The guilt can be crushing. Everyone seems to be getting stuff done, except you. You drag yourself out of bed, go to work, start checking email, start deleting, then poof, it's noon. Lunch, perhaps at your desk, then some awful meetings, then it's 3pm. You start REALLY working, then you start feeling decent but then it's 5pm or 6pm. It's time to start getting home. You feel like you didn't really get a lot done today so you'll work late - just tonight - to catch up.
The not getting stuff done sucks, but the guilt and self-loathing is where you really get into trouble. You likely don't say it out loud, but you think it. You might not tell your spouse, but you think it. I suck. Man, I suck. I'm just not getting a damn thing done.
Sometimes I feel like this. I've talked about feeling like a Phony before. Folks say that Einstein felt like a phony and that was motivating. I'll let you know if that's true next time I revolutionize science, but for now, I still get down on my self for not getting stuff done.
I don't have the answers, nor do I have a proper "system." My system is always changing, and I've decided that THAT is the system. I adapt. If it's not working, I'll change it. I encourage you do to the same.
At WebStock I did a talk that I'm mostly proud of called "It's not what you read, it's what you ignore" and I like to point people to this video as a decent place to start when thinking about productivity. My system is a combination of thinking from Stephen Covey, David Allen, and J.D. Meier's Getting Results. All of these systems are highly recommended and I've pulled much of what I know from them and then synthesized my own ideas.
Here's what I do when I'm feeling non-productive and guilty. Again, watch the video for more details, it's not selling anything and I go into more detail. I need to just write a small book on this..
The quickest way to time travel into the afternoon is to check email in the morning. Time-box your email. Set aside an hour for email, and do that hour. Try to get work done before lunch in order to set yourself up for success and feel better about your day. Getting something awesome done before lunch is a great way to stop guilt. Email is the thing that we turn to because it FEELS like we're getting work done but unless it's truly focused project email, it's usually just pushing bits around.
You know that pile of books that you'll never read that sitting next to the computer you are reading this blog post on? That pile is too tall. You'll never read all those. That pile of books is a monolith of guilt. It's a monument of sadness and failure. Pick the book or two that you can read this week and put the rest away.
If you really want to read a book, catch up on HTML5, watch a video on Python, or learn to cook, schedule it. You schedule an hour for a meeting at work and you show up, why not schedule an hour in your work day to read. If you boss asks you what you're doing, you're doing technical research on a project. You're sharpening the saw. Schedule time for you rather than trying to find time for yourself within a schedule you've setup to help everyone else. Make time for yourself as well as relationships.
You can't decide what to stop doing unless you know what you're doing. I recommend Rescue Time as a great lightweight way to measure what you are up to, and when you review your numbers you can hold yourself accountable. If you know where you spend your time you can decide what your time is worth. We thought that hiring a guy to cut the lawn was too expensive, but when we realized that it was totally stressing me out, we measured, then cut and we're all happier. Are there meetings you can NOT go to? Are there projects you are unable to do to the best of your ability? Are you over-committed? Hope is not a strategy. Make appropriate cuts - saying No is your most powerful tool.
Paint House is too big and too stressful for a single item on your TODO list. Break it up like Select Color, find Paint Store, Buy Paint, etc. Focus on the Rule of Three. Three Successes for the day, for the week, for the month, for the year. Have a Vision for your week on Monday and Reflect on that Vision on Friday. Find a small thing that you can do in a small amount of time and do it. Accomplish something small, anything and that will buoy you forward to the next thing.
List out all the things that weigh you down and find out how to let them go. I used to get stressed by the shows I wasn't watching or the books I wasn't reading or the blogs I couldn't keep up with. Seemed like everyone else was able to keep up but me. But I let it go. I don't argue on Twitter and I don't try to read every blog post. I have never watched Lost and I don't worry about watching the news. Doing less - and more of it - is the only way to scale.
It's hard to focus all day. You don't have to and stop being mad at yourself for not being able to. Rather than beating yourself up, trying focusing for just 25 minutes. Just focus on one thing for 25 minutes. When you're done, you'll get a 5 minute break to do whatever you want. Sprint. Run your day like a mini-Scrum. Try the Pomodoro Technique. It's free and easy and it is a great tool to increase your focus.
Don't feel so bad about not getting enough stuff done. Eat well, sleep well, say NO more often and try your best. Remember you can always make a small change in your system and try again tomorrow.
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.