8 Questions to Ask Yourself When You're Unproductive and Need to Get Back on Track

Plenty of people are busy. Staying busy is easy. It’s a lot harder to be productive.

Think about it—busy people are organized. They check things off their to-do lists. They get things done.

Productive people do all that—but they check the right things off their to-do lists, and they get the right things done. They execute in ways that make the biggest difference for their company and for themselves.

Are you productive, or just busy? To determine the difference—and find ways to be much more successful—ask yourself the following questions:

1. “Do I Do Everything With a Goal in Mind?”

Effort without a genuine purpose is just effort. Productive people don’t just know what to do—they know why. They have long-term goals, and they have short-term goals that support their long-term goals.

In short, they have purpose—and that purpose informs everything they do. That’s why productive people appear so dedicated and organized and consistently on-task. They’re not slaves to a routine, they’re simply driven to reach their goals and quick to eliminate roadblocks and put aside distractions that stand in their way.

The first thing to do is set goals, so decide what success means to you. (Your definition of success is and should be different from everyone else’s.)

You’ll find it’s easy to stay focused and be productive when you truly care about what you hope to achieve.

2. “Do I Create Systems That Support My Goals?”

A goal is great for planning and mapping out what success looks like—a system is great for actually making progress toward that goal.

Productive people know a goal can provide direction and even push them forward in the short term, but eventually a well-designed system always wins.

Everyone has goals—committing to a system makes all the difference in achieving them.

3. “Do I Believe in Myself?”

Diligence isn’t easy. Hard work is hard. Pushing forward when successes are few and far between takes optimism and self-belief.

That’s why busy people quickly give up and productive people keep going.

Productive people embrace the fact (and it is a fact) that the only way to get where they want to go is not to just try, but to keep on trying. They know eventually they will succeed.

4. “Do I Believe I’m in Control of My Life?”

Many people feel luck—or outside forces—has a lot to do with success or failure. If they succeed, luck favored them; if they fail, luck was against them.

Luck certainly does play a part, but productive people don’t hope for good luck or worry about bad luck. They assume success is totally within their control. If they succeed, they caused it; if they fail, they caused that, too.

Productive people waste zero mental energy worrying about what might happen to them—they put all their effort into making things happen.

They know they can never control luck—but they can always control themselves.

5. “Do I Sometimes Embrace ‘Random’?”

When your nose is to the grindstone, all you can see is the grindstone. And that means you miss opportunities to spot something new, try something different, or go off on a fruitful tangent.

Busy people stay almost totally on-task. Productive people build in time so they can take advantage of opportunities to experience new things, try new methods, and benefit from happy accidents.

Don’t always try to reinvent the wheel. Be happy to adopt someone else’s perfectly functioning wheel.

6. “Do I Use My Goals to Make My Decisions Automatic?”

In one of his podcasts, Tim Ferriss described how Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, makes tons of decisions every day. Kelleher applies a simple framework: Will this help Southwest be the low-cost provider? If so, the answer is yes. If not, no.

Productive people apply the same framework to the decisions they make. “Will this help me reach my goal? If not, I won’t do it.”

If you feel like you’re constantly struggling to make decisions, take a step back. Think about your goals—your goals will help you make decisions.

That’s why productive people seem so decisive. Indecision is born from a lack of purpose: When you know what you truly want, most of your decisions can—and should—be almost automatic.

7. “Do I Multitask?”

Plenty of research says multitasking doesn’t work. (Some research says multitasking actually makes you stupid.)

Maybe you don’t agree.

Maybe you’re wrong. Try to do two things at once. You’ll do both of them half-assed.

Productive people focus on doing one thing at a time. They do that one thing incredibly well, and then they move on to whatever is next. And they do that incredibly well.

8. “Do I Ask for Help Right Away?”

Busy people eventually will ask for help when they can’t get something done. Productive people are quick to ask for help, but not just because they need it. Asking for help shows respect for the other person. It shows you value his or her experience, skills, or insight.

Mutual respect is the foundation of every solid relationship, and the best way to build mutual respect is to be the first to show it.

Want to be more productive? Surround yourself with people who trust and motivate and inspire you—and in turn will be inspired by you.

Even if you don’t achieve every one of your goals, your life will be much richer.

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Daily Muse
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