Do you struggle to be productive? 

“Thinking will not overcome fear but action will.” – W. Clement stone

Do you often find yourself hounded by urgent deadlines? You may attempt to start each day with a to-do list, but soon find yourself procrastinating and getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work you have to complete. That’s normal, and it’s okay! We all struggle to be productive at times. But when is it considered being unproductive and what exactly does it mean to ‘be productive’? 

Productivity goes beyond “working hard”; it is about “working smart”. It involves making good use of the time, effort, and resources put in to achieve fruitful outcomes. Working hard is a commendable trait, but it does not always mean that quality work gets done. We may end up putting in many hours of work, yet still struggle to produce work that we feel proud of. This can cause similar productivity slump cycles to repeat itself in the future and it can be mentally exhausting for oneself. These productivity slump cycles may also be fuelled by unhelpful beliefs on what it means to be productive, such as the following:

You may be struggling to stay productive.

1: “I have to be busy all the time or I am not productive!” 

We may feel that handling tasks after tasks or taking on multiple tasks at once means that we are being productive and are maximising our time. Contrary to popular belief, research has shown that multi-tasking does not make you more productive and actually reduces productivity by 40%! Taking on tasks constantly without pause or having multiple tasks at one time can cause us to feel stressed out, overwhelmed and may even lead to a burnout situation later on. Thus, doing more does not equate to productivity, especially if it tires you out in the long run and results in reduced work performance in the future. Instead, ensuring that you pace yourself and focus on one task well at a time may work better to fuel your productivity in the long run. 

2: “If I don’t wake up early to start on my work, I am not productive!”

Everyone has different peak periods; some may be morning people, while others may be night owls. Just because someone wakes up early to do work does not mean that they are more productive than someone who wakes up at a later time. We should aim to capitalize on our own peak periods and do what is most suited to ourselves, instead of being influenced by others who may perform better during their own peak period.

Being productive is not equivalent to working for longer hours.

3: “If I work longer, I will be more productive!”

This is not true as productivity is about working smart, rather than working hard, to achieve fruitful outcomes. Excessively long working hours often cause people to have  reduced concentration, leading to lower productivity and performance, as well as feel increasing levels of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. It may seem counterintuitive, but taking breaks and pushing yourself to finish your load during working hours may actually be more beneficial! 

When we uphold these beliefs, productivity may be even more difficult for us to achieve as these are ideals that are hard to realise. So, what are some better ways for us to boost our productivity? 

4 ways you can boost your productivity

1. Set your priorities…

We all know we need to prioritise. However, when there are so many tasks at hand, it can be difficult to decide which task should be prioritised. We might even panic over having too many things on our plate. Thus, rather than just asking yourself what is important versus what is not, it might be more helpful to identify your priorities using the Eisenhower Productivity Matrix.

This matrix will allow you to clearly identify the tasks you should focus your energy and attention on, so you can work your way down your to-do list more efficiently. 

Additionally, it is important to keep track of your distractors— social media, Netflix, your colleagues —and stay away from them until you have completed your tasks.


2. … and your boundaries!  

When the workload is starting to get too heavy and overwhelming, it might be  time to start saying ‘no’ to additional responsibilities or look into further delegation of work. After all, if you are already facing low productivity, taking in new work will not increase your productivity (and it may further increase your stress!). Persisting with this demanding workload may lead to exhaustion or even burnout in the long run, which would be counterproductive. 

3. Take breaks

Being productive does not mean that you should work for long hours and care for your needs less! Often, productivity is achieved by striking a balance between how much we work and rest. Research has shown that taking short, time-bound breaks helps with overall productivity as it boosts your energy and helps you to think and perform better. 

Stay productive by taking breaks.

If you find yourself experiencing mental fatigue, which presents itself through behaviours like reading the same sentence over and over again or feeling like you are going on ‘auto-pilot’, try giving yourself a break for your brain to recharge! Use this time to tune in to your needs, such as having a snack, stretching or taking a short walk, and come back within the designated time to take on the work with a refreshed mind. 

4. Build a circle of positive support

It can be counterintuitive thinking of friends and colleagues during bouts of low productivity since it seems to be our problem that we have to deal with and solve alone. However, you may find that your colleagues or friends help you feel less alone in what you are going through, pace yourself, have an avenue for emotional support, and think and perform better through collaborative work and looking out for one another. This circle of positive support not only benefits you, but may even prevent everyone around you from falling into the slump of low productivity as well.

WIth all these tips in mind, productivity may not seem as insurmountable anymore. Here’s a quote to tide you through times when you feel overwhelmed and unproductive!

“It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson mandela


Cherry, K. (2020). The Cognitive and Productive Costs of Multitasking. Retrieved 9 July 2021, from,by%20as%20much%20as%2040%25