Joshua Keel

3 Ways to Keep Anxiety from Ruining Your Productivity

July 17, 2018

Are you too busy to enjoy life? Are you endlessly checking items off your task list, while the list just seems to be getting longer? I know that feeling. I’m juggling my day job, wedding planning, frequent house guests, daily writing, reading I want to accomplish, spending time with my fiancée, and maybe having a social life. Sometimes it’s overwhelming.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself is how determined I can be to get things done, even if it makes me feel miserable. I finally recognized this tendency for what it is: anxiety. I’m so attached to getting it all done because I fear not achieving. I imagine that if I’m not productive enough, I will never achieve my goals; if I don’t achieve my goals, I will be unhappy; if I’m unhappy, I will act out and self–destruct. But when I look at that more closely, I see that I’m only making myself frustrated in the present. I’m holding on too tightly to my agenda.

So how can we all keep anxiety from ruining our productivity, and more importantly, our peace and sanity?

1. Let Go of the Need to Do it All

The one thing I have to keep reminding myself of is that I truly don’t need to do it all. Let go. Let things fall through the cracks. Say no, even to yourself. Let go of the compulsive desire to make sure your task list is empty at the end of the day.

Often, this compulsion to get things done is really a fear of being out of control, and fear that the future won’t turn out the way you want it to. The truth is, the future is pretty hard to control. So unclench your fists. Relax into the now: this moment. Experience it, before it passes you by.

Have patience with yourself and your projects. Commit to small blocks of time each day, even if it’s just fifteen minutes, or five. Daily action keeps our goals fresh in our minds, and guarantees something, however small, is being done to advance those goals every day.

2. Don’t Bring an Agenda to the Party

There’s a time to get things done and a time to play. Know the difference. If you make your life all about squeezing the most productivity out of the least amount of time, when will you stop to actually enjoy what you’re creating? When will you be free, and open yourself up to spontaneity and joy? What about having fun with people you love?

Too often I find myself having mentally scheduled every moment of the day, so there’s no time left over for the other people in my life, or for exploring the possibilities of the moment without needing to control and achieve. Sometimes the desire to achieve is just fear showing up as a fruitless attempt to ensure nothing bad or unwanted ever happens to us.

If you’re going to do anything, do it with love, not fear. When we act out of love for ourselves and others, we take the full picture into account. What do I need right now? What do others need? What is kind to my future self? And then we take the right action for that moment, whether it’s going out for ice cream, cleaning the toilet, or talking with our partner.

3. Focus on the Essential

Some time ago, my fitness coach sent me a copy of Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism. It’s all about focusing on what really matters to us, and leaving the rest behind. Essentialism, along with The One Thing, really helped me hone in on what’s important. The latter book asks the question:

What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

This “focusing question” is one we can ask ourselves whenever the situation seems complex or overwhelming. It clarifies and makes the important obvious. What’s the one thing I can do in my business that will make everything else easier or unnecessary? What about for my health? Relationships? It starts to paint a picture of what action you really need to take, and what just wastes your time and precious energy.

Don’t be afraid to leave behind the merely good for what is most essential and high–impact. According to the 80/20 principle, you’ll get 80% of the results for 20% of the effort, and that last 20% of results will take 80% of the effort. Strategically plan your day to focus on what’s really going to move you forward. And be OK with what you can give right now. Maybe you don’t have two hours to work on your fitness. Maybe you have 15 minutes. Life has many seasons, and we must respect our own limits.

Focusing on the essential means we acknowledge those limits, and choose. We do the hard thing and admit that we’re finite human beings. Thor may be able to do it all, but we can’t, so instead let’s focus on what’s truly essential.

What are your strategies for being productive without driving yourself crazy? How do you handle the fact that there are only 24 hours in each day?