The 4 Productivity Killers & How to Overcome Them

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The One Thing" by Gary Keller. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What productivity killers are getting in your way? How much more could you get done if you got over these hurdles?

You’re probably committed to productivity. But, if you’re like most people, stuff gets in your way. In order to fight off these productivity killers, it helps to identify and understand them. Whether it’s your fears, your habits, or your environment, you can confront these killers and ultimately get more done.

Keep reading to learn how to banish productivity killers.

The 4 Productivity Killers

Despite your best intentions, several tendencies can block your productivity.

1) An Inability to Say “No”

The inability to say no is a productivity killer. Saying yes to (or focusing on) your One Thing is your priority. This means you have to protect what you’ve said yes to by saying no to everything else that impinges on your time block. To put it another way, one yes must be defended over time by a thousand nos.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he proceeded over the next two years to reduce the company’s products from 350 to ten. He understood that the more things you do (say yes to), the less successful you are at any of them.

It’s human nature to want to be helpful when someone asks you for something. Saying no in order to focus on your own goals can seem selfish. But you can do it in a respectful and even helpful way by:

  • Suggesting someone else who might say yes
  • Suggesting another approach or resource that doesn’t require your help—for instance, directing the person to instructions, FAQs, or helpdesk.

Your talent, abilities, and time are limited. Your life must be about what you say yes to—rather than what you ought to have said no to.

2) Fear of Chaos

When you focus on your One Thing, it’s a given that other things will be delayed or won’t get done. Knowing there are loose ends and unfinished work can be distracting, but you need to develop a tolerance for such messiness or you’ll never accomplish what matters most, because a fear of chaos can be a productivity killer.

In fact, the greater your commitment to your priority, the more pressure you may feel to address things you’ve put on hold, even to the point that things seem about to explode. Giving in may relieve the pressure, but by doing so you allow less important things to steal your productivity and rob you of future success.

It’s important to accept that when you strive for exceptional results, chaos is the guaranteed tradeoff.

Of course, there are likely to be times when you’ll need to adjust to life’s demands and circumstances. The key is to be creative rather than becoming a victim of your circumstances and giving up.

Everyone’s circumstances are unique and require a unique response. Your time block may look different from someone else’s. You may not be able to block off a morning—your time block may have to be at a different time of day for a while. You may have to trade off time with someone else, so you protect each other’s time blocks.

When you commit to One Thing, you’ll ultimately achieve exceptional results, which will increase your ability to manage the chaos. So work around the chaos of the present and trust that doing the right thing will pay off big in the long run.

3) Poor Health Habits

When you constantly try to do too much, you’ll eventually pay a price with your health. For instance, you may strive for success at the expense of your health by working long hours, staying up too late and sleeping poorly, missing meals, not taking time off, and not exercising. 

This may seem to work for a time, but there are two problems:

  • You can’t do your best work or be optimally productive when you’re draining and not replenishing your energy.
  • You can’t assume your health and home life will be there waiting when you decide to pick up where you left off. 

Exceptional achievement requires enormous energy, so poor health habits are a productivity killer. Here are some ways to build and conserve energy for maximum productivity.

  • For spiritual energy, start your day early with meditation and prayer. This helps align your thoughts and actions with your purpose.
  • For physical energy, eat a nutritious breakfast. Practice healthy eating and plan your meals for the week.
  • Exercise to relieve stress and build strength.
  • For emotional energy, spend time with loved ones.

In addition, plan your day. Determine what’s most important and make sure you get those things done. Estimate how much time you’ll need and plan it. Planning time to get the most important things done inspires you and eases your worries about what won’t get done.

Spending the early hours of each day building your energy will propel you through the day. If your morning is productive, the rest of your day will fall into place.

At night, get eight hours of sleep. Don’t allow other activities to impinge on sleep time. Understanding that the right amount of sleep is necessary for success should motivate you to go to sleep and wake up at the right times.

4) A Distracting Environment

Your environment includes the people you associate with and your physical surroundings, both of which can help your productivity or act as a productivity killer.

The people you surround yourself with affect your attitude, health, and performance. If those around you are unhappy and negative, you’re likely to pick up some of their negativity. Even if you’re a positive person, their negativity will rub off eventually. Also, other people’s bad habits can affect you. For example, a 2007 study on obesity found that if your close friends become obese, you’re 57% more likely to do the same.

Instead, surround yourself with people who will support, encourage, and help you. Research indicates that associating with success-minded people creates “a positive spiral of success,” in which their energy uplifts you. They also can motivate you to improve your performance.

Also, organize your physical environment to minimize distractions and support the pursuit of your One Thing. Otherwise, getting to work will be like walking down a candy aisle when you’re trying to lose weight.

Make a test run of the path you follow every day and look for the distractions—from the point you wake to arrival at your office or workspace where you focus on your One Thing.

Eliminate any distractions you find—for instance, email, TV news, the doughnut shop on the way to work, and the office coffee pot. Save these kinds of things for later in the day.

Don’t allow people and physical distractions to detour you from your One Thing. Clearing your path of productivity killers will help you get there.

The 4 Productivity Killers & How to Overcome Them

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Gary Keller's "The One Thing" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The One Thing summary:

  • Why focusing daily on one thing, rather than many, is the key to success
  • How success is like dominos
  • The six common myths about success

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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