For better or for worse, I ascribe a great deal of value or importance to how productive I perceive myself to be. My sense of self-worth is heavily dictated by how much I get done, how much I am able to accomplish. When I look in the mirror at the end of the day, I want to feel like it was a day well spent and a job well done. Chances are that I’m not alone in this assessment.

Curiously, I experience something of a productivity paradox whenever I sit down at my desk. It can go one of two ways and the end results could not be more dissimilar. Is this simply the nature of the beast when you work for yourself from the “comfort” and “convenience” of a home office? Or is there something more to this phenomenon?

Down the Rabbit Hole We Go

Given the non-renewable and infinitely valuable resource of time, we can often feel compelled to squeeze as much as we can out of those precious 24 hours each day. If I can spare an extra moment here or there, I feel obligated to do something useful. And this presents the first possibility with the productivity paradox.

I might sit down at my desk with a singular objective in mind. I might tell myself that once I finish this one little thing, I can step away. Oh, I’ve got a few moments. Why don’t I offload all the footage off my camera so I can start editing the footage tomorrow? Oh, I’ve got a couple moments. Why don’t I start putting together a rough cut, just sequencing the clips that I can adjust later.

And so one task leads to another, which leads to another. Before I know it, I’ve spent the last three hours editing a vlog that I thought I wasn’t going to touch until tomorrow. Sometimes, it’s easy to get into the zone. I’ve discussed the concept of flow before and lately I’ve found that getting into a groove with video editing can be a little too tempting.

While this may sound like a good problem to have, it lends itself to a terribly slippery slope. The mindset of just “one more thing” is one without end. If there is any hope of life-work balance (and a decent night’s sleep), pursuing productivity down this rabbit hole is not sustainable over the long term.

Attention Span of a Goldfish

Have you ever had the experience where you felt so overwhelmed with how much you have to do that you end up frozen in fear, doing nothing productive at all? You’re not alone. There is always so much to do and never enough time to do it. Simply convincing yourself to sit down at your desk can be a challenge unto itself.

But as we all know, simply being at work doesn’t mean you are actually working. How much time do you see being wasted each day? Particularly when no one is going to hold you accountable but yourself, it’s so easy to get distracted from the things you have to do. Hey look, here’s a Facebook update. Hey look, here’s another YouTube video. Hey look, here’s another game of Minesweeper or Candy Crush.

I’m as guilty of these indulgences as anyone else. I complain about not having enough time to do the things I want (or need) to do, but it can also be a problem I bring upon myself. I don’t have time, because I’m wasting it watching videos or surfing social networks. This realization makes me feel horrible, but a big part of it stems from an inability to achieve “flow” on command.

And having a toddler wander into your home office to play with daddy — even without an important on-camera interview with BBC — doesn’t help with concentration either. But perhaps these are the best kinds of distractions. Now, if I can just get this one last thing done…