When we talk about productivity, we are quick to talk about things that help or hurt, like exercise, sleep, caffeine, our diets, work-tracking, goal-tracking, our morning routines, and the various quirky habits of highly successful people. While many of these topics can help us be more productive, they seem to all skirt around the very heart of the issue when it comes to productivity: Our emotions. procrastination
Our emotions are always present, and they influence our ability to focus and think rationally. We have to learn to become more aware of and manage how we’re feeling, or else our emotions can lead to bad habits like procrastination, perfectionism, and an inability to focus.
When Winona lands her dream job as the lead editor for a trendy, art-film theatre in New York City, she can’t wait to get started. She’s already filled out pages of ideas in her notebook. She has concepts for articles, projects, interviews, and new angles, but when she sits down at her desk on her first day of work, she can’t seem to get started. She flits from her blank Word document to Google News to her notebook, and then back to Google News again. She wants nothing more than to get started on something, but she can’t break her pattern. This example may seem counter-intuitive to procrastination. She’s not bored, and she’s not in over her head. In fact, she has exactly what she wants. So why can’t she just get to work? procrastination
EQ strategy: Take control of your self-talk. At the center of Winona’s procrastination is her self-talk. She’s so excited by this new opportunity that she can’t help but fear the worst. She’s anxious about the possibility of people finding out she’s a fraud and losing her dream job. Whenever she is about to begin writing, she starts to think about all the possibilities of failure. She thinks things like, “What if I can’t do this?” and “What if this doesn’t work out?” Then she hides using Google News, her email, or whatever distraction is at her disposal. Luckily, Winona takes her self-talk seriously. After a rough first day, she sits at home and reflects on her thought process that led her to procrastinate. To get herself back on track, she decides to rewrite her self-talk. Next time she starts to go down that negative self-talk path, she resolves to stop herself and repeat a simple, positive, and realistic statement instead: “One step at a time.” She even jots the statement down on a Post-it and sticks the Post-it to the side of her screen. This is exactly the reminder she needs to start writing each day.
Perfectionism is a close cousin of procrastination. Instead of blocking the outset of a project, it can strike at any point in your work. One of the most common moments for perfectionism to interfere is near the close of a big project. You take a sales proposal as far as you can, but still, you can’t help but feel like there’s more you can do to make it better. You needlessly toil away at petty details, rephrasing the same sentences in different ways, afraid to send the proposal off to your coworker who is prepared to give you feedback anyway. Little do you consider the diminishing value of return. Using the time you could be using to get started on a new proposal, you instead work long hours to make minute improvements.
EQ strategy: Get comfortable with failure. High EQ people overcome perfectionism by noticing their mindset and reframing their perspective. Instead of treating failure as a demotivator, they derive motivation from it. Feedback, after all, is an opportunity to learn. This doesn’t mean they turn in half-baked work. It means they pay attention to their process and begin to learn when they have shifted from a healthy concern for detail to over-the-top perfectionism.
Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote, “May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.” What he’s describing, a hundred years ago, is that universal feeling we get when we strike that perfect balance of focus. Time, distractions, and even hunger fade into the background and we are totally absorbed with the work in front of us. The psychologist, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term flow to describe this state of mind. In his research he found that people who experience flow are happier with their work and five times as productive. The key to achieving flow lies partially in the task you’re working on and partially in the emotions you feel. The key is that the task can’t be too easy or too difficult, and correspondingly, you can’t be too anxious or too bored.
For our editor Winona, for example, she was too anxious about the task at hand (even though she was capable). Once she refined her self-talk and her approach, she was easily able to reign in her anxiety and dive into her writing.
EQ strategy: Self-reflect before each task. While we can’t necessarily control the difficulty of the tasks we face at work, we can look inward to listen for, spot, and manage our emotions. Each time you’re about to begin a new task, check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling. Not too enthused about the project? It might be too easy and therefore boring. If that’s the case, try to find a way to spice it up. If the task is something simple, like data entry, you may be able to devise a system or game to play with yourself to make it more interesting. For example, you might try to input data as accurately and quickly as possible and track yourself over time to see how you improve. Or if you feel anxious about a challenging project, try to get to the source of what makes you anxious. Is it a tight deadline or a task that you’ve never attempted. In that case, you might try to break it down into smaller components. The third possibility is that you are experiencing a strong emotion unrelated to your work. By taking the time to reflect for a moment, you can more readily set that emotion and situation aside for an evening call with your best friend. This will prevent it from welling up at work as you attempt to get into your task.
From Insights to Action. Now you know that barriers to outward focus require looking inward. Reframe your self-talk, shift your mindset, or take a pulse on how you’re feeling before you tackle that next task. You’ll be surprised how far these simple, daily EQ strategies will take you on your way to becoming happier and more productive.
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