Individual productivity is one of the most valued attributes in society. Many different entities – from the federal government to personal households – measure productivity in some way. There are also several different definitions of productivity. However, we can best summarize this in one way: the ability to get things done efficiently.

We are no different in the sense that we all have things to do. However, we are different in that we all accomplish tasks at varying rates while using other methods. A small minority of people are productivity experts, but the vast majority struggle with implementing principles that will make them more effective.

There is also a proliferation of books, seminars, and CDs that promise to make someone a modern-day Edison. Of course, these folks are seeking to capitalize on the productivity epidemic that many of us face. Fortunately, these, for the most part, are unnecessary.

In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is get nothing done. – Theodore Roosevelt

Here are seven things that keep us from getting things done:

What is necessary is that we recognize and counter habits that negatively affect our ability to get things done. Doing so will help us be increasingly productive and happier people.

1. Not prioritizing tasks

Failure to prioritize renders every other item on this list useless. Prioritization is, by far, the most essential requirement when you want to get things done. All tasks are not equal, especially when measured in terms of effort, time, or reward.

Making a habit out of tackling low-priority tasks first thing wastes valuable time and energy. For example, many of us check our e-mails numerous times throughout the day. A small number of jobs require that we attend to email constantly, but most do not. Checking email in the morning and evening hours will usually suffice.

Instead, try to address the three most important tasks early on and stick to them. If we do this, we’ll free up time later in the day to complete the lower-priority stuff.

2. Not preparing for the unexpected

Many of us have a calendar chockful of appointments, meetings, and other events that require our presence of mind. In an eight-hour workday, ample time to resolve things that “drop on our desk” is admittedly tricky.

After setting priorities and preparing for a day’s work, attempt to note specific slots of time that can be used for unexpected issues. Having an hour available may not be feasible (if so, great), but even 15 minutes allocated to clear the problems that surface is better than nothing.

Controlling what you can control and preparing for the unexpected are great habits that help us get things done.

3. Forgetting about the “big picture.”

Not only can forgetting about the big picture create a productivity barrier, but it’s also disheartening. In starting any new venture, it’s common to have goals we want to achieve. Yet, the day in and day out demands of our time and effort can manifest into a contemplative or defeatist outlook.

From a productivity standpoint, it’s beneficial to keep our big picture in mind every day. Keeping our big picture at the forefront accomplishes two critical things: (1) it keeps us motivated, and (2) it prioritizes our work. An example of the latter is someone that has problems creating a to-do list. Remember the bigger picture–promotion, financial independence, vacation, etc. Let your intuition give provide insight into how and when you can best get something done.

4. Overloading our “to-do” list

Too many people unnecessarily treat to-do lists as a brainstorming session, scribbling down anything and everything to be done in one day. There’s a big problem with this practice: it doesn’t work. LinkedIn performed a survey of 6,500 professionals that demonstrates this fact. Here are the two key outcomes of this survey:

–  63% of all professionals frequently create to-do lists.

– 11% completed every item on their list.

11% seems to be an abysmally low number. The simple reason is that we flood our to-do lists with mundane, low-priority tasks. The solution is to write down the day’s three most important tasks and steadfastly complete them. As mentioned, this will naturally free up time that you can reallocate to lower-priority tasks.

5. Always being available

Is there such a thing as being “too available?”

Yes, without a doubt in our collective mind. Only in rare circumstances do we need to connect to our inbox, phone, etc. Advancements in technology have led to instant “anywhere, anytime” communication – great for social circles, bad for productivity. Even the guy or gal that drops by for a “quick hello” somehow thinks we’re “free.”

We needn’t feel guilty about not responding to that text or e-mail ASAP for our productivity’s sake. We have things to do. Indeed, we have goals to achieve. Nobody has priority over the need to do what’s necessary. Tell the office butterfly that the break room is free.

6. Succumbing to distractions

Do we need to say very much here?

Distractions are everywhere. Plain and simple. By the way, most workplaces do us no favor in this regard with their open offices and constant frolicking. Shockingly, some workplaces create an environment in which employees achieve very little.

It’s unnecessary to itemize every distraction, and it would take an extraordinary amount of time. So, remember these three key culprits: internet, phone, and people. Internet, phone, and people…understand that these will be the most prevalent and tempting distractions – at home, the office, anywhere.

Recognizing distractions is only one part of a fundamental productivity equation. It’s up to us to establish and maintain attention and self-discipline.

Internet, phone, and people.

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7. Not being specific

Specificity is a crucial element in goal creation and execution. We cannot achieve magnificent goals with an absence of detail.

Consider this quote by David Allen, a productivity expert, and author of Getting Things Done:

“Ninety-nine percent of every to-do list I’ve seen is nothing but incomplete lists of unclear stuff.”

The solution: be specific when constructing our to-do list.

Instead of writing down something ambiguous like:

“Call boss,” write down what you want to accomplish during the call.

“Call boss with time-off request.”

Taken a step further, we can construct our long-term to-do list in the same manner: begin with our end goal and detail the steps necessary to achieve said goal.