Affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my affiliate link. Read my full disclosure policy here.
Have you ever read a book or article about productivity and found yourself starting to feel anxious? As you read more about how to be productive, your heart starts to race faster and the words start to blend together. You know that what you’re reading is probably a great idea, but you quickly shut the browser or close the book because you don’t want to think about it for another minute.
Does that sound familiar at all? Perhaps that has even happened to you reading this blog! And the truth is, I get it. I’ve picked up plenty of books that have great advice that I know would be impactful in my life, only to put them down because I’m caught up in anxious thoughts and can’t focus on what I am actually reading.
Sometimes whatever is making me anxious is just not the right fit. The style or approach to productivity just doesn’t resonate with me and I feel okay letting it go. But other times, I know that if I can sit through the feelings of discomfort and the freak out of my brain, there’s a lot of value behind what I’m reading. In these cases, I think it’s helpful to look at some of what’s causing that feeling of discomfort/freak out in order to understand how you can start to shift it.
Here are some of the common causes of anxiety when learning about productivity (by the way, similar ideas will come up when learning about anything that requires some kind of behavioral change/growth) and how to respond to each one:
Reason 1: Confusion/Overwhelm
- This looks like the thought “I don’t understand, how does this actually work, this is just so confusing”
- This is a really common reaction and it feels very true and real. But often this can be a defense mechanism. Your brain likes to keep you safe, and safe often looks like staying in the same place. Saying something is too confusing gives you an honest reason to not actually do anything.
- Sometimes things are actually confusing! This is totally normal – if you’re doing something you’ve never done before it is going to be confusing until you try it. But you can do confusing things. Think about how many things you have learned and mastered in your life that were initially really confusing. Acknowledging that confusion/overwhelm is a totally normal response and something you’ve successfully overcome in the past helps you to release anxiety, get out of your own head, and focus on what you’re learning.
Reason 2: Self-Doubt
- This looks like the thought: “OMG this is just too much for me, there is no way I will be able to stick to it”
- There’s often a moment when I am reading something when I start to doubt that I will actually be able to do what the author is describing. I start to say “uh uh, sure”, when I’m really thinking in my head “Okay, I’ll just skip that part”.
- If you have that experience, pause and think about why you think you can’t do it. If it truly just doesn’t fit with your values and goals, I’m a fan of honoring that and ignoring advice that isn’t a good fit. But this also might be an indication of some self-limiting beliefs. For example, I might read about something that requires some kind of technical setup that seems complicated to me. My first thought might be – “there is no way that I can figure that out”. But that’s actually not true. If I take the time to sit down and really focus, I probably can figure it out.
- Make a choice to either committing to learning how to figure out the new thing or to let it go. Deciding one way or another will help to lessen the anxiety you might be feeling.
Reason 3: Past Failures
- This looks like the thought: “I’ve tried something like this before and I totally failed at it”.
- Thinking about past failures can make you feel really crappy. It erodes your confidence and makes you want to give up before even trying. So it’s no wonder that you would feel anxious and want to stop reading something when you have this thought.
- If you can reframe this a little bit, thinking about past failures can actually be an amazing tool when starting something new. Rather than focusing on what your failure means about your self-worth, try to remember where you ran into issues or got stuck. Once you’ve identified those you can actually make a plan to help avoid them again in the future. By learning from failure, you will have a much better plan in place than you would have without thinking about your past failures.
- Instead of letting past failures erode your confidence, use them as a chance to motivate yourself to make more realistic and better decisions going forward.
Reason 4: All or Nothing Thinking
- This looks like the thought: “I need to do all of this right way or else it won’t work”
- All or Nothing Thinking never fails to give me massive anxiety, I feel like I have to go all-in on something right away or else it won’t work. Sometimes I don’t even feel patient enough to finish reading the book or article before starting to try to implement things. The crazy thing about this one is that by stressing about needing to do everything immediately, I often end up not doing anything at all!
- Say it with me: Work Slowly to Work Well.
- Consistent incremental progress is better than massive quick action that is not sustained. Everything can be broken down into smaller parts. Productivity comes from working bit by bit.
- When you start to feel impatient or pressured, remember – you have made it this far in your life without implementing the strategies described, so you can wait the additional week or month it might take to fully implement it.
Productivity is a Choice
At the end of the day, you always have the choice of who you want to listen to and where you get advice. If you don’t want to learn about productivity, you absolutely don’t have to. But if you are reading about being more productive, it is probably because there’s some change you want to make in your life. And if this change is important to you, you owe it to yourself to sit with your uncomfortable feelings and understand what might be behind them. All of the thoughts and feelings I mentioned above are things that I feel on a regular basis. And when I do I notice them, have compassion for myself, thank my brain for trying to protect me and choose to move forward anyway.