5 Productivity Problems You Can Prevent by Getting More Clarity - See Change Studio

5 Productivity Problems You Can Prevent by Getting More Clarity

By Elaine Kiziah, Ph.D.

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Think about what it means to you to live a good life.

If your answers are anything like mine, you’ll mention things like…

  • Feeling that I’ve had a positive impact in this world.
  • Growing toward my potential.
  • Establishing authentic and loving relationships.
  • Cultivating joy and wonder.
  • Feeling a deep sense of spiritual connection.
  • And investing my time, attention, and energy in ways that support ALL of these things.

So what does that have to do with clarity?

Well, on a big picture level, there’s the clarity that comes with asking that foundational question I just invited you to contemplate — “What does it mean to live a good life?”

As baseball great Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

In this case, that means you could end up just going through the motions everyday and then arrive at the end of your life feeling a sense of regret about how you spent it.

Beyond the big questions, though, clarity plays an important role everyday.

Here are five of the biggest problems I see crop up for my clients (and myself!) due to a lack of clarity…

#1: Falling behind and missing deadlines.

Most people — myself included — are terrible at estimating how long tasks will take. There’s actually a name for this human tendency — “the planning fallacy“.

When we underestimate like this, it can cause us to fall behind with our tasks, missing deadlines or — equally bad — skipping important things like sleep and other forms of self-care in order to finish on time.

There are three ways that clarity can help us overcome this tendency….

  • Get clear on how long typical tasks take you. When you have an idea of how long a similar task actually takes you, you can better estimate how long a new one will take.
  • Get clear on what successful completion will look like. Often we haven’t figured out exactly what the finish line will look like until we’re in the middle of a task. That means you can spend extra time meandering around trying to figure out exactly what you’re doing — and our estimates don’t typically account for this. If you get clarity about this up front, you’ll work faster and your time estimate will be more accurate.
  • Get clear on what the task (or project) requires. This step is much easier once you’ve done the above. Take a few minutes to outline the various steps involved in your to-do, and then estimate how long each one will take. You’ll end up with a much more accurate estimate than if you just “ball-parked” the whole project.

#2: Overwhelm and paralysis.

Perhaps you’ve been in this situation…?

You’ve got six different things you could be working on today. All of them feel really important, but you know you can only get one or two of them done — at best.

And so you spend a lot of time spinning your wheels, ambivalent about what to work on — and not really getting anything done while you’re stuck in this decision paralysis.

Or you DO start to work on one thing, but then anxiety about what you’re NOT doing causes you to switch over to a different task — again and again and again. (I probably don’t need to tell you: This is an extremely inefficient way to work.)

What’s going on here is a lack of clarity — about priorities.

Saying “I have six priorities” in fact tells me you have NOT gotten clear on your priorities.

Sure, those six things can all be very important. But prioritizing actually means establishing a clear order of importance.

In the long run, these six things might have equal importance. But for today, they can’t. If you want to get unstuck, and shut down that overwhelm, get yourself really clear on this question:

What’s the most important way for me to use my time today?

Of these six things, for today — or for this morning, or for the next hour — what’s the top priority?

To help in making your decision, you might consider things like…

  • What the impact will be if you do / don’t work on this now (for example, will other people be negatively impacted?)
  • How much stress it’s causing you (so you can reduce it by getting the most stress-inducing task done)
  • How much time/energy you have available (so you can choose the one that’s the best fit)
  • Whether you have the information/resources you need to work effectively on it (but if you don’t, make sure they’re on their way)

I’m going to assume here that you’ve already done what’s needed to pare down your list to what’s truly essential. If not, you’ll probably appreciate my worksheet, Five Steps to Eliminating Overwhelm. (Subscribe below and get it for free when you join my email list.)

However, so often, the root of the problem with this kind of overwhelm and paralysis is that we’re procrastinating on prioritizing. Stop to get clear on that, and you’ll be able to start moving again.

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#3: Procrastination.

And on the topic of procrastination… 🙂

On the surface, this might seem like the same thing as #2. But what I’m talking about here is a little different.

You know what you need to work on. But somehow you just can’t bring yourself to get started.

As in this funny YouTube cartoon, you keep finding other “productive” things to do in order to put off the thing you know you really should be working on.


A number of things that can lead us to procrastinate like this.

But in my experience, the most frequent cause is a lack of clarity.

Here are three things to clarify if you find yourself procrastinating:

  • Getting clear on the desired outcome. As in #1 above, spend some time outlining what successful completion will look like. It’s motivating to envision completion, and it also helps establish the necessary path forward.
  • Getting clear on the process for achieving the outcome. Confusion about the steps you need to take to get to the finish line can become a big barrier. Try brainstorming the steps on post-it notes, then arranging them into a logical sequence. Or look for an example of a similar task/project, and copy the steps you (or someone else) used in that instance.
  • Getting clear on the resistance. If you’ve done the above and are still procrastinating, there’s some other kind of resistance at play. Often that resistance is happening at a subconscious level — it’s impacting you, but you haven’t yet named what’s really going on. Take a few minutes to journal about this question — “What’s my resistance about?” — and the resultant clarity will allow you to consciously take steps to address the obstacles, whether they’re concrete external barriers or internal emotional ones.

#4: Conflict.

Conflict can be extremely destructive.

(There are in fact constructive forms of conflict, but that’s not what most people think of when they hear the word.)

It creates tension, hurt feelings, breakdowns in communication, loss of productivity, and so many other problems.

That’s why it makes me sad that so much conflict is, in a sense, self-inflicted.

What do I mean by that?

I’ve done a lot of conflict resolution work in the past, and I’ve repeatedly seen the retaliatory cycle in action — a negative spiral that is fed by the assumptions people make about one another’s motives and intentions.

When you see the word “assumptions” there, you should think “lack of clarity”. It’s the human brain filling in an explanation for an ambiguous situation or behavior.

For example, if my husband is being curt in his responses to me and seems irritable, it’s easy for me to jump to the conclusion that he’s upset with me about something. I might even start weaving a story about what he’s upset about and why it’s so childish and irrational for him to be upset about that thing.

And before I know it, I could end up in a pretty foul mood myself, maybe lashing out at him in return.

But if I stop and get clarity about what’s actually going on with him, I might discover it has nothing to do with me. Or is the result of a simple misunderstanding.

There are a lot of ways that getting clarity can help in a conflict situation, but perhaps the biggest one is this…

Take a few minutes to talk with the other person to get clear on their perspective on the situation.

What are they actually feeling and thinking? What was the motivation behind their behavior?

Once you get the answers to these questions, you might discover there is, in fact, “no there there”. That the tension was based on faulty assumptions.

But even if there is a true conflict — if you have differing perspectives on a situation, or your needs/interests are at odds — having that clarity on their perspective is the first step toward finding a solution to the conflict.

#5: Burnout.

All of the above problems can contribute to the experience of burnout — the kind of soul-deep exhaustion that comes from being under constant stress for long periods of time.

So of course, all of the types of clarity mentioned above are relevant here.

However, a big part of burnout is the sense that our actions don’t make a difference. It’s that feeling of “no matter what I do, it will never be enough”.

In her book The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, Theresa Amabile shares research showing that “making progress in meaningful work” is the most important thing you can do to create a positive “inner work life” for yourself (i.e., positive thoughts, emotions, and motivations).

Even under quite challenging circumstances, there are things you can do to help yourself see the progress you’re making.

It has to do with getting clarity on the two things she’s talking about here — “meaningful work” and “making progress”.

If you’ve lost touch with the meaning of the work you’re doing (paid or unpaid), try doing ten minutes of journaling about it — reminding yourself of why it matters to you, the larger importance of it, how your contributions fit into the bigger picture.

As for the “making progress” piece, a simple practice of listing 3 small wins at the end of each day can help you see the progress you’re making. Or try approaching it as a list of “3 ways I made a difference today”.

Finally, there’s one last piece of clarity that’s important when you feel like you’re carrying the world on your shoulders, and that’s this…

Get clear about what is and isn’t yours to carry.

You are not here to fix the entire world, my dear. You are responsible only for your small corner of it.

Make the difference you can make today, in your own way. And remember that nurturing your own well-being — which is what will sustain your ability to do this good work — requires that you regularly put down your burden and rest.

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