136: Why Productivity Has Failed You | Tanya Dalton Skip to the content
August 20, 2019   |   Episode #:

136: Why Productivity Has Failed You

In This Episode:

With hundreds of productivity hacks and methods out there, it’s pretty safe to say that not everything works for everybody. I know we’ve all been there, trying a productivity hack that others swear by and thinking, “this doesn’t work for me!” Today, I am going to be talking about why productivity has failed you and how to actually make time for your priorities. I will share how to figure out what works for you and why you need to be flexible when finding your own systems. I’ll also chat about the importance of taking breaks to recharge and how to customize your own productivity systems to align with your priorities.

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

One-size-fits-all fits nobody.

Questions I Answer

  • How can I be more productive?
  • Why do productivity systems never seem to work for me?
  • Why do I feel like a productivity failure?
  • What’s are the best productivity tips for women?

Actions to Take

  • Make a small shift in how you look at your productivity and customize it for you. Instead of making your to-do list, make a priority list. Build in the things that are important to you, the things that will make you feel fulfilled at the end of the day and shift your thinking from what you need to do and focus instead on what is important to you.
  • Pre-order my book, The Joy of Missing Out

Key Topics in the Show

  • Understanding that all there isn’t one magical productivity system

  • Keeping flexibility at the forefront when finding a system that works for you

  • Taking breaks to help our brains recharge and refresh

  • Customizing your own productivity method that aligns with your goals and priorities

  • Scrapping the to-do list for the priority list and how this can change the way you work

Resources and Links

Show Transcript

Welcome to Season 11 of Productivity Paradox with Tanya Dalton, a podcast 

focused on finding true fulfillment and happiness through the power of productivity. Join Tanya this season as she explores the theme of small changes for big impact. To get her free checklist, Five Minutes to Peak Productivity, simply g

to Tanyadalton.com/podcast. 

And now, heres your host, Tanya Dalton. 

Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, and this is episode 136, Why Productivity Has Failed You. In this season, we’re talking all about small changes for big impact, but how do you have time to make a big impact when you’re running around doing a million other things? It feels 


We slip those big goals and dreams, those things we really want to do, so that we can make a difference, we end up putting them on a shelf to be done when we have the time. They never happen because, we never actually do have the time. You may feel like you’re doing every productivity hack and trick out there in order to make 

that space, but it never seems to work. You always feel behind. 

I completely understand. I’ve been there myself, looking for that magic button that would suddenly make me productive. I wanted to make a big impact, but I never could seem to get ahead. That seems to be a common issue that I hear from many of you. That’s why I wanted to talk about this idea of why productivity has failed you, because it has. 

I know because it failed me in the past, and I had to figure out how to really make myself productive. You see, productivity hacks and tricks, they don’t really work. I’m consistently getting pitched to share productivity hacks for blogs or magazines, these quick soundbites that will somehow make you magically productive. 

I actually hate that term, hacks and tricks, because often, that’s what people believe they need. They think they need a trick. 

Look, there are a lot of productivity tips out there on how to be more productive. It’s really easy to get lost in it all. After all, aren’t we always trying to be more productive? Doesn’t it feel like we’re constantly trying to be quicker, better, 

faster, stronger, so we can try to get more done in our day in our race against that 24-hour clock? It’s really hard to weed through all the different productivity methodologies, and these tips and these tricks and these hacks, and everything else, to try to really figure out what is going to work for us. 

There are hundreds of apps and books and websites and seminars and blogs and oh my gosh, right? You get the idea, they’re all devoted to this idea of helping you be more productive. What should you do? 

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Truthfully, I don’t think there’s one right answer for everyone, and I think that’s actually the problem. Too often, we struggle to fit into a system that simply doesn’t work for us. That can be incredibly frustrating. When you try something and it doesn’t work, that can make you feel like you failed at being productive, and that really doesn’t help. That doesn’t help with our motivation or excitement for what we want to do, because we think, why bother? I keep failing anyways, no matter how hard I try. 

I truly believe it’s time to shift your mindset a little bit. I don’t think you have necessarily failed at being productive. I think some of these productivity systems, they have failed you. Why? Because they tout that they will work for everyone, but the reality is, we all have different goals, different working styles, different problem solving skills, different dreams and different priorities, and to think that we can all fit into that same glass slipper? It’s just that it’s a fairy tale, quite honestly. 

What I have found is that a lot of these productivity experts are so married to these rigid systems that they sell, that they don’t really want to allow for any flexibility. In fact, I actually reached out to one of the really wel field, who has a productivity system that he created, and I talked to him about being on his podcast. You want to know his response? He doesn’t allow anyone on his show who isn’t using or selling his system. He wants no opposing viewpoints, no different ideas. It all needs to fit that rigid box of his system. 


He was afraid that if I went on his show and I shared something different, that could possibly work against him. He would sell less of his product. He didn’t see that it’s good to have conversations to spark people to find what really works for them. He just wanted to sell when he sells, and that’s the problem. There isn’t one magical solution that works for everyone. Everybody is different. 

I really believe that productivity is something that needs to be individualized and customized for every person. Taking into consideration each person’s unique personal goals and the way that they want to live. Life is not one size fits all, and neither is productivity. That’s part of the framework of the Live Well Method that I’ve created, that I walk through actually in my book. It’s not rigid, it’s not fixed. It’s designed to mold to you and to your life, placing you at the center, not the system. 

We need that flexibility. Life needs that flexibility. If you’ve listened to this podcast for any length of time, I can guarantee you’ve that word flexibility used, oh, amount a million times, because that is what life needs, it needs flexibility. In your productivity system, it does too. It needs to work for you and your life. 

What I’d like to do is I’d like to break down one well-known productivity method so I can show you what I mean by this. Let’s take the Pomodoro technique and examine that for a minute. I actually wrote an article about it in Entrepreneur Magazine, where I went into depth with this. I’ll post a link in the show notes, so you can check out the entire article. Here’s the basic gist. 

The Pomodoro technique is a system that’s built upon the idea that you use a timer, and you set that timer for 25 minutes, and during that time, you work on a task. 

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When the timer goes off, you take a four- or five-minute break. Pretty simple, right? That one 25-minute block followed by a break is considered one Pomodoro. Then after one Pomodoro, you set the timer for another 25 minutes, and you continue to work on that task. Then you take another four to five-minute break at the end, and so on. 

After about four work sessions or Pomodoros, you then take a longer 15-minute break to give yourself more time to recharge and refresh. Now for some people this method works. The glass slipper fits. But for many others, it doesn’t really work, so 

they end up feeling frustrated. 

Let me share my thoughts on this technique. What I do like about the Pomodoro technique is the notion of setting aside focused uninterrupted blocks of time to get your work done. You know how much I love blocking and our calendars and batching tasks to be more effective. The idea of mono-tasking on one project is fabulous. Those ideas could apply to you and your life and how you want to work. 

Talso liked that this method forces you to take breaks, because I think taking breaks is really important to help our brains recharge and refresh. We don’t think anything of taking a break at the gym after running a sprint. We need to do the same thing for our brain. 

I love that it really encourages this idea of taking breaks. In theory, those elements of the Pomodoro technique, I really like a lot. Here’s where this method has some flaws to it. First, research has shown that most people’s brains don’t get into that deeper work state until about 23 minutes. With the Pomodoro technique and its 25 minutes sprints, you’ve only gotten about two minutes into your best work, or the zone, when the timer starts beeping, and then suddenly you’re having to stop, you’re interrupted, and you’re turning around and taking a break. 

This technique isn’t taking into consideration how our brains work, so that we can really get our brains working at peak capacity and making things even easier. Because when you get into that deep work state, you really can make work happen so much easier. 

Based on research, we really need to try to give ourselves longer chunks of time to work on a task, before stopping for a break. Working more like 60 to 90 minutes, so you can really get into the groove on something, and then you take a break, using that ultradian rhythm to our benefits. 

The second issue I have with this technique is that the rigid parameters of a system like this, doesn’t always work for real life, when you apply that system to your day-to-day activities. In fact, it’s really easier to block off an hour or so and maybe work in a conference room alone, or with your office door shut, marking it on your calendar as a meeting, so you won’t be interrupted. For many of us, it can be really hard to find a bunch of consecutive, uninterrupted 25-minute chunks of time, especially during our workday, in order to follow this method, without emails pinging 

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or someone popping into the office, or a delivery being dropped off, or the phone ringing, or a million other things that are interruptions. 

Other people tend to not really respect those shorter blocks, because really, it’s confusing to them when you’re working and you don’t want to be interrupted, and then you’re not because you’re taking these frequent micro-breaks that the Pomodoro technique uses. 

A system like this might not be practical for a lot of people, and that’s why I don’t think that some of these productivity techniques and these hacks and these tricks can really be a one size fits all model that’s perfect for everyone. 

When it comes to finding a system to help you be more productive, here’s a small thought that could push you in the right direction. You need to create your own customized system that does work for you, that puts you and your priorities front and center. 

I want to continue talking about this idea, but first, I need to take a quick break for today’s sponsor. 

Today’s episode has been sponsored by the University of California Irvine, or UCI. UCI’s division of continuing education can be a great resource for anyone who’s looking to gain credits towards a master’s degree, or for those who want to reenter the workforce after taking some time off, or maybe even just learn some new skills that can help you with the new business you’ve been thinking about starting up. 

Now, for those of you who are trying to juggle work and family while also attempting to pursue a career change, UCI has 100% online courses that are 

ible and they have a diverse assortment of courses that are taught by industry practitioners who have real world experience. No matter what you’re looking for, UCI has tons of specialized studies, including digital marketing, paralegal, business and education, healthcare, project management, human resources, and so many others. 

Fall registration is now open, and they have a great deal for my listeners. Simply go to ce.uci.edu/productivityparadox, and enter the promo code Paradox to get 15% off of one of their continuing education courses. Again that’s ce.uci.edu/productivityparadox. Don’t forget to use the code Paradox to get your 15% off. This offer is valid until December 31st of 2019. I’ll also be sure to put a link in my show notes. 

All right. Let’s get back to this topic of why productivity has failed you. I really want to dive into one of the most popular productivity tricks out there, the to-do list. 

To-do lists are supposed to make us productive, right? That’s why people sit down, and they make this giant list of things they need to do. Once again, this is something that has some pluses and some minuses to it. 

On one hand, I like that a to-do list is sort of like a brain dump, a place where you can get stuff out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Tha 

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up some precious brain space to make room for things that are more important to us, instead of having grocery lists and house errands swirling around in our heads, taking up our attention and our brain power. 


The truth ism the to-do list has more downsides than upsides. Here are four 

the traditional to-do list. The first problem with to-do list, actually sort of stems from that brain dump benefit that I just mentioned. Since to-do lists are sometimes a dumping ground for everything we have to get done, these lists usually become nothing more than someday lists, which is basically a list of things you’ll get to someday. Someday when you have the time. Yeah, you know what I think about someday, right? 

I think someday is a synonym for never, because there’s no importance or 

these things. We tend to leave them on the list for an eternity, and they keep getting pushed down and down and down and down again, and never get done. You know what I’m talking about, right? We’ve all had something on our to-do list that’s been there for six weeks or longer. Never seems to make it to the done list. 

That’s the first problem I see. The second problem that can stem from our to do list is increased anxiety. There’s actually a name for this, the Zeigarnik effect, which is a psychological phenomenon that describes a person’s tendency to remember incomplete tasks or event easier than tasks we’ve already completed. Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik did studies back in 1927, and her results suggest that a desire to complete a task can cause it to be retained in your memory until that task is completed, and that once that task has been completed, the process of forgetting the task then takes place. 

in a nutshell, tasks that are on our to-do list can cause us to think or fret about those things and to spend valuable brainpower worrying about them, until they’re actually completed and crossed off our list, and then suddenly, we can’t remember those tasks. 

We may feel like getting tasks out of our head and onto a to-do list is helpful but can actually increase the stress that we’re feeling when those tasks never get done. 

Another issue with to-do lists, analysis paralysis. Look, it’s been shown that our brains can only handle about seven options or choices before we feel overwhelmed. Kind of like staring at the menu at The Cheesecake Factory with its 50 pages of choices. You don’t know what to do when you feel really stuck. 

To-do lists can have that same effect, because we’re continuously adding to that list. There are often too many choices, which then makes it really hard to decide where to start. You end up feeling completely overwhelmed with analysis paralysis. 

Of course, my fourth issue with to-do lists, is that there’s no level of importance, because the list usually has everything from dentist appointments to picking up mouthwash, to scheduling the plumber, to creating the presentation for the executive board on them. 

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We have way too many items and not enough priority. Because of that, it’s incredibly hard to distinguish what’s important and urgent versus what’s trivial. Actually, when it comes to a to-do list, most people tend to pick the easiest, quickest task to conquer first, in order to feel like they accomplished something. We get that nice quick dopamine hit when we conquer a task. 

We go for quantity over quality, or really, we’re choosing what’s unimportant over what’s truly important. Hey, we’ve all done it, we’ve chosen to drop the m at the post office over cleaning the garage. One’s a quick 10-minute errand, and the other will probably take a little bit longer to do it really right. 

When we have this ginormous list of tasks without any priority or importance to them, we either go for the easy, or we go for whatever has today’s due date on it, no matter how important it really is. If my oil change appointment is scheduled for today, I focus on that task over other things that don’t have a deadline or an urgency to them, even if that might be a better use of our time. That’s where that frustration falls in 

This is why we feel like we’re not making an impact. We’re tackling all these little menial tasks instead of the really important work. 

Here’s my challenge for you. I want you to make a small shift in how you look at your productivity, and really customize it for you. A good example of this is your to do list. I really think a tiny shift can help you have a big impact in how you tackle your tasks, and how you perceive your productivity. Instead of making your to-do list, 1 want you to make a priority list. You’ve heard me talk about priority lists before, because I want you to stop thinking of your day as a series of useless mundane tasks, like grabbing mouthwash and going to the post office. 

I want you to build in the things that are important you. Those things that will make you feel fulfilled at the end of the day. When your head hits that pillow, I want 

you to feel like, you know what, I made some really big steps today in the right direction. How often have we been running around all day doing errands and dozens of tasks, and at the end of the day, we can’t even really remember or articulate what all we did. 

There’s that Zeigarnik effect again. As soon as we’ve done them, they’re gone. Theyve lost the importance in our brain. I believe that tends to be the case when we’re tasking ourselves with all these unimportant activities. Sending emails, doing housework, running kids. When we instead reflect on things that have a higher priority to us, then it feels like a much bigger win, and it’s something we remember above all the ordinary things we do. 

Now, last week on the podcast, I mentioned that I recently did a revamp of the priority list system, with updated names for each of the three categories. They’re now escalate, cultivate and accommodate. They work exactly the same as we’ve discussed in the past here on the show numerous times, they just now have names that fit a little bit better. 

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A priority list is essentially a to-do list with intention. It’s thoughtfully putting items on your list so you can make an impact on your day, and your life as a whole, because when you focus on what is truly important every day, that is a small step towards the big impact you’re really wanting to make. That’s what can make a difference, in how you see your goals and your dreams. You can begin to see them getting closer. When we begin to see them getting closer, we increase our motivation and our momentum, and it all becomes so much easier to make that impact we’re truly looking for. 

We need to shift our thinking when it comes to these productivity tricks and these hacks and thinking that there is this magical button that we can press that suddenly makes us productive. We truly need to customize our systems to work for you. That’s honestly at the heart of everything that I teach through the Live Well Method and through the book. It’s really about how can we design this, so it works for the life that you really want? What builds into your strengths and your weaknesses so you can make that impact you really want? 

I want to urge you to shift from thinking about what you need to do and focus instead on what is important to you. Prioritize your tasks, focus on your higher priorities. After all, at the end of the day, do you want to remember folding laundry, or spending time with your family? Dropping off mail, or starting a new business? 

When you focus on priorities instead of tasks, when you customize your productivity so that your priorities do sit front and center every single day, you go from never slowing, to always growing. To me, that is a big impact. 

I really want to encourage you to look at the things you’ve done in the past, see those things that maybe felt like failures, what are the good things you can pull out of it? What are the parts that really do work for you? Let’s customize this. Let’s make it so it truly does work for you. Because that, at the end of the day, is what’s most important to making that impact. 

Now, next week on the podcast, we’re going to continue talking about small changes for big impact. Thave Chris Winfield coming on the show, and this is a man who has personally impacted me and the way that I view my work in ways that I cannot even express. I’m very excited for you to meet him and hear what he has to say. 

Now, before I sign off, I want to share with you one way that I am looking to make a big impact. This is one of my biggest, not goals for this year, but really my biggest lifetime goal. I am trying to make New York Times Bestseller list with this book, The Joy of Missing Out, not because I want the accolades or because I want that after my name. I really want to get New York Times Bestseller, because I know that if that happens, the word will spread about the messages of The Joy of Missing Out, that more people will get this book in their hands and they’ll be going to let go of busy, start customizing systems so they can make the impact they really want. 

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Can you help me out with this? It really would mean the world to me for you to preorder the book because if we make New York Times, we’ll make it together. We’ll be making an impact in the lives of so many people by accomplishing this goal. I promise, I’m making it worth your time. Once you order the book and you can buy it anywhere books are sold, you can head over to joyofmissingout.com. Fill in your information and grab those preorder bonuses, including access to my Discover Your North Star course, a $247 value, you get absolutely for free for buying a $20 book. 

Honestly, this is the bonus I am most excited about getting into your hands. I want you to get the book and the course, and you get all of that just for the price of the book. Not only that, I’ll be walking you through customizing your own system, so you’ll never feel again, like productivity has failed you, and that is a really amazing feeling. 

All right, until next time, have a beautiful and productive week. 

Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox. Now we’d love to have you join the conversation. To Join Tanya’s free group simply go to Tanyadalton.com/group. 

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