chaos come to you and learn to deal with it. The results you see in your main commitment will show that you’ve made the right decision and realise that allowing chaos in your life won’t steal your productivity, if you understand it.

Manage Your Energy Well

I’ve written a detailed article on how to manage our energy better, you can read it here. The key is not to sacrifice your health by taking on too much. Let your body rest and listen to it. Committing to a big goal/objectives require big energy, consistently.

Own Your Environment

You should question whether the people you’re with and your physical surroundings support your goals. When both are in line with each other, they supply optimism, motivation, and the support you need to reach where you want to go. Don’t let your environment steal your productivity.


Final Thoughts


I believe that the purpose of living is not to be happy- but to be useful, productive, and compassionate. By being those three things, we’re able to feel freedom, flexibility, and feel that what we do matters. When we show up to a job and have a productive day, we feel accomplished and a sense of achievement. When we help someone, we feel good about ourselves. Happiness just becomes the by-product in living a more controlled and useful life. Understanding what will steal your productivity helps focus on what’s important to us.


Related: Focus on 4 Energy Types to Improve Performance