by Andrea M. Darcy
You’ve read all the productivity guides, you know all the top time hacks…. and yet something still stops you every time. Can psychology help you get things done? And what mental health disorders and issues might be the real problem?
Why is it I just can’t move forward?
There are actual mental health disorders, like adult ADHD, that can stop you from focussing and getting things done. More on those below.
But often it’s things like poor self-esteem and low moods that get in our way. All the productivity hacks in the world go nowhere if we don’t feel we are good enough to do things well, or are too depressed to care. On the other hand, if we waited until we were psychologically balanced and happy to get anything done, the world would be a very unproductive place.
How to Get Things Done? 5 Psychology Hacks
So what psychological approaches can help you get things done despite yourself?
1. Go into the storm, not away from it.
It isn’t actually our low moods themselves that leave us distracted, but our desperate desire to avoid them. We don’t even admit we feel sad or angry. We just suddenly find ourselves reading the news, taking an unimportant phone call…. time passes.
The next time you realise you are not getting stuff done, “stop, drop, and feel.” Sit as still as you can, breathe deeply, and notice your emotions.
- Is there sadness? Frustration? A bit of anger?
- Where is the feeling in your body? What colour would you give it?
- How much of that can you let yourself feel right now, without judging it, reacting to it, or doing anything at all but sitting and feeling?
- And now you know the feeling you are hiding from, can you work despite it?
2. Turn your thoughts around.
The low self-esteem and depression that can keep us from focussing is driven by negative thoughts. We think nothing matters, so why try? Or that we aren’t good enough to find a new job, so why bother doing a new CV?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) suggests using a ‘thought chart’ to break this cycle. You notice and write down the thought and its opposite, the facts that support both sides, then reach for a more probable and balanced thought. (Give it a try now using our article on balanced thoughts.)
Once you move a negative thought out of the way, you’ll be surprised by the clarity and energy that follows.
3. Kick the future and the past to the curb.
We don’t get things done in the past or the future, but in the here and now.
Set yourself up for productivity by first practising mindfulness. This can be as simple as five minutes of noticing one thing for each of your senses while deeply breathing, scanning your body for tension, or doing a 20-minute mindfulness meditation.
Sure that you need to obsessively focus on the future to be inspired and productive? Think again. A study led by New York University found that positive fantasies about the future actually predict poor achievement, lowering our effort and performance. It’s as if our brain’s have ‘lived out’ the desired future are no longer bothered to generate energy to go after it.
4. Enlist friends, real and imaginary.
The real secret of success? A support system. Nobody gets ahead alone.
Your support team doesn’t even have to be real. Think of three people, imaginary, alive, or deceased, you really admire. What would, say, the Queen of Sheba have to say as words of encouragement? If you were actually Martin Scorsese, how would you go about getting this done?
An ‘accountability buddy’ can also be useful. Tell a trusted friend you are going to do something, and ask them to check in by a certain deadline.
Or, yes, consider a coach or counsellor. They are trained to help you move forward in life.
5. Clear out your head.
photo by: Muhmed El Bank
It’s not just a messy desk or schedule that stops us from getting things done, it’s a messy head. What sorts of things might be littering your mind?
- Things you said yes to you wanted to say no to (If it’s between disappointing someone or missing an opportunity, is their approval really worth it? Call and cancel).
- People you are upset with. (Write a letter, right now, saying all you need to say. Then rip it up.)
- Expectations that are way too high and are stressing you out. (Write them all out. What ones can you let go of, right now? Cross them out).
- Things you should have delegated. (It’s not too late. Who else can do it? Email them.)
- Mistakes you are ashamed about. (And aren’t admitting to. Journal about it. If your best friend made the same mistake, would you talk to them about it like you talk to yourself? If not, add some self-compassion).
What mental health issues and conditions might be the problem?
Nothing works? It is true that mental health issues and disorders take a lot of headspace and energy, and some actually affect our ability to think. This can include:
Adult ADHD. Can’t finish things despite energetic starts? Don’t focus on important things, but over focus on less important ones? Distracted in a way that affects work, relationships, and even your finances? It might be adult ADHD.
Severe depression. Feel like you are moving through sand? Head fuzzy, unclear, and any thought you do have ‘doom and gloom’? Constantly have colds and flu? Have no interest in doing anything? It might be severe depression.
Anxiety disorder. Can’t focus because you are incredibly worried about your future? Do you feel sensations of fear shoot thought your body several times a day? Are you thoughts increasingly illogic? Anxiety disorder can be stopping you.
Borderline personality disorder. Is it your emotions that have you too distracted to get anything done? And your frequent panic that your partner is going to break up with you, or a friend secretly doesn’t like you? BPD means your fear of abandonment and big emotional swings leave you little time and energy to get things done.
Life such a mess you feel hopeless? We connect you with top London therapists who can really help. Or use our online booking portal now to find UK-wide talk therapy and online therapy.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and writer. She also runs a consultancy helping people find their perfect therapy and therapist. Follow her on Instagram for useful life tips @am_darcy